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{News} FAA Orders Removal of Emergency Oxygen from Airplane Lavatories!

First it was the “no liquid” onboard rule, then it was the “take off your shoes so we can make sure there are no shoe bombs” rule followed by 3D body scanners “so we can see if you’re concealing anything” rule. Well, guess what, now it’s “if cabin depressurization happens, you better not be in the lavatory!” Just this week, it was reported that FAA has ordered U.S. registered planes to remove emergency oxygen that are located in the lavatories, citing security threats.

picture of oxygen mask in plane

Copyright of Getty Images

The public was not informed about this because… “Had the FAA publicized the existence of this security vulnerability prrior to airlines fixing it, thousands of planes across the U.S. and the safety of passengers could have been at risk,” the FAA stated. The good news is, the FAA is working closely with airlines manufacturers to design and install a new oxygen system that does not have this security vulnerability.

SECURITY VULNERABILITY

The emergency oxygen that “powers” the oxygen masks on planes are most commonly chemical oxygen generators. When you pull the masks and fit it on your face, it activates a chemical reaction that generates oxygen flow as well as heat. These tanks has the potential to be accessed by terrorists and poses a security risk to passengers.

According to Aviation Medical Society of Australia and New Zealand, there is an average of 40 to 50 decompressions that happen on planes per year.

FACTS

There are mixed opinions and reactions to this news. Before you can determine how this news impact you, you need to first know the facts.

  1. Planes are pressurized to a maximum altitude of 8,000 feet (so even though you’re flying at 30,000 feet, the pressure inside the plane is kept at a max of 8,000 feet so you can breathe without the need of an oxygen tank).
  2. When cabin depressurization happens and reaches a pressure of 14,000 feet, oxygen masks are deployed.
  3. The reason it is so important that you put on your mask is because you are at risk of passing out if the cabin pressure increases rapidly (the higher the altitude, the less oxygen your lung gets. The less oxygen you get, the quicker you pass out).
  4. The risk of hypoxia is very real in these situations where you could pass out, or worse, experience coma and death.
  5. Time of Useful Consciousness (TUC) is the amount of time you have before becoming disoriented or passing out. The TUC in a depressurized airplane is generally between 10 – 45 seconds. At high altitudes, the TUC is probably more realistically about 10 – 20 seconds.
  6. The oxygen masks are supposed to sustain you while the pilots make a dive to get the plane below 10,000 feet. There’s probably 10+ minutes supply of oxygen per person which is more than enough for the pilots to get the plane to the safe altitude.

HOW DOES THIS IMPACT YOU?

Here’s our take…

[bq_right]The reason it is so important that you put on your mask is because you are at risk of passing out if the cabin pressure increases rapidly (the higher the altitude, the less oxygen your lung gets. The less oxygen you get, the quicker you pass out).[/bq_right]
  1. In our opinion, the chances that you’re in a plane that suffers a depressurization and at that same point of time, you’re in the lavatory is rather small.
  2. Flight attendants are trained to check on anyone in the lavatory in the case of a depressurization only AFTER the plane has descended to a safe altitude.
  3. You have 10 – 20 seconds (likely less than that in reality) to get out of the lavatory and get back to your seat – which is not much time! This might be difficult because you may be disoriented due to lack of oxygen and there’s likely going to be chaos as well.
  4. Special thanks to our good friend, Ling (who’s an experienced flight attendant) with the following advice: If you do happen to be in the lavatory at the time, try to get out and grab the nearest oxygen mask you can find/reach because each row/set of seats will normally have at least ONE extra oxygen mask! When you do get a hold of a mask, pull down on it sharply and put the mask on as fast as you can. Hold on tight to anything you can grab onto including another passenger’s leg to keep yourself from flying around. If you’re a smoker, your TUC will be much shorter!
  5. Best thing to do IMHO is to get back to your seats ASAP when the “fasten your seatbelt” light is on while you’re in the lavatory. Just hold it for while… just think about it… is it worth the risk.

 

Admit it, how many of you have ignored the “fasten your seatbelt” sign and headed for the lavatory while in the plane? We’re definitely guilty of that several times. With this change, we’re definitely going to make sure we’re back at our seats should the “fasten your seatbelt” sign comes on while we’re in the lavatory in the future!

What do you think about this news? Will this change your behavior when aboard a plane?

4 Comments

  1. Oxy2go refilles September 16, 2015 Reply

    You got some points. But is it better to know that you got one when you need it? Very useful article.

  2. Sling August 20, 2011 Reply

    Ermm… Many airlines actually train their crew to don the O2 mask ASAP during Rapid Decompression, checking on the Lavatories or other passengers is only to be done AFTER the plane comes to a safe altitude, which will be notified by the pilot via PA. Not to mention the fact that when Rapid Decompression do happen, EVERY thing will be flying including you especially when the pilot dive the plane! Also, if you are a smoker, your TUC will be much much more shorter too!!! So, my only advice is, if you are trap in the lavatory AND there is NO O2 mask, try get out ASAP and just grasp any nearest O2 mask you can find as each row/set of seats will normally have at least ONE EXTRA O2 mask available and those masks are long enough even to those who actually sit a row forward or aft to use it. Pull sharply and don the mask and just hold on to anything else, including another passenger leg to keep yourself from flying around.

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