Air Travel and Social Contracts – How Aeroflot SU1492 Could Have Turned Out Differently

Earlier today, a Sukhoi Superjet 100 operating as Aeroflot SU1492 made an emergency landing at Moscow’s Shremetyevo (SVO) airport. Reports place 73 people aboard the jet. After a hard first touchdown, the plane bounced off the runway, landed again, the gear collapesed and the plane turned into a streaking fireball down the runway as the fuel tanks under the wings and belly of the plane ruptured. Look at your local news station for further details, or read more in this article from CNN.

Hours later, the death toll has risen to 41. More than half of the passengers who boarded the flight to Murmansk perished. But why?

Evacuation Protocols

1) Training and Exits

Most airline carriers train their cabin crews to be able to evacuate the plane with at least half of those exits unavailable. If you plan for the “worst-case” scenario, then anything less than that is covered. The Sukhoi Superjet has four exits for use in an emergency: two at the front of the plane, and two at the rear. There are no over-wing exits on this particular jet. For the souls aboard SU1492, the two rear exits became compromised by fire after the second touchdown, meaning all 73 people would need to egress through the two front doors.

2) Carry-on Luggage

Another critical part of any successful evacuation plan is simplicity. Precious seconds mean life or death in situations like this, ESPECIALLY when half the exits become compromised. To ensure a quick evacuation, cabin crews instruct passengers to leave everything on-board the plane and to get out as quickly as possible. Not only is it an instruction, it’s part of your social contract.

“Unless you are carrying the cure for cancer, there is nothing that you could possibly bring aboard the plane that is more important than the lives of your fellow passengers.”

Social Contracts

When you purchase a plane ticket and board the jet, you enter into a number of social contracts. Some are codified by law or airline-specific policy. Others are unspoken but universally understood. Examples:

  • If you sit on an aisle seat and someone seated next to you needs to use the restroom, you get up and let them use the restroom. When they return, you get up again so they can return to their seat.
  • If you’re sitting at the back of the plane, you don’t rush down the aisle after parking at the gate so that you can get off faster.
  • When someone appears to be struggling to put their bag in the overhead compartment and you are nearby, you assist them.
  • When you sit next to the window, you are responsible for the window shade. While you have the sole right to open and close it, you should take your fellow passengers comfort into that decision. If all other window shades are down, don’t be the idiot that leaves yours up.
  • If the passenger seated in front of you drops something between the seat, you kick it forward or bend down and grab it so that it may be returned.
  • Should you find yourself in an emergent situation where an evacuation is necessary, you leave EVERYTHING behind, follow crew member instructions, and exit as quickly as possible. If you are able to assist others as you evacuate yourself, do so.

Excuses and Baggage Shaming for SU1492

As this incident progressed, news agencies shared images and video of passengers from SU1492 exiting down the emergency slides with carry-on baggage in hand. I guarantee you that the cabin crew told people to leave everything behind, yet they disobeyed these instructions. Because of those very passengers, 41 people are now dead.

Conversations on Twitter quickly began to divide into two groups. The “Baggage Shame-ers” and the “Defenders”. The Defenders were quick to exclaim that these survivors were in a stressful situation and weren’t capable of thinking clearly. If this were the first time that a plane crashed, and the first time that people exited the plane with their luggage, I’d grant them a free pass. But it isn’t. There are countless incidents in the last 10 years where we see that not only does grabbing your luggage waste precious seconds, that it can also be deadly. SU1492 was no different. Leave your bags behind!

There are three classes of personal belongings that come with you aboard the plane:

  • Mission-critical items
    • Government-issued ID or Passport
    • Cell Phone
    • Wallet/Credit Cards/Money
    • Shoes
    • Live-saving medications that you cannot go without for more than 24-48 hours
    • Jacket (*depending on climate)
  • “Nice to Haves”
    • Laptop/Tablet/e-Reader
    • Books
    • Everything else in your carry-on bag.
  • Checked Luggage

At a minimum, the mission-critical items should be on your person AT ALL TIMES during takeoff and landing. Those critical phases of flight are where most incidents will happen. With the exception of shoes and a jacket, they should likely be on your person during the entire flight as you should always keep them in your control. You won’t have time to grab everything, and you won’t have time to put on your shoes. Be Prepared!

With those minor preparations and changes to behavior, everything else under your seat or in the overhead compartment becomes unnecessary in an emergency. The mission critical list enables you to identify yourself, communicate, and purchase any emergency supplies while you wait for everything to get figured out. Unless you are carrying the cure for cancer, there is nothing that you could possibly bring aboard the plane that is more important than the lives of your fellow passengers. Even then, you should likely book a charter instead of flying commercial.

Be Prepared

The next time you decide to hurl yourself through a giant metal tube in the sky, take an extra few moments to think about your own emergency plan. Do you have your mission-critical items on your person or within easy reach WITHOUT removing your seatbelt? Do you know where your primary and secondary exits are located? Do your children understand the safety briefing and are they able to evacuate themselves? You owe it to yourself and to your fellow passengers, to take a few extra moments of preparation. It’s better to say “I’m glad I did”, than “I wish I had.”

Interesting Links

“Aeroflot mourns the victims of the crash of the flight SU1492 Moscow-Murmansk”


Christopher is a bonafide pizza snob, and loves spontaneous adventures to wherever the skies deem fit.

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