Interior of airplane with passengers on seats waiting to taik off.

Secrets of My Inflight Survival Plan

You may know that I travel a lot. What you probably don’t know (and how would you since I’ve only told about three people, ever) is that I have a flight routine, which I adhere to strictly. Honestly, unless you knew this ahead of time, you would not be able to detect it at all, even if you were my traveling companion.

Interior of airplane with passengers on seats waiting to taik off.

After watching a broadcast interview with airline personnel who talked about inflight safety and how to respond if there is an emergency in flight, I decided that my personal routine might not be so weird after all.

Natural fibers only

I wear only clothing made from cotton, linen or wool when I fly. Statistics bear out the fact that most people who die in a plane crash don’t die from the crash itself but from the related fire and smoke. Because I assume I will be exposed to both before I get to my destination, fiber content is important.

Man-made fibers like polyester, rayon and nylon don’t burn. They melt. And they melt at a fairly low temperature on the scale of melting things. I do not want my clothes melting into my skin. Cotton, linen, and wool do not catch fire quickly, which will buy me time.

Long pants, long sleeves

Exposed skin is going to be a problem in a fiery situation. Mere seconds could mean the difference between getting out of there or succumbing to the conditions. If my skin is burning my chances are reduced. I wear long cotton pants, a long-sleeved shirt, top or jacket and shoes with cotton socks. It’s my armor. Always. And if my jacket has a hood, all the better.

Aisle seat

You’ve probably guessed already, but I’ll tell you anyway. I want to be able to get out quickly. Seating in planes has gotten more crowded than ever. I always select an aisle seat close to an exit. These days every seat on the typical flight is taken. I do not want to be crammed up against the window with the middle seat occupied, unable to get past my seatmates. I want as many options as possible.

Short is good

I am a short person and in many areas of life, this is a drawback. But when it comes to crash survival, it could be beneficial. I actually had the opportunity to practice what I am about to tell you once when I boarded early, and no one was watching. The backs of the aisle seats can actually act as stepping stones.

I am short enough that I can walk along the tops of the aisle seats (crouched over, but still it works) and I believe much faster than trying to make it down a crowded aisle. I could be of great help to others if I am not on fire and I am able to move quickly. This is my justification for why I should get out before those waiting in the aisle.

Know my aircraft

I actually pay attention to the flight safety instructions. Because I fly Southwest mostly, I know the different planes pretty well.

First, I make a note of my seat location (I try to always sit in the same general vicinity for familiarity purposes). I memorize the exits the minute I get seated. I run through an evacuation in my mind.

I look at the tiny lightbulbs along the floor aisle that are mostly white, but they become red close to the exit. I always wonder how many of those bulbs might be burned out. I make a note of those seated around me and how I plan to make my exit.

Often, I opt for the Exit Row, so I read the somewhat confusing instructions printed on the wall or door for how to unlatch the escape door, what to do with it, and so on. I always assume the guy next to the window doesn’t have a clue so I practice (in my mind) how I will yell instructions at him for what to do.

No! PULL the latch … PULLLLLL!! … OK now, throw it out! NOOOO … THROW THE DOOR OUT!

It keeps me amused to anticipate how he will react.

Rest in God’s hands

Honestly, I know that my life is not in my hands. I live by the grace of God, one moment at a time. But I also believe God has given me a brain and I have the responsibility to use it fully. I want to be useful to him until the day he says, “You’re done, come on home!”


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20 replies
  1. PATRICIA PERKINS says:

    also note how the oxygen mask is to be used. in a news clip i noticed that people did not cover their mouth and nose with the mask. if you don”t cover mouth and nose you will not be getting any oxygen.

    Reply
  2. Andrea Anderson says:

    Would love to know more about what you are wearing specifically. Natural fiber items are not that easy to buy anymore. Thanks.

    Reply
  3. Barbara P says:

    Great information for the public Mary!! Yes, pay attention to the flight attendants when they are doing the briefing before the flight! Yes,count the seats to the nearest exit and look for all of your possible exits! I too was a flight attendant myself!

    Reply
  4. Marlowe says:

    Informative info but I be concerned about the suggestion of Benadryl because it causes drowsiness. Earplugs or earphones makes sense though

    Reply
  5. Joan says:

    I’d like to add some safety tips for people with hearing aids who fly. A few years ago, on a flight from Salt Lake City to Atlanta, I experienced a sharp pain in my head followed by total hearing loss upon descent. My hearing gradually returned over a three-day period, but never to where it was. A hearing test by my audiologist a month later showed another 15% of permanent hearing loss. She told me the problem is “airplane ear,” where the air pressure in the middle ear and the environmental air pressure become unbalanced. Sometimes it resolves on its own, other times it can result in temporary or permanent hearing loss. It can be avoided by removing your hearing aids and inserting ear plugs immediately when the pilot announces the plane is beginning to descend; do not put your hearing aids back in until the plane lands. If you are traveling with a companion, tell him or her that you are removing your hearing aids so they can alert you to any emergency announcements. If you are traveling alone, tell a flight attendant when boarding that you will not be able to hear any announcements during descent; they will need to come to your seat to tell you. Also, for some people, taking benadryl an hour before descent begins and/or chewing gum can be helpful. I hope these tips will help others with hearing aids avoid the pain and hearing loss that I experienced.

    Reply
  6. Sue Gililland says:

    Mary, not a crazy routine at all. I started traveling a lot for work when my kids were in high school. My daughter worried a lot and did some research on flight safety. She asked me to do all of the things you mentioned, natural fibers close to exits, etc. her list also included shoes that tie since many times slip on shoes fly off and are lost and I would get out faster if my feet were protected. She also asked tgat I not use any hair spray when flying-alcohol based hair sprays will catch fire quickly! I have followed her requests since 1996 -thankfully I’ve never been in a flight accident! Probably thanks to My mother and husband who I always see sitting on the wing of the plane. I know They’re there at the Lords request to keep all souls on that plane safe!

    Reply
  7. Judi says:

    Thanks so much! This column came as I am preparing for a trip from central Illinois to Phoenix. I fly very early tomorrow morning!! You couldn’t have planned this better.

    Reply
  8. Mary says:

    Mary, can you explain how you walk along the tops of the seats? Are you walking on one side only? And only the aisle seat? I would like more explanation of this. TIA.

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt says:

      Yes exactly as you stated, but on one side of the aisle only. One foot in front of the other. The seatbacks are quite close together (the space seats front to back as you know if you fly), so I could steady myself by holding onto the overhead bin area and with good-sized strides, move quite easily.

      Reply
  9. Patricia says:

    Another tip from my father who flew extensively: count the number of seats from where you’re sitting to the nearest exit. Depending on what type of crash, the floor lights may not work and smoke may completely cloud your vision. But you can always put a hand on each seat as you go and count them.

    Reply
  10. Dan says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with your approach. It’s “Hope for the best, plan for the worst” as I see it. And planning for the worst, even though it’s highly unlikely, can make a huge difference if something happens. While I’ve never climbed over the seats, I’ve thought about doing exactly that in case of emergency especially if the person at the exit door isn’t getting it open.

    Reply
  11. Janie says:

    That’s great info and I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t be appreciative. Sometimes people can’t see the forest through the trees.
    Educate yourself and prepare yourself, and know God has plans for each of us. No harm done in helping out your future.
    Thanks Mary!

    Reply
    • Debra says:

      I have worked in a burn unit and another tip in any fire is try not to breathe in as our lungs melt and or get severely burned.
      This is for any type of fire you need to get out of. Also if your fire alarm goes off in your home touch the door and if it’s hot don’t open it because a large flame will be behind it and you will get burned by a large flame.
      Get to a window
      instead.

      Reply
  12. Suzie says:

    Great article. I am a retired flight attendant (36 year career) and I wish that all passengers would pay as much attention to safety on board as you. Too many have attitude “it will never happen to me”. One more suggestion is shoes, NO heels and preferable flat shoes with leather soles. If you have to exit onto the wings, it could be hot. Thanks for such an excellent article on safety.

    Reply
      • Lou says:

        I do a lot of the same things you do, but I also put my auto lic. in one of my pockets just encase I’m unable to tell someone who I am.

  13. Cally Ross says:

    I love how you gave very specific information about what we can control, and ended with WHO is in control. He gave us our brains, after all. 🙂

    Reply

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