Are You Ready, Willing and Able to Assist in the Event of an Emergency?

Personal Injury
Aviation Accident Preparedness
By Paul Faust, Founder -

“Are you ready, willing and able to assist in the event of an emergency?” With a quick nod of the head and a verbal “yes” you are now officially part of the airline’s emergency response team. 

I am a frequent traveler both for business and pleasure and have always been amazed that this one question is the entire criteria/filtering process for who we will all have to count on in the remote chance something goes horribly wrong with our flight. Now…don’t get me wrong….I understand that the chances of needing anyone to help the flight crew is infinitesimally small and it really wouldn’t be practical to put travelers through a quick emergency training course while waiting to take off. But isn’t there a little more we can do?

With the exception of some of the emergency row seats that don’t recline, many passengers covet these rows as there is slightly more legroom. Airlines now even sell these seats for an additional fee with very little regard for who actually sits there.

Let’s be honest, when you are sitting comfortably at the gate, the airplane isn’t moving and the flight attendant asks you if you are willing to help, “who would say no?” Ask the same question in a real emergency, at 35,000 feet right after the pilot makes an announcement advising everyone to assume crash position, and let’s see how many smiling faces nod YES.

Again...I completely understand that of millions of flights per year around the world, only a tiny fraction will require the good folks in the emergency row to assist. However…that’s often the case in emergency situations. Nothing happens until it does. And when it does….we better all hope and pray that those responsible to assist with our safety and lives perform their duties.

Let me ask you this question: How many flights every year have a threat or security situation requiring the intervention of an air marshal? Most likely it’s only a handful. So…why don’t we just casually ask some passengers if they would be, “ready, willing and able to assist” in the event of a terror or other security threat? The answer is because in the rarest of cases where an air marshal is needed…we all want someone as highly trained and ready as reasonably possible.

I am quite sure that 90% of the passengers who say “yes” truly mean and believe that they will be ready and able to help the flight crew. However, we really have no idea how those same good intentioned people will respond in an emergency. Will they stay calm and assist or will they freeze or even panic and make the situation worse.

Unfortunately, none of us really know how we will react until we are actually placed in a stressful situation. As I volunteer firefighter I have seen people who have trained and practiced in a controlled setting get tunnel vision or freeze when responding to their first real emergency. We are fortunate in these situations that there are other emergency responders there to remind them of their training and get them back in the game.

I am certainly not an airline safety expert but from my experience as a first responder and as someone who has an interest in this subject matter, I have often thought about what could be done to improve this system. Below are a few suggestions:


  • If you sit in an emergency row, you should be REQUIRED to take out the emergency procedure card and read it (or at least pretend you are). Just because you fly a couple times per year doesn’t mean you are familiar with how things work. A 60 second refresher won’t hurt you.
  • Anyone who sits in an emergency row should not be served alcoholic drinks during the flight. If you want to drink on the flight…no problem…sit in another row. At the same time…if the flight crew deems that someone has had some drinks at the airport…that person should be assigned another seat.
  • Passengers who sit in the emergency rows should not be allowed to fall asleep until a few minutes after take-off and should be woken up 5 minutes before landing. These are the times when an emergency will most likely arise and we don’t need groggy people waking up from their slumber helping.
  • Today when we book at flight we are asked to add all sorts of information to our ticket such as our frequent flyer number, whether we have TSA pre-check, special meal requirements, etc. Airlines should also ask people to check a box if they are a current or former firefighter, police officer, EMT, member of the military or other type first responder. I view this as completely optional, but it would give the airlines a better picture of who should sit in these rows and in general who is on the flight who could assist in those rare cases of emergency.

Airline travel today is extremely safe and improvements are made all the time to make it even safer. From limiting liquids and certain sharp objects to better screening when we arrive at the airport to improvements in pilot training and procedures to the actual planes themselves. Safety and security is a constantly evolving process and one where even the smallest changes can have real, meaningful results. While we can use technology, engineering and advances in aeronautics to make some of the biggest changes…sometimes the difference in outcomes comes down to the actual people there in the moment. I don’t know about you…but I want the best possible people, in the best possible positions, with the best possible procedures there…”ready, willing and able to assist” me.

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