Cabin safety bulletin 25 Emergency evacuation and occupant survivability

What is the purpose of this bulletin?

The purpose of this bulletin is to emphasise the importance of:

  • evacuation procedures using:
    • aerobridges
    • stairs
    • slides and slide rafts.
  • providing cabin crew with opportunities to practice those skills during initial and recurrent training programs.

Practical training of these procedures should include brace and/or evacuation commands relative to the evacuation type, including a rapid or precautionary disembarkation.

Cabin Safety Bulletin (CSB) number 25 is the first of a two-part series, with the second part available in November 2021.

CSB 26 will give sample commands and considerations for cabin crew when faced with passengers trying to take carry-on baggage with them during an emergency evacuation.

A cabin safety bulletin is an advisory document that supports cabin safety by providing recommendations and education. Recommendations in this bulletin are not mandatory.

Who does this bulletin apply to?

This bulletin applies to all charter and regular public transport (RPT) operators of Australian registered aircraft.

Effective period

Effective date: October 2021

Removal from circulation: October 2022


In 2020, an accident involving a McDonnell Douglas MD83 and 2 Boeing 737 accidents served as harsh reminders of the importance of occupant survivability and emergency evacuation1.

In 1994, Cranfield University carried out a study on the influence of cabin crew members on passenger evacuations during an emergency. The study had 2 parts. The first series of tests looked at the influence of the number of cabin crew and their behaviour on participant performance when evacuating from the forward exits of a narrow-body cabin training device.

The scenarios tested included:

  1. evacuations with either one or 2 assertive cabin crew
  2. evacuations with 2 non-assertive cabin crew
  3. evacuations with no cabin crew available to help participants.

In the second series, the participants exited from the rear (aft) exits of the cabin training device with either 2 assertive cabin crew or no cabin crew to help their evacuation.

The report was prepared by the Cranfield University Department of Applied Psychology and published by the UK CAA. It stated that ’the results showed that the performance and number of cabin crew significantly influenced participant behaviour and evacuation rates.’ It also revealed that when 2 assertive cabin crew members were present, participants evacuated faster than with one assertive cabin crew member. The evacuations involving a non-assertive cabin crew member or no cabin crew present were significantly slower.

Passenger behaviour in an emergency evacuation

Passenger behaviour in an emergency evacuation can be constructive or adverse.

Constructive behaviour may translate to acting calmly and following established evacuation procedures, even assisting others to evacuate. Adverse behaviour may present as passengers being ill-prepared to take the required actions to rapidly evacuate, possibly because of a failure to listen to safety briefings or understand them. Some passengers may become overwhelmed, prohibiting their ability to move or act rationally and potentially put others in jeopardy. When passengers need to operate ‘self-help’ emergency exits, like Type 3 exits, their actions are critical. They may even fail to take the necessary actions as they have not received essential training.

Aspects of passenger behaviour that have presented during evacuations include:

  • panic and/or aggressive behaviour jeopardising the safety of other occupants
  • a lack of appreciation of the seriousness of the situation
  • ignoring crew commands
  • hesitating and/or refusing to jump at emergency exits
  • attempting to use the same exit by which they entered the aeroplane
  • taking cabin baggage to exit and/or evacuating the aircraft, which may prove fatal by causing delay for remaining occupants
  • not effectively opening exit(s), if required
  • using mobiles phones and other equipment to record the incident or accident inside the passenger cabin and post evacuation; this may impede the flow of passengers to emergency exits.

Evacuation difficulties include:

  • the effect of a crosswind on an aeroplane on fire on the ground
  • inhospitable terrain
  • internal obstructions in an impact situation such as:
    • passenger cabin structural failures resulting in injury to passengers and crew and impeding evacuation routes
    • failure of overhead lockers and ejection of contents
    • incorrectly stowed cabin baggage impeding evacuation routes
    • compromised interior structures including the passenger service unit (PSU) and seats being forced by impact damage into aisles and cross aisles.
  • passengers retrieving cabin baggage before evacuating the aircraft2.

A survey of UK passengers carried out for the Royal Aeronautical Society in 20183 found, for an emergency evacuation involving a life-threatening situation:

  • 61% of passengers said they would take nothing with them apart from what they carried in their pockets
  • 23% said that they would take valuables with them that were in easy reach
  • 6% said they would take all their belongings with them.

For an emergency evacuation not involving a life-threatening situation, the survey also identified:

  • 20% said they would take nothing with them apart from what they carried in their pockets
  • 31% said they would take valuables with them that were in easy reach
  • 29% said they would take all their belongings with them.

To increase survival rates, cabin crew should reinforce the need for passengers to act, by shouting ‘brace’ and/or evacuation commands or directing passengers toward exits.

Silent review

Cabin crew should always be alert to environmental cues that may signal an emergency, for example:

  • fire
  • smoke
  • sparks
  • unusual noises
  • metal on metal scraping sounds
  • impact forces
  • abnormal aircraft attitude.

To aid awareness, cabin crew should conduct a silent review. This can prepare cabin crew for any eventualities that may occur during take-off and landing. It also readies cabin crew for an emergency, taking into account both inside and outside conditions. The silent review helps the cabin crew to focus their attention on safety and be ready to act in an emergency. While a silent review can take any form, it should contain all the elements needed to review evacuation duties and responsibilities, for example:

  • What aircraft type am I on?
  • Am I taking off or landing over land or water?
  • Possible evacuation scenarios:
    • land
    • at airport
    • away from airport
    • inadvertent water
    • tidal flats
    • ditching
  • What type of exit am I operating?
  • Am I properly secured in my seat?
  • Evacuation signals:
    • primary signal/alternate signal
    • crew member responsibilities at the evacuation signal
    • evacuation cancellation
  • What are the outside conditions?
  • Initiation: flight or cabin crew – when and how evacuation is initiated?
  • Where are the door assist handles?
  • Exit priorities (land/ditching)
  • How do I open the exit? Where is the manual inflation handle?
  • What are my evacuation commands?
  • When, where and how do I redirect passengers?
  • Survival priorities and equipment: what equipment do I take with me and where is it located?
  • What are my duties on the ground?
  • What are the brace position and commands?
  • Where are the nearest suitable able-bodied passengers?
  • Where are the passengers who need special assistance?

It is recommended the silent review be included in an initial and recurrent training program.

Mnemonics for silent review

Following is a mnemonic for silent review used by some operators for some critical components. This example is known as OLD ABC:

O – operation of exits

L – location of emergency equipment

D – drills (e.g. brace for impact)

A – able-bodied passengers and passengers with reduced mobility

B – brace position

C – commands.

Another example of a mnemonic for the silent review is ALERT:

A – aircraft type

L – location

E – equipment

R – responsibility

T – threat.

Evacuation categories

Prepared and unprepared evacuations

Evacuations can be either prepared or unprepared.

When the pilot in command has time to plan for an emergency landing and evacuation, cabin crew will be briefed on:

  • the nature of the emergency
  • time available to prepare passengers and the cabin
  • other factors the cabin crew must know.

The pilot in command will communicate the nature of the emergency with air traffic control (ATC). They will get advice from ATC on the best options for an emergency landing at the nearest suitable aerodrome.

Unplanned evacuations will present flight and cabin crew with serious challenges. Often the crew will have little or no time to react to the situation and communication between crew might be limited or non-existent. In such scenarios individual crew must deal with the situation as it confronts them, and their actions might not always follow operator standard operating procedures.

Considerations for operations without cabin crew

On flights where cabin crew are not required, pilots are responsible for providing passengers with a standard briefing specific to the aircraft type for the flight. The operator should consider other means of transmitting the information in single-pilot operations, for example:

  • electronically
  • videos
  • pre-recorded announcements.

This may reduce the workload for flight crew during critical phases of flight.

Challenges related to dual exit assignment

If an operator wishes to assign a single cabin crew member to a pair of floor-level exits, procedures in the operations manual and training program should address the management of an evacuation at more than one exit.

Operators should ensure that an acceptable level of safety is maintained and the crew member assigned to dual exits can perform the following:

  • reaching and operating the opposite exit (taking into consideration fuselage width and requirements for direct view compliance)
  • simultaneously giving commands for the 2 emergency exits, including preventing passengers from opening an unusable exit
  • managing the evacuation and passenger flows to both emergency exits of a pair
  • managing carry-on baggage at both exits
  • monitoring continued exit serviceability at both exits
  • shouting correct and audible commands at both exits
  • managing duties of incapacitated crew
  • redirecting passengers to other usable exits
  • preventing passengers from opening an unusable exit.

Multi-deck commercial passenger aeroplanes

Multi-deck commercial passenger aeroplanes are currently limited to the Boeing 747 and Airbus A380. In the event of a planned emergency landing or ditching, the pilot in command may decide to transfer some or all passengers from the upper deck to the main deck where evacuation slides are deployed from a lower height. This may depend on time available and seat availability. Operators of Boeing 747 aeroplanes might consider the planned ditching aspects whereby all passengers will need to use the main deck slide-rafts.

Evacuation and rapid or precautionary disembarkation4

An accident or serious incident involving a significant threat of imminent danger to aircraft occupants may require the use of evacuation slides. Emergency evacuations that involve the use of slides might include a risk of injury to aircraft occupants. For example, in twin-aisle and multi-deck aeroplanes, the evacuation slides are deployed from a door sill which might be a great height from the ground, creating a risk of injury. Additionally, there is a risk of injury to occupants who must evacuate through exits not required to have evacuation slides.

Rapid disembarkation might be preferable to an evacuation. For example, in circumstances where:

  • there is smoke or fumes in the passenger cabin
  • there has been a large fuel spillage outside the aeroplane
  • the pilot in command has been advised an explosive device might be on board.

Rapid disembarkation rather than the use of evacuation slides has the potential to avoid external hazards like ground service equipment, vehicles and ground personnel. Rapid disembarkation can only be achieved when stairs and/or aerobridges are connected to the aeroplane or can be rapidly repositioned at floor level emergency exits. This is also the case for aeroplanes that have integral airstairs. When an aerobridge is used, procedures should ensure the rapid movement of passengers from the passenger cabin into an aerobridge. Passengers should be managed so they move quickly up the aerobridge and do not block passenger egress from the cabin.

Aeroplanes with more than one passenger deck might need more consideration. If an operator specifies that rapid disembarkation can be an alternative to an evacuation, this terminology should be used by the pilot in command and understood by the cabin crew to avoid confusion. Operators should make sure they have effective procedures and associated training for flight crew, cabin crew and ground operations staff to deal with a rapid disembarkation. There should also be practical procedures and for communication between crew and ground operations staff including any outsourced providers. Crew procedures and ground operations staff procedures should be compatible to achieve a positive outcome.

Operators should also include procedures for the safe and rapid disembarkation of passengers when no flight crew are onboard the aircraft. To avoid any doubt for passengers who may have already received the pre-flight safety briefing, the pilot in command should issue a ‘rapid disembarkation’ instruction to the most senior cabin crew member. This should be via the interphone or by way of a flight deck briefing and not broadcast by PA. Passengers might not understand the difference between that and an emergency evacuation. The senior cabin crew member should convey the ‘rapid disembarkation’ instruction to other cabin crew, discreetly avoiding any reference to ‘emergency’ or ‘evacuation’.

Language requirements

Passengers are expected to open unstaffed exits during an evacuation, where response time is critical. In addition to operating the emergency exit, passengers seated in an emergency exit row must understand the verbal commands of the crew during the evacuation process. These commands vary depending on the nature and location of the accident, potential fire or other danger outside or inside the aircraft. It is essential that passengers seated in emergency exit rows understand all commands of the crew, for example, when to, and when not to, open exits.

Before departure, operators should brief passengers seated in emergency exit rows. They should inform them of the location and use of the emergency exits in the event of an evacuation. Operator procedures should make sure the briefing is conducted in a language that is understood by all passengers seated in the exit row.


More information

View the cabin safety pages.

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1 EASA definition [2019] Evacuation:is a fast egress from the aircraft in situations declared by the crew members as an emergency, for example, 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 belongings on board and immediately proceed to the nearest usable exit. It is vital that passengers listen to crew members’ commands, remain calm, ensure they have their life jacket if in water, and leave the aircraft as commanded by crew members and as fast as possible.

2 Examples of accidents where passengers evacuated with cabin baggage include: Air France, Toronto, Canada [2Aug2005]; Virgin Atlantic, London Gatwick, UK [16Apr2012]; Asiana Airlines, San Francisco, USA [6Jul2013]; Air Canada, Halifax, Canada [29Mar2015]; British Airways, Las Vegas, USA [8Sep2015]; Emirates, Dubai, Emirates [3Aug2016]; American Airlines, Chicago, USA [28Oct2016].

3 Royal Aeronautical Society Press Release: GB air passengers would take their belongings with them in an evacuation reveals new survey. September 2018.

4 EASA definition [2019] 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 an airport. Aircraft doors which were used for boarding are also used for a rapid disembarkation, i.e., with stairs or aerobridge(s). 

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