In this article, aviation cabin safety expert, Kathy Lord-Jones discusses the issue of objects falling and shifting unexpectedly from overhead storage bins. Her discussion includes some of the reasons for falling and shifting items, the steps that airlines take to prevent these injuries, and how these incidents are typically investigated from a forensic standpoint.
Injuries Caused by Falling & Shifting Baggage
Objects that fall from overhead bins in commercial aircraft present a substantial risk to both passengers and flight attendants. Many domestic airlines impose a 40 pound weight limit on carry-on baggage, which has the potential to cause serious injury from impact or overexertion when bags fall or shift unexpectedly from overhead storage. The experts at Robson Forensic have investigated many such incidents that resulted in serious head, neck and back injuries.
A 1998 study written by Dr. Leo Rozmaryn, published by the Flight Safety Foundation (Volume 45, Number 3) estimated that 4,500 falling baggage injuries occur each year. According to this study, bags stowed in the overhead bins generally fall for two reasons:
- Bags are balanced and lodged correctly but become dislodged and shift during normal aircraft movements. When overhead bins are opened, the loose articles fall.
- Overhead bins are overfilled beyond their load capacity. Even when the over-stuffed bin door is closed and latched, items may still fall because the bin latches are over stressed and open spontaneously, discharging items below.
Each airline must have an FAA approved Carry-On Baggage program. The program outlines the allowable size and weight of the bags for that carrier. Since each airline creates its own program details, there are variations between airlines on what bags are considered ‘allowable’. Typically, the items that are stored in the overhead bins today are no longer just coats and hats. Today, passengers board and stow rolling suitcases and briefcases, strollers, sports equipment and other unusually shaped objects into the overhead space.
Many carriers train their flight attendants when opening overhead bins, to open the bins slowly with one hand and to use the second hand in a position that would prevent or block any stowed items from falling out of the bin. On many airlines trained flight attendants assist passengers to find storage for their bags and instruct passengers on how to properly stow their bags; an example being wheels first, flat side flush with the bin. Per FAA regulations, before the aircraft door can be closed for departure, flight attendants are required to ensure that all of the overhead bins are closed and latched and that carry-on bags within the cabin are properly stowed underneath the seats and do not protrude into the aisle. After takeoff and after landing many cabin crews give a verbal reminder to their passengers to take caution when they open overhead bins to avoid being hit by possible falling bags.
In forensic casework involving injuries related to items falling from overhead bins, Robson Forensic experts typically start by reviewing the airline’s Carry-On Baggage Program. An investigation of the incident is used to determine if policies and procedures were followed and enforced by the airline’s employees. Further investigation into the timeline of how and when the stowed item fell from the bin is used to determine if both passengers and employees acted in a reasonable manner.
Forensic Aviation Investigations
The aviation group at Robson Forensic is comprised of seasoned aviation experts with deep roots in both government and industry. From complex event reconstruction to aircraft maintenance, passenger safety, air traffic control, and airport engineering; the forensic experts at Robson Forensic are well equipped to assist in your investigation.
Aviation Cabin Safety Expert
Kathleen Lord- Jones is well respected throughout the aviation industry as an expert in cabin safety. Cabin safety deals with all activities that cabin crew must accomplish to maintain safety in the cabin. These activities contribute to safe, effective, and efficient aircraft operations in normal, abnormal and emergency situations. Her experience includes nearly 25 years as a flight attendant for a legacy carrier, during which she also directed the National Safety Department for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants. Ms. Lord-Jones has been instrumental in developing more stringent safety standards, new training curriculum and legislation towards the advancement of aviation safety.
Carry-On & Weight Baggage Limit Chart for 68 World Airlines. (2009, June 28). Retrieved from Flying with Fish: http://flyingwithfish.boardingarea.com/2009/06/28/carry-on-weight-baggage-limit-chart-for-68-world-airlines/
Dr. Leo Rozmaryn, M. (1998). Sporting Goods, Oddly Shapped Items Have Highest Injury Rates in Falling Overhead Baggage. Flight Safety Foundation- Human Factors and Aviation Medicine, 1-8.
The Airsafe Journal. (1999, Septmeber 7). Retrieved from Airsafe.com: http://www.airsafe.com/journal/issue13.htm
Wald, M. L. (2003, May 13). Weight Estimates on Air Passengers Will Be Increased. The New York Times, pp. 1-5.