Back in April, a married mother of two, Jennifer Riordan, boarded Southwest Flight 1380 in New York, headed to Dallas. About twenty minutes into the flight, the unthinkable happened. An engine component broke off and crashed against the window where Jennifer was seated. With the plane flying at 32,500 feet[i], Jennifer was partially sucked out of the broken window, later dying of her injuries. As fellow passenger, Mark Tranchin, recalled in an ABC-affiliate story, “Right around the time there was a huge explosion and glass shattering three rows ahead of me, that was about the moment that I realized this was not going to be a normal flight.”[ii]
Normal flights don’t include fatalities. “The last fatal U.S. airline crash was on February 12, 2009, when Colgan Air Flight 3407 crashed while approaching Buffalo, New York, according to the NTSB. Fifty people died in the crash, including 45 passengers, two pilots, two flight attendants and one person who was on the ground.”[iii] Normal flights certainly don’t include people sitting in their seats and getting sucked out the window.
What is normal on flights are the safety instructions. There are some variations but all airlines request that passengers pay attention to the flight attendants, the printed instructions located in the seat pocket in front of them, the screen located on the back of the seat in front of them, or a combination.
I was with a friend the other day, who was flying to Boston, and we started talking about planes and safety and the conversation came around to what happened to Jennifer. When asked if I’d seen the selfie taken by a passenger on that flight, I said I hadn’t. I started searching and found the New York Times article[iv] with the selfie and a HuffPost blog by a flight attendant who, “called out passengers for wearing their masks incorrectly.”[v] In the selfie, at least three passengers could be seen with the yellow oxygen masks on just their mouths and not their noses, contrary to the safety instructions.
The people in the selfie with misapplied masks appeared to be younger than us. We began to speculate on why they didn’t put their masks on correctly. I noted, in my experience, most people don’t pay any attention to the flight attendant or the safety instructions. They seem too busy getting in the last little bit of tech-time before they’re cut off just before takeoff. My friend, then, said something that struck me; that younger people are, often, consumers of information, while older people grew up to be retainers of information. We learned to retain information because we didn’t grow up with portable computers at our fingertips. I found the idea intriguing; that younger people don’t feel the same urgency to pay attention and retain information because they feel they can always look it up.
Over these past twenty-five years, or so, I’ve made it a point to keep aware of changes in attitudes and actions, especially in those known as digital natives, who grew up surrounded by technology. The consumers vs. retainers concept reminded me of the book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicolas Carr[vi], and his supposition that access to the Internet is creating mile-wide-but-inch-deep thought processes. The passengers in the selfie had a “shallow” understanding of how to use the oxygen masks – put them on your face – but not a deeper understanding – “place the mask firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally.”[vii]
There are times when it’s not necessary, even impossible, to retain the flotsam and jetsam of information flowing around us. Understanding safety when flying in an airplane isn’t one of them. Would knowing the safety instructions have saved Jennifer Riordan? No, but it might save someone else, whenever that next flight goes wrong.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 37 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.