One Change To COVID-Era Airline Safety Briefings Tells Us How Dumb We All Are

Airlines are requiring passengers to wear masks inflight, and this has led to a needed change to inflight safety briefings.

At least on American Airlines ‘Oasis’ planes that lack video at each passenger’s seat, where there’s no safety video and flight attendants have to make announcement live, flight attendants are telling customers “face masks need to be removed prior to using oxygen.”

A passenger’s face mask will get in the way of the full flow of oxygen. Though I sort of feel like folks should just have to figure this out. The point of oxygen masks is to get oxygen into your system, and it won’t work well if a face mask is blocking the air flow. If someone gets this wrong, shouldn’t that be on them?

We’ve always been told to that parents need to put their own mask on first, before assisting young children. It doesn’t do anyone any good for the parent to pass out due to lack of oxygen while they wait to put their oxygen mask on. That’s an important reminder, perhaps less than obvious, so worth being told over and over so that it’s in the back of your mind when the time comes. But if you try to put an oxygen mask on over a face mask you’re going to realize the air just doesn’t get through right, right away.

Do we really need to tell someone they have to take off their face mask before putting on an oxygen mask? Do we really have to slow down for these people?

It’s like the instructions that say not to iron clothes while wearing them.

In 1984 a California man was tossing his toddler up and down in his living room. The kid loved it, and the father went higher and higher. Until the kid’s head hit the ceiling fan. Which was on. And the man sued the ceiling fan manufacturer for failing to warn him that this might be dangerous. This wasn’t the only man to sue over failure to warn after a ceiling fan injury.

So I can almost understand warnings like “this motorcycle contains no edible parts” and cartons of eggs that warn “this product may contain eggs” (or jars of peanut butter that flag, “may contain nuts or nut products”).

I have to think though that bureaucrats who insist that butane lighters warn “flame may cause fire” or people who need to be told “this electric drill is not intended for dental use” tell us that something is wrong with our society.

I get that mask wearing is new for those of us in the West. But none of this is going to work if we don’t assume – and exercise – some individual responsibility.

Then again, when a U.S. Senator, former Governor and candidate for President of the United States actually does iron his shirts while wearing them what chance to the rest of us have?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. It’s an instruction. There is no harm in giving it. What may be obvious for you may be a mystery for someone else. This is along the same line of thinking of “why do we need to regulate, the free market will take care of everything!” meanwhile, whats happening outside our doors RIGHT NOW is why we need to regulate. This government has basically shut down regulation for most businesses, and we are seeing a TON of violations go unpunished. Profit is WAY too attractive for the free market to protect us.

  2. What on earth does an inflight safety announcement have to do with the unbridled market?

    When we give too many instructions we burn out passenger attention spans and the really important announcements are less likely to be committed to memory.

  3. Having been on a plane in January where the facemasks inadvertently deployed, I can see why they would include this. The thing going through my head and my bf’s head were essentially multiple f-words as we fumbled to get the mask on, so even a basic announcement ahead of time might get it into some passengers’ heads in case they do deploy, especially if there are other things occuring at the same time (severe turbulence, alarms, etc).

  4. While living in Tokyo in the 80s and listening to the Armed Forces Network I would frequently heard PSA along the lines that you could pinky write a check for the amount of your bank balance and no higher. It always surprised me that the good burghers of Tokyo expected that quality of armed forces would be sufficient to protect them from China/N Korea/Russia

  5. The fact that the preflight safety demo still shows how to click a seat belt alone is enough to prove both the stupidity of some people and also how the instructions go the lowest common denominator. IMHO, the instruction to “put on your mask before helping someone else” is close behind and this really shouldn’t need to be said either!

  6. @ac There’s a good reason why you need to put your own masks before helping others – to prevent you from passing out while helping others, because the person being helped probably can’t help the passed out helper. Some of the caregivers may not think of that in an emergency.

  7. It sounds stupid but I guarantee you if those masks deploy, someone is going to put their oxygen mask on top of their face mask. Most airline safety briefings are already aimed at the “dumb people” because most people have flown on planes enough times to already know the procedures in general. I always look at the briefing card prior to the briefing but I’m an outlier (obviously). So adding this mask removal notification is just par for the course.

  8. Hello

    Please keep in mind we are very flying around people of differing degrees of travel experience and education.
    Remember the male passenger in the last 2 years taking a selfie of himself after a mask deployment wearing it only over his mouth and that’s after verbal and demo instructions.
    Personally, I’m glad they incorporated it into the briefing.

    Flight Attendant

  9. To me, the instruction to not remove facemasks when I returned to flying in May was pretty non-obvious. For people who are not aware that the source of the air is a chemical reaction of sodium chlorate (rather than some purification / concentration of in-cabin air), the acceptability of removing masks isn’t obvious at all. Why breathe in concentrated air from >190 people?

    Besides, I don’t find your argument that it should be obvious that masks inhibit airflow compelling. People can breathe pretty normally with masks on — is it so strange to think that they could also breathe normally when being fed a *higher* concentration of oxygen than usual?

  10. @gleff

    Inflight announcements of any variety are so long that any meaningful message has long since drowned out. Very little of what gets said on the PA is actually of much importance anymore… so when my butt hits the seat, the headphones go on, and I mind my own business. The only thing of importance to me on that particular flight is knowing where the emergency exits are.

    Pretty much everything about repetitive training for emergencies is about minimizing panic. Some people freak the f out at the slightest provocation, but the reality is, if you want people to survive, the less thinking they have to do in an emergency, the better. Pilots get drilled on checklists during training for exactly that reason, even if they’ve flown the same airplane for 20 years.

    One thing you need to know about hypoxia is that slow deprivation of oxygen sneaks up on you, and you don’t think clearly. If I put the oxygen mask over my regular mask and I’m getting some airflow, I may not actually realize I have a problem until I’m so out to lunch I can’t think straight.

    Hypoxia is drilled into pilots from the earliest days of training.

  11. Really? Is the added instruction too much for you? Then maybe you should just stay home. You do understand that if there is an incident in a plane at 40,000 feet you have has little as 18 seconds of useful oxygen. You can develop hypoxia and not even be able to think clearly. There was one flight where a picture was taken after the masks came down and many many people were wearing the masks wrong and not even covering their nose. Accident investigators have noticed that in plane emergency landings people will panic and look for the release button on the seat belt like they were in a car instead of simply pulling the buckle open or some people just sit in their seat in shock as the FAs are screaming at them to evacuate. What may seem like a simple thing to you may not going to seem soo simple to someone going through what may be the scariest moment of their entire lives where seconds count.

  12. Study after study has shown that passengers who pay attention to the safety briefing and read the safety cards are more likely to survive an accident. Repetition helps.

    I’ve flown literally hundreds, if not thousands, of times and no matter what is going on I pause what I’m doing to listen to the safety briefing. It can’t hurt, plus if an actual flight attendant is performing the briefing it’s courteous to pay attention. They aren’t standing there for their safety.

  13. @Gary using the keyword “personal responsibility” is what brought this into free markets. Thats a right wing/libertarian buzz term…I am VERY sure you are aware of it.

  14. @Joelfreak – the context here is expecting people not to be morons, it isn’t about expecting people not to infringe on others’ rights. are you suggesting liberalism assumes the masses are asses?

  15. I’m a smart guy, but it’s (still) not obvious to me why facemask removal is necessary. It doesn’t seem like removing it would hurt in any way, except maybe adding another step to remember and a few seconds to an urgent situation. But if I breath in air successfully thru the facemask normally, why is the oxygen/air mix unable to pass through the facemask?

    I don’t expect the FAs to explain the science – for example, after hundreds of flights I also still don’t understand why there’s a plastic bag (that may not inflate) on the mask.

    But that I should remove my facemask is certainly not obvious, and if it’s necessary, then it absolutely belongs in the safety briefing.

  16. @gary No, I know that “personal responsibility” is code for “lets remove all social programs and regulations”.

  17. @gary Maybe you didn’t mean it in that sense here, but believe me, its a WELL known code.

  18. @AC

    The seatbelt demo is done to be fresh in your mind, should an accident occur, and you potentially go into shock. Also, remember how we unfasten our car seatbelts? We PUSH the button, not LIFT the flap.

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