What to expect in an emergency situation on a plane

DC plane crash in Icelandic land landscape view at night/Getty Images

If you’ve ever flown on a plane, whether to an international destination or on a domestic jaunt, you’ve sat through the safety video before takeoff. Although we can all rhyme off the topics covered in the video, from locating emergency exits to finding a life vest, many air travellers have never actually experienced an emergency landing situation.

According to Quebec flight attendant Marie-Philippe Bergeron, there are two words passengers should listen for in the event of an emergency: “brace, brace.”

“That means the pilots expect abnormal or emergency landing,” Bergeron tells Yahoo Canada News.

There are a few different ways to brace yourself, including bending forward and holding your ankles, or putting your head against the seat in front of you. Examples should be shown on a safety features card in front of your seat.

Once the plane lands, passengers will hear, “evacuate, evacuate.” The flight attendants will then give instructions on where and how to exit the plane.

Bergeron says every emergency landing situation is different, but most are related to engine failure or an issue with a critical part of the aircraft.

“Look for the emergency exit,” Bergeron says. “Really look at them just for few seconds — which one is the closest to your seat, and a second one in case the first one is blocked.”

An air stewardess waits for the steps to be placed at the airplane door on the runway at St. Helena airport/Getty Images

Flight attendant training

All flight attendants have to go through “intense” training on emergency procedures. This includes a number of tests and practice drills such as “Shout and Command” phrases that must be memorized. These are the instructions flight attendants call out in emergency situations.

This is all followed by simulated situations, putting all the lessons together. Flight attendants have two chances to pass with perfection.

“There’s no second chance [in] a real emergency situation, you need to be right the first time,” Bergeron says.

Bergeron has never actually experienced an emergency landing — only a slow decompression that was so minor, passengers weren’t even aware of it.

“If it [gets worse] the oxygen mask will drop and we will land,” Bergeron says.

But she says she has been on a flight with medical emergencies, including a pregnant woman who went into labour. Luckily, the expectant mother made it off the plane and to the hospital to give birth.

Inside an airplane belonging to the Brazilian low-cost airliner, Azul/Getty Images

What to do when you get onboard

Bergeron says one of the most important things to remember is that seemingly silly rules on an airplane are safety-related. Even something like being asked to remove your headphones during landing and takeoff is for emergency purposes.

“Passengers think we just want to bother them by asking them to remove headphones for take-off and landing,” Bergeron says. “But the real reason is that after a crash or any situation that results in an evacuation… passengers have a longer time of reaction to exit the aircraft.”

If you’re nervous about flying in general, Bergeron wants to remind anxious flyers that there are pre-flight checks of emergency equipment on board the plane recommends that passengers to look at the safety demonstration. Models of oxygen masks and life vests, and exit doors, can change from aircraft to aircraft.

“What you need to keep in mind is that everything…we do is for your safety, and then we serve you,” Bergeron says.