- Passenger Health Safety - COVID-19
- Passengers general
It is safe to take a flight again?
Yes, EASA believes that member states, national health authorities and air transport operators have put everything possible in place to make it safe to fly again. However an important contribution comes from the passengers themselves, who have a responsibility to themselves, other travellers and air personnel to follow the procedures put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
It is not possible to guarantee 100% prevention of infection in this pandemic, but we have defined all possible and practical measures in the EASA/ECDC guidelines to make air travel safe again.
What information is available for passengers regarding preventive measures?
Airlines and airport operators, individually or via their representative bodies, should provide health promotional materials in advance as well as on board the aircraft, explaining all the risk mitigation measures put in place, such as the wearing of face masks, hygiene measures, reduced service, air filtration, ventilation and exchange, to reassure passengers and increase their adherence to the implemented measures.
Do I have to wear a mask?
Yes, the wearing of medical face masks is recommended for all passengers and persons within the airport and aircraft, from the moment they enter the terminal building at the departure airport until they exit the terminal building at the destination airport.
Which masks are allowed?
A medical face mask. “Community” or “hand-made” masks are not permitted according to the guidelines. This is because a medical face mask is manufactured to a known standard. This is not true for community masks and handmade masks. The primary reason for wearing a mask is to stop transfer of the virus to other people – bearing in mind that some people may have the virus but show no symptoms. Therefore, everyone should wear a medical face mask to ensure a standard level of protection.
What is meant by a “medical face mask”?
A medical face mask (also known as a surgical or procedure mask) is a medical device covering the mouth, nose and chin ensuring a barrier that limits the transition of an infective agent between the hospital staff and the patient. They are used to prevent large respiratory droplets and splashes from reaching the mouth and the nose of the wearer and help reduce and/or control at the source the spread of large respiratory droplets from the person wearing the face mask. Medical masks comply with the requirements defined in European Standard EN 14683:2019+AC:2019. Non-medical face masks (or ‘community’ masks) include various forms of self-made or commercially available masks or face covers made of cloth, other textiles or other materials such as paper. They are not standardised and are not intended for use in healthcare settings or by healthcare professionals. Non-medical face masks are in use and recommended in some EU/EEA countries and the UK. However, evidence is lacking on their efficacy in preventing transmission of COVID-19.
And what is meant by “Non-medical face mask”?
A non-medical face mask (or ‘community’ masks) include various forms of self-made or commercial masks or face covers made of cloth, other textiles or other materials such as paper. They are not standardised and are not intended for use in healthcare settings or by healthcare professionals. Non-medical face masks are in use and recommended in some EU/EEA countries and the UK. However, evidence about their efficacy in preventing transmission of COVID-19 is lacking. This is a reason they are not recommended for the air travel.
When don’t I need to wear a face mask?
There are short times during standard airport processes where you may be asked to remove your face mask briefly, for example during security checks or at border control.
Do we have to keep physical distance at the airport?
Yes. Physical distancing between individuals of at least 1.5 metres should be maintained as much as is possible in the airport.
I am travelling with children and/or an elderly person with breathing problems, do they have to wear a face mask?
In general, everyone should wear a medical face mask at all times throughout the journey, but children below 6 years old and people having a medical reason for not wearing face masks can be exempted.
How long should I wear a face mask for?
Typically, medical face masks should be replaced after 4 hours (unless otherwise advised by the manufacturer), or after a shorter period if they have become wet or soiled. For this reason, please evaluate the duration of your journey and take with yourself a sufficient number of masks.
Will I be able to get new face masks at the airport?
Passengers should bring a sufficient supply of masks for the entire duration of their journey. Airports have been encouraged to offer the purchase of masks at their premises (e.g. vending machines) in case passengers have been unable to acquire sufficient medical face masks beforehand. We recommend to contact the departure airport and clarify this issue before your journey.
Where can I throw away a used face mask?
Airports and airlines have been asked to instruct passengers on the safe disposal of used medical face masks: for example through no-touch bins and single-use waste bags. Please look for specific information on this during your journey.
Do I still have to cover my face if I sneeze?
Yes, remember the “respiratory etiquette”. You should cover your mouth and nose with a paper towel when sneezing or coughing, even when wearing a face mask. If this is not possible, cough or sneeze into your flexed elbow.
I did not have time to wash my hands, what should I do?
Where hand hygiene – washing with water and soap - is not possible, use alcohol based hand sanitising solution (such as gel, towels).
If I am wearing gloves, do I need to disinfect them or throw them away?
Hand hygiene – washing of hands with soap – should be reinforced at all times and is of paramount importance. The wearing of gloves may lead to a false sense of security and be counterproductive unless you are very strict about following the correct measures for glove wearing. If you choose to wear disposable gloves, they should be regularly changed and the used ones disposed of safely. Note that not all types of reusable gloves can be disinfected with alcohol-based solution. Some can deteriorate and contribute to spreading contamination. The disinfection of gloves is therefore not recommended. On the whole, it is better for passengers to follow good hand hygiene than to wear gloves.
Can I take my sanitiser gel on-board?
There should be enough alcohol based hand sanitising solution
at the airport. However, you can still bring your own and take it on board providing it complies with the restrictions, dimensions and quantity that apply to carry-on liquids.
How will I know what preventive measures are being applied to my particular journey?
Keep your eyes and ears open! Airports and airlines will regularly instruct passengers via signs and announcements about the preventive measures in place at various stages of the journey in the airport and on board the aircraft. You will also be advised of the consequences of not adhering to such measures.
What happens if I don’t follow the preventive measures in place?
If you do not follow the instructions, then you may not be allowed to travel.
- You may be refused access to the airport terminal building, to the aircraft cabin, or removed from the cabin, according to national/local legislation, if you do not follow the instructions given, which are there for the safety of all. Depending on local regulations, you may face additional consequences as determined by the local authorities.
- If the aircraft is already in flight, the procedures relating to handling cases of unruly passengers may be applied if you do not comply with the instructions of the cabin crew. Further actions may be taken by the local authorities at the destination airport, in line with local regulations, as a result of actions that endangers the flight and health safety of other passengers and crew members.
Can EU countries impose quarantine for passengers that arrive at their airports?
Yes. This is a decision of the local public health authorities in each country. We recommend you to check with your airline and at the airport of arrival and destination and government websites for information on possible restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These restrictions may vary from country to country so it is important to check for each stage of your journey.
EASA is aware of several web pages which aim to give an overview of the current situation which may be helpful for planning purposes and we have published a summary on our page ‘COVID-19 Travel information’.
I am planning my holidays, where can I find the travel restrictions that apply for various countries ?
Initially, you should check government information in the country where you live (or whose citizenship you hold) which should give an overview of what travel restrictions apply for its residents. Secondly, contact the airline you are flying with to check preventive measures and possible quarantine measures for each country you plan to visit on your trip.
EASA is aware of several web pages which aim to give an overview of the current situation which may be helpful for planning purposes and we have published a summary on our page ‘COVID-19 Travel information’.
Are the preventive measures binding or just recommendations?
The preventive measures included in the EASA/ECDC COVID-19 Aviation Health Safety Protocol on physical distancing, respiratory etiquette, meticulous hand hygiene and avoiding touching the face, nose, eyes and mouth must be followed for the safety of all air travellers and aviation personnel. The requirement to wear a medical face mask throughout the journey is also mandatory for passengers. The recommended measures will be regularly evaluated and updated in line with changes in knowledge of the risk of transmission as well as with development of other diagnostic or the evolution of the pandemic.
What happens if the airline I fly with is not following the recommendations such as face masks for example? Can I cancel my booking and get my money back?
Passenger rights in this and any other circumstance are outside of EASA’s responsibilities. We advise you to consult the dedicated European Commission site “Your Europe - Air passenger rights”, where you will find useful information regarding the current COVID-19 situation, including whom to contact if you are not satisfied with the answer/support you receive from your airline.
Where can I find the list of airlines and airports applying the Protocol?
All airlines and airports in Europe are expected to follow the recommendations in the Protocol, even though there is no legally binding requirement to do so unless this is mandated in national law. In addition, some airline and airport operators have signed the Aviation industry charter for COVID-19 with EASA. This is a pledge to abide by the Protocol and to also monitor the results of the measures taken and report back on these to EASA. Companies which have signed the charter are listed on the 'Aviation Industry Charter for COVID-19' page.
I am getting a lot of information about health assessment before my flight. Is this important?
EASA has recommended that airlines and airports inform passengers of the various COVID-19 measures before they leave for the airport. In particular, this includes the very important information that you should not even come to the airport if you have COVID-19 symptoms, have tested positive for COVID-19, have been in recent contact with someone who is infected or are in quarantine. Symptoms associated with COVID-19: Fever or chills, Cough, Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, Fatigue, Muscle or body aches, Headache, New loss of taste or smell, Sore throat, Congestion or runny nose, Nausea or vomiting, Diarrhoea.
What happens if a symptomatic passenger is identified at the airport?
The airline is required to inform their passengers if any symptomatic passengers have been identified in the airport by the public health authorities. Such passengers will not be allowed to continue their travel if the symptoms observed indicate that they may have COVID-19.
I noticed that I have some symptoms, what should I do? Will I be reimbursed if I do not travel?
If you show symptoms at any time in the 14 days before your flight, you should take action as soon as possible and not even travel to the airport. Instead you should:
- Inform your general practitioner and your local health authorities, who may recommend a test for COVID-19.
- Contact your airline to advise them you are not able to travel
- Ask to rebook your flight or request a refund. In many cases, this will be possible without penalty provided you contact the airline no later than 6 hours before the flight, and provide a doctor’s certificate confirming suspicion of COVID-19 infection.
- Your airline will advise you on the precise rebooking or reimbursement procedures, and their applicability for your case.
Can I accompany my parents / friends / children/ partner to the terminal?
In order to reduce the number of people in the terminal, and to facilitate physical distancing, only travellers may enter the airport terminal buildings. Accompanying persons are allowed access only in special circumstances (e.g. accompanying or picking up a passenger requiring assistance – such as Persons with Reduced Mobility or Unaccompanied Minors).
I understand I am supposed to provide a statement saying that I am healthy. What does it looks like, how do I get it and who will issue me the statement of health? Do I need one for each member of my family?
Yes, passengers will indeed need to provide a COVID-19 health statement, with details about their health status. The health statement is a self-declaration, completed by the passenger and asks questions such as whether you have COVID-19 symptoms (Fever or chills, Cough, Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, Fatigue, Muscle or body aches, Headache, New loss of taste or smell, Sore throat, Congestion or runny nose, Nausea or vomiting, Diarrhoea), have tested positive for COVID-19, have been in recent contact with someone who is infected or are in quarantine.
You should receive the form to be completed from your airline before you depart for the airport. The statement can be made available to passengers during the online check-in process, for example, or via an SMS link. Passengers will be requested to acknowledge reading this information and sign or electronically authenticate their health statement. Where available, please use the electronic health statement form.
A separate declaration is usually needed for each traveller, though there may be exceptions in the case of families travelling together or other special cases. Airlines will manage such declarations in accordance with applicable data protection rules.
For an example health statement have a look at Annex 2 of the COVID-19 Aviation Health Protocol, but please note that the actual form provided may differ.
Contact your airline for more details.
What are the consequences if I do not answer the questions truthfully?
The health safety of all depends on every individual behaving responsibly. If it becomes clear at the airport that you are symptomatic or have not fully disclosed any information in your COVID-19 health statement, you may well be denied the right to travel. Further consequences may follow depending on local rules and regulations.
How clean are the surfaces? Can I touch them?
Where possible, travellers should avoid contact and unnecessary touching of surfaces in all situations, to minimise the spread of COVID-19. Airports and airlines have been made aware of the need for enhanced cleaning activities both in volume and frequency and for increased ventilation of facilities. EASA has also issued special instructions with respect to aircraft disinfection.
How are environments and surfaces at airports and on board cleaned and disinfected?
The EASA guidelines recommend the regular cleaning and disinfecting of all frequently touched surfaces (e.g. door handles, banister rails, buttons). Particular attention should also be paid to plastic security screening trays as well as to facilities such as airport lavatories. Hand sanitiser points should be made readily available.
What precautions will be taken to avoid contamination via air conditioning systems?
Airport operators have been advised to ensure proper air ventilation of their facilities. This includes minimising the percentage of air recirculation and favouring when possible the use of fresh air, in accordance with international guidance for ventilation of indoor public spaces.
Furthermore, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems should be optimised to ensure a high rate of air change. In older facilities, subject to airport/terminal construction and meteorological conditions, windows can be kept open for additional supply of fresh air, subject to the absence of horizontal air flows.
Is the aircraft disinfected before boarding and after each flight?
Airlines are required to perform the cleaning and disinfection of their aircraft in accordance with the EASA Aircraft cleaning and disinfection guidance.
Will temperature screening be performed at airports?
Not in all cases. However you will be required to comply with thermal screening (temperature checks) if national policy at the departure location requires this as part of their national response plan, or if the carrying out of this procedure has been agreed with the destination State.
What happens if the temperature check shows that my body temperature is elevated?
- The temperature check is intended to identify passengers with a skin temperature of 38°C or higher. If that result shows in your case, at least one further temperature check will normally be carried out for confirmation purposes. Passengers with an elevated skin temperature will be referred to secondary assessment by a health professional, to establish whether this may indicate a COVID-19 infection, or follow alternative procedures in accordance with the agreed protocol of screening in that location.
- Airports have been recommended to provide separate interview booths for investigation of suspected cases requiring further assessment. These measures should ensure confidentiality and be set up in a way that prevents potential transmission of the virus to individuals in the neighbouring booths.
Will shops, playgrounds and smoking areas be open at the terminal?
Please check with the airport before setting out on your journey, for example by checking its website. Airports should advise passengers about how to make use of airport facilities and services, in line with national regulations. We would like to remind you that the longer the time spent in public areas the higher the possibility to be infected. Please be reasonable.
Are we still allowed to carry hand luggage on board the aircraft or do we have to check in all bags?
Airlines are asking passengers to take minimal hand luggage into the cabin. This will speed up the boarding and disembarking process and also reduce the movement in the cabin, and therefore the potential spread of the virus. Where possible, airlines will make available self-check-in facilities for checked baggage, so as to avoid interaction with staff at check-in counters.
Many airlines are promoting the carriage of luggage in the cargo compartments by implementing incentive policies. Please make sure that any luggage which will be checked in does not contain any valuable or essential items (such as cash, credit cards, keys, medicines, unreplaceable items of sentimental value), lithium batteries (in equipment or stand-alone) or other prohibited items. Have a look at EASA's safety checklist 'Preparing your luggage - Security requirements when packing'.
Please also check with your airline on checked baggage allowances.
Do I have to check in online or use the self-check in at the airport?
Wherever possible, you should use mobile or online facilities to check in before you get to the airport, as this shortens the process at the airport.
If you need to check in at the airport, you should follow local instructions to use self-check-in kiosks or proceed to a check-in counter.
Airlines and airports are setting up their facilities to ensure that physical distancing can be respected wherever feasible, especially during check-in, security check, pre-boarding and boarding. When the recommended physical distancing of 1.5 metres is not possible -due to infrastructure or operational constraints, passengers must follow the additional risk mitigation measures such as hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.
Passengers should look for floor markings or signs indicating the arrangements in that particular location.
The airline I fly with charges for checked-in bags. If you recommend that we should check-in all bags if possible, can they still charge for this?
Please contact your airline for information. The guidelines propose that airlines should incentivise passengers to check in most of their luggage, but the final decision on this lies with the individual airline.
Are there any special luggage handling processes due to COVID-19?
In many airports, special baggage disinfection measures may take place. You should bear this in mind when choosing which check-in luggage to take on your trip and avoid bags that could be damaged or disfigured if treated with disinfectant. For more information, contact your airline and the airports you will depart from, arrive at and transit through.
Can I take my sanitizing gel on board? Is it possible to exceed the 100 ml security limit?
Under the current security rules, you can carry as hand luggage liquids (including sanitizing gels) in individual containers with a capacity not greater than 100 ml and contained in one transparent re-sealable plastic bag of a capacity not exceeding one litre.
If you intend to take sanitizing gels in quantities exceeding the current restrictions, please contact the airport of your departure or the airline you are flying with to obtain detailed information on the applicable regulations.
How does boarding work under the COVID-19 measures?
A) Can I get masks in the airplane? Or when boarding?
Passengers are required to wear a medical face mask from the moment they enter the departure terminal until the time they leave the terminal at the destination airport. You should bring a sufficient supply of medical face masks for the entire duration of your journey, bearing in mind that the mask normally need to be changed at least every four hours. Airports and airline operators have been encouraged to make it possible to buy medical face masks if passengers do not have access to a sufficient quantity before they embark on their journey. We recommend to contact the departure airport and clarify this issue before your journey.
B) How will physical distancing be ensured while boarding the plane?
Airlines, airport operators and relevant service providers have been asked to review their boarding procedures to ensure these are as efficient as possible and limit the risk of virus transfer through close contact with other people. Depending on the terminal facilities, you may encounter the following boarding procedures:
- walking in a spaced manner from the gate to the parked aircraft on the apron, or
- travel via buses to the parked aircraft, and then via stairs, or
- via an air bridge directly onto the aircraft.
Where buses are used as part of the boarding process, more buses than usual will be provided, wherever feasible, to allow for adequate physical distancing inside them.
Where boarding is performed using an air bridge, airlines may adopt processes to make the process smoother and quicker. For example, your flight may board by rows starting with the furthest row from the aircraft entrance doors. Alternatively, all window seat passengers may board first, followed by middle seats, followed by aisle seats.
In all cases, you should observe the instructions given by airport staff and cabin crew for your particular flight.
I can’t judge how much extra time I should allow for checks and procedures, what is the recommendation?
Check the website of your departure airport for information. You need to allow sufficient time to cover all steps needed: checking in your luggage, at the security check, passport control (if required), at the gate and the boarding of your flight.
Are there special procedures in place on board the aircraft to prevent spread of the virus?
Airlines have been provided with specialist technical instructions to ensure the air quality in the cabin is as high as possible. The air quality in the cabin is higher than many of us regularly breathe on the ground. This is because the entire air supply is typically exchanged every 3-5 minutes. In addition, most modern aircraft use high quality filters, known as HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters, which are fine enough to trap the viral load and release clean air.
Passengers themselves are expected to behave responsibly for their own welfare and for the good of their fellow passengers. In particular, you will be expected to adopt:
- Hand hygiene, particularly before eating or drinking and after use of the toilet
- Appropriate use of medical face masks
- Respiratory etiquette – cough or sneeze into a paper towel or flexed elbow
- Limiting contact – do not touch cabin surfaces unnecessarily and try to stay in the seat as much as possible
- Reducing the use of individual air supply nozzles as far as possible, unless otherwise advised by the cabin crew on your flight
Will in-flight food and drink services be available?
Contact your airline or consult its website in advance to check on in-flight services for your flight. In general, you should expect a reduced level of service, particularly on short-haul flights. This is to limit movement in the cabin and to prevent potential transfer of the virus through contact with surfaces. The recommendation to airlines include distribution or availability of packed goods (such as bottle of water or a wrapped sandwich) but this will vary in individual flights and according to the service procedures of your airline
Will alcohol be served on board?
Please contact your airline for any information about the on-board service.
What happens in case of emergency?
In case of emergency, follow the instructions as shown during the safety demonstration. If cabin pressure is lost and oxygen masks are released, passengers should remove their medical face masks before putting on the aircraft oxygen masks and follow any further instructions from the air crew. As always, remember to secure your own supply of oxygen before helping others, such as children. Note that air crew members will remove their protective face masks in case of any emergency, so as to facilitate the communication of instructions to passengers.
Can I use the lavatories on board?
Airlines will put measures into place to manage the passenger use of lavatories so as to avoid passengers queuing in the aisle or the galleys for the use of the lavatories. Please also note that, in some aircraft, a lavatory may be reserved for crew use only.
How is air recirculated in the cabin and is it safe?
The quality of air provided during a flight is very high. This is due to frequent exchange of air (the entire air supply is typically exchanged every 3-5 minutes) and the High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters which are used on board of most modern aircraft. Airlines and airport operators will work together to ensure that passengers are not kept on board an aircraft without proper ventilation for longer than 30 minutes.
What seating arrangements will be in place to ensure physical distancing?
In line with passenger load, cabin configuration and mass and balance requirements, airlines should ensure, to the extent possible, physical distancing among passengers and arrange the seat allocation accordingly.
If physical distancing cannot be guaranteed because of the passenger load, seat configuration or other operational constraints, passengers and crew members on board an aircraft should adhere at all times to all the other preventive measures including strict hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette and should wear a face mask.
A) Can I sit with my family /partner/ friends?
Family members and individuals travelling together as part of the same household can be seated together even in cases where other passengers are spaced across the aircraft for physical distancing purposes.
Can I still buy food and drinks on board?
Contact your airline for details. In general, there will be only a reduced food and drink service, particularly on short-haul flights, with preference given to pre-packaged and sealed food and drink products, such as canned drinks. Airlines have been advised to reduce on-board service to the minimum necessary to ensure comfort and wellbeing for passengers and to limit the contact between them and crew members.
A) Can I pay cash on-board?
This depends on your airline. In general, wherever possible, cash payments should be avoided to reduce the possibility of transmission of the virus through surface contact between crew members and passengers.
Can we still buy duty free items on-board?
No duty free or other non-essential products will be sold on board to limit movement in the cabin and contact between passengers and cabin crew.
Can I move freely in the airplane?
General cabin safety recommendations remain valid. Passengers should remain seated with their seatbelt fastened as far as possible.
I forgot to take an additional mask and the one I am wearing is wet. What should I do?
Passengers should ensure sufficient supply of face masks for the duration of their journey. However, airlines should carry a sufficient number of face masks on board to provide to passengers, especially for long-haul flights where the need to change masks may be advised by public health authorities. Speak to your cabin crew if you discover you need an additional mask while on board the aircraft.
What happens if a passenger “misbehaves” or doesn’t want to follow the rules?
Passengers who do not voluntarily follow the COVID-19 procedures or abide by crew instructions will be treated as “unruly passengers”, the term used in the industry for passengers who misbehave on board, for example through intoxication or through verbal or physical altercations with others on board.
This can lead to immediate action on board to curtail such activities, with possible further consequences on landing, depending on the local regulations.
Have a look at our communication "Not On My Flight".
How will disembarkation work in the current situation?
Disembarking should follow the same general principles as boarding, depending on the facilities at the arrival airport:
- Physical distancing should be practiced as far as possible during the disembarkation procedure.
- Depending on the terminal facilities, disembarkation can be completed via buses from the parked aircraft, by walking in a spaced manner from the parked aircraft to the gate, or by using the stairs or air bridges directly into the terminal.
All facilities used in the disembarkation process should be subject to enhanced cleaning and ventilation procedures in place.
What should I do with any used face masks?
Used face masks should be discarded safely in a separate tightly closed waste bag, which can be disposed as regular waste.
What is a “Passenger locator card” (PLC) and what personal data does it contain?
A PLC contains passenger contact data, which the airlines need to provide to the relevant public health authorities for contact tracing purposes, in case anyone who travelled on your flight tests positive for COVID-19 within the following few days after arrival. It should include:
- Your full name
- Allocated seat
- Phone number (or email address)
Airlines should provide this information in line with applicable data protection rules. The contact information may be collected at check-in through the normal check-in process or you may be required to fill in a separate form. Further data, such as the address where you will be staying, may also be requested.
For an example PLC have a look at Annex 1 of the COVID-19 Aviation Health Protocol.
Do I have to undergo a temperature check (thermal screening) at the arrival airport? If I am in transit, do I have to repeat it?
If implementation of entry thermal screening is required, for example due to national response plan decisions or regulations, yes, a further check may be required.
If I show symptoms upon arrival at my final destination, what will happen to me? Will I be sent back to the departure airport?
Passengers showing symptoms following the assessment and who are suspected as being positive for COVID-19, will be required to comply with the instructions of the local public health authorities in terms of testing, transport and quarantine.
Are there special procedures in place during baggage claim and customs?
The general process remains the same, but do not forget to follow all preventive measures, including physical distancing, hand hygiene and wearing a medical face mask also at the arrival airport.
Passengers should leave the arrival terminal as soon as possible after completing any border formalities and collecting their checked luggage so as to minimise the possibility of transmission of COVID-19.
Can I be greeted by someone at the gate in the arrival airport?
Access to the terminal is limited to passengers, crew members and staff. “Meet and greet” passengers will only be allowed in special cases, such as for passengers requiring mobility assistance and unaccompanied minors. For these cases, a dedicated area should be set up away from the exits from the restricted area and away from the main passenger flows, so as to reduce the contact between arriving passengers and other individuals.
What is the difference between ‘rapid disembarkation’ and ‘evacuation’?
Passengers may encounter crew members’ sudden instruction to leave the aircraft as soon as possible. Not every such instruction means that ‘evacuation’ is taking place. In some situations, passengers are instructed to rapidly disembark, not to ‘evacuate’. So, what is the difference between a ‘rapid disembarkation’ and an ‘evacuation’? The below provides some explanation:
Rapid disembarkation (also referred to as ‘rapid deplaning’, ‘precautionary deplaning’, ‘precautionary disembarkation’) is a precautionary egress from the aircraft in situations assessed by the crew members as deviating from normal conditions but not being an immediate emergency, i.e. not posing an immediate threat to passengers and crew members on board, but which may escalate into an emergency. Rapid disembarkation usually happens at the airport.
Aircraft doors which were used for boarding are also used for a rapid disembarkation, i.e. with stairs or airbridge(s).
Emergency exits and slides are not used in a rapid disembarkation unless the crew members decide that this has become necessary and will give the relevant command to passengers.
Rapid disembarkation is a rapid egress from the aircraft, therefore passengers and crew members will leave all their belongings on board unless they are instructed otherwise.
Crew members’ instruction (i.e. words used) for a rapid disembarkation will be different from that to evacuate. It is essential that passengers listen to what the crew members are saying, remain calm and leave the aircraft as instructed and as soon as possible.
Evacuation is a fast egress from the aircraft in situations declared by the crew members as an emergency, i.e. posing an immediate threat to passengers and crew members on board. Evacuation happens on land terrain or in water.
All usable aircraft exits and slides/rafts are used in an evacuation. Passengers and crew members must leave all their belongings on board and immediately proceed to the nearest usable exit. It is vital that passengers listen to crew members’ commands, remain calm (panicking will not help), ensure they have their life jacket if in water, and leave the aircraft as commanded by the crew members and as fast as possible.
My luggage during evacuation
In the unlikely event the safety of the aircraft and its occupants is compromised, it may be necessary to evacuate the aircraft.
Evacuation is a fast egress from the aircraft in situations declared by cabin crew or pilots as an emergency, i.e. posing an immediate threat to passengers and crew members on board. Pilots and cabin crew are trained for such situations, however, it is essential that passengers cooperate with the crew and follow their instructions.
Evacuation slides are used when evacuating on land and rafts are used in case of a landing on water (Note: Some aircraft types are not required to be equipped with slides or rafts. Passengers step outside through the exits or, if possible, use the aircraft’s integrated stairs). Evacuating as quickly as possible is a matter of survival.
Evacuation slide allows either one, or maximum two persons to slide down from the aircraft to the ground side-by-side. The speed at which the person reaches the ground is fast and it is essential to adopt a position to protect yourself from flailing or even falling off the evacuation slide. Evacuation raft allows a limited person/weight capacity.
Passengers and crew members must leave their luggage on board. Why is that?
Obstructions, injuries & delays during evacuation
Luggage in the overhead bins might have moved during the impact and luggage stowed under the seats may no longer be close to your seat. Opening the overhead bins may cause the luggage to fall onto you or onto other passengers causing injuries.
Searching and retrieving your luggage from the overhead bins or from under the seats creates an obstruction and slows down those trying to reach the exit. They may push you down, step on you and cause you injuries preventing you from moving and leaving the aircraft.
In addition, there may be low or no visibility at all inside the aircraft due to smoke or power failure of the lights and the aircraft may be damaged. You may trip over, fall down and injure yourself. Retrieving and taking your luggage reduces your chances and the chances of other passengers for a fast egress.
Cabin crew must evacuate all passengers from the aircraft as quickly as possible. They have no time to collect and no space to store luggage at exits. Piles of luggage may block the exit and prevent you from leaving the aircraft quickly, or at all. You will have to look for another usable exit (if there is another usable exit available).
Your protection and damaged slides
Sliding down on the evacuation slide with luggage prevents your own protection (you will not be able to adopt a position to protect yourself) and can cause injuries to you or to others. It slows down the evacuation and blocks the exit preventing it from being used by those remaining on board. Your luggage can damage the evacuation slide.
Each crew member has specific duties during an evacuation to save lives. You will be ordered to leave the aircraft without luggage. Carrying luggage slows you down and can compromise your own survival.
LEAVE YOUR LUGGAGE ON BOARD.
Wearing headphones and earplugs in the aircraft
Passengers often use headphones, connected to their laptops, mobile phones, tablets, etc., to watch movies or to listen to music, or they use headphones/earplugs to eliminate the surrounding noise. Whilst this may provide you – the passenger - with some comfort, it may affect your safety, especially when worn during taxiing, take-off and landing.
Wearing headphones or earplugs lowers your awareness of the surrounding conditions, resulting in more time needed to adapt to the ongoing situation. Your ability to hear announcements made by cabin crew or pilots is reduced. These announcements may contain safety instructions related to the flight, or commands in case of a sudden emergency.
Headphones used for an in-flight entertainment system (either provided by the airline or brought on board by you) may have cords, which are to be plugged-in on the seat or around the video screen on the seatback in front of you. Headphones with cords used during taxiing, take-off and landing create an obstruction for you and for passengers seated next to you and prevent you from moving quickly in case of an evacuation.
Pay attention to the safety demonstration and follow the instructions by your crew members.
Seats by exits (can I sit there?)
Seats in rows leading to exits are often considered as offering more comfort because of the increased space provided at the exit area. The space requirements are set by aircraft certification rules. However, not all passengers are suitable to occupy these seats. A passenger seated by an exit agrees to assist the crew members in case of an evacuation and is willing and able to assist.
Air travel is a safe mode of transport and evacuations do not occur often. Cabin crew and pilots are trained for emergencies, however, some evacuations are events for which cabin crew (or pilots) did not have time to fully brief the passengers (this is so-called ‘unprepared evacuation’). The passenger seated by the exit where no cabin crew member is available, such as the exits over the wings, is expected to act. This includes assessing inside and outside conditions and making a decision if the exit can be opened for evacuation or not, and directing passengers to other exits if the conditions require so. Making a fast and correct judgment is a matter of survival. If the passenger allocated a seat by an exit is suitable to assist the crew, he/she will receive a pre-flight exit briefing on how and when to operate the exit.
Cabin crew may find the passenger unsuitable to assist the crew and will have to move the passenger to another seat row. A seat row leading to an exit is not to be left empty for taxiing, take-off and landing. The cabin crew will find another passenger to occupy the seat by the exit. When assessing the suitability of passengers to occupy seats by exits, cabin crew members consider many aspects, such as the aircraft type, number of exits, the level of difficulty to handle the exit and the assisting evacuation means, the number of passengers on the flight, etc. Passengers who are asked to move away from an ‘exit row/seat’ should not be offended by this action.
Human behaviour, although usually calm and collected under normal circumstances, can change under the pressure of an emergency situation. Passengers, who select, or are allocated seats by exits, should also make their own judgment whether they are suitable to help the crew members and willing to act in case of an unprepared evacuation.
EU rules do not permit some passengers to occupy seats which have a direct access to exits or seats where the passenger’s presence could impede crew members in their duties, obstruct access to equipment or impede evacuation: for example:
- passengers traveling with children,
- unaccompanied children,
- passengers with reduced mobility due to physical disability (sensory or locomotory, permanent or temporary),
- passengers with intellectual disability or impairment,
- any other cause of disability, or age,
- passengers travelling as deportees or inadmissible and prisoners in custody.
The airline may have further detailed policies related to passengers who cannot occupy seats by exits, e.g. passengers who are too young.