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Few days ago I had a chance to watch a documentary about Air Canada flight 797 air crash from June 1983, where some passengers died as a result of fire on board the flight. You can find related Wikipedia article about it here.

One fo the results of this tragic event was that the safety procedures on all flights were changed (the full list of those changes can also be found in the article mentioned above). For me the important ones are (below is copied from the article):


  • Strong suggestion that passenger instruction in how to open emergency exits become standard practice within the airline industry.[2]
  • Strong recommendation for expedited FAA rule changes mandating that all U.S.-based air carriers install (or improve existing) in-cabin fire safety enhancements, including (but not limited to):
    • Fire-blocking seat materials to limit both the spread of fire and the generation of toxic chemicals through ignition;
    • Emergency track lighting at or near the floor, strong enough to cut through heavy fuel fire smoke;
    • Raised markings on overhead bins indicating the location of exit rows to aid passengers in locating these rows in case of passenger visual impairment (either pre-existing or caused by emergency conditions);
    • Hand-held fire extinguishers using advanced technology extinguishing agents such as Halon.[1]


This struck me as important because on my recent flight from and to Tel Aviv with Austrian Airlines I noticed that all safety seats were empty, since no one wanted to pay additional charge for the leg room those offer. This time though I saw for the first time that flight attendants CHASED PASSENGERS AWAY from those seats after some tried to sit on them after boarding was completed and during the flight. As a reason they gave the “pay for seat” explanation. What’s more, they opened tray tables in front of the seats in order to visibly declare them as off-limits.

I find it – possibly unreasonably – disturbing as I think that in case of any emergency each second is important. The tragedy of the flight 797 has shown that too. If there is no one in the emergency exit row, no one will be able to immediately open the exit doors in case of such emergency. Someone will need to go there (possibly in a cabin filled with smoke), find the right row, and get the door open. This can result in confusion – who should go there etc – and loss of precious time. Maybe I am exaggerating, but I think that Austrian Airlines in hot pursuit of revenue is going too far.

Practices like that backfire (oops, pun not intended), since they lost money on seats if those would be sold for the normal price. Secondly, if you stress good service – not profit – as your overreaching goal, profit will come. Right now Austrian is losing money big time – I wonder when Lufthansa will finally shut it down.