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Here’s How To Wear An Airplane Oxygen Mask Correctly

Do you know the proper protocol? This could be the difference between life and death.

On your last flight, did you tune in when the flight attendants demonstrated safety procedures? Did you read the safety material in the back seat pocket word by word? Most passengers do not. In fact, many go straight into their in-flight routines with headphones or earplugs in place, confident they know everything by heart. But it turns out we could all use a refresher, and it could save lives.

After a recent Southwest Airlines engine malfunction and emergency landing, passengers had to don oxygen masks. Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 experienced engine failure and shrapnel blew out a window, depressurizing the cabin. The woman seated next to the compromised window was partially sucked out of the plane, eventually dying from her injuries, and others sustained minor injuries.

Such an emergency is rare. It was the first fatality in a U.S. passenger airline accident in more than nine years. But many more people could have been seriously hurt.

Several passengers documented the harrowing incident. They shared photos and videos from the plane when it was still mid-air. They also showed how few of the passengers actually wore their oxygen masks correctly. Here’s one such video posted on Facebook by Marty Martinez:

In response, one former flight attendant issued a public service announcement of his own on Twitter. Bobby Laurie, now host of The Jet Set travel talk show, pleaded with people to “listen to your flight attendants! ALMOST EVERYONE in this photo from today is wearing their mask WRONG. Put down the phone, stop with the selfies.. and LISTEN. **Cover your NOSE & MOUTH.”

How To Wear Your Oxygen Mask Correctly

Several commenters noted that the design of the masks doesn’t clearly show how they should be worn. Even so, flight attendants always share clear directions in their pre-flight safety demonstration, saying, “place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally.” The first two steps are straightforward, though breathing normally may be easier said than done during an in-flight emergency.

If someone only wears their oxygen mask over their mouth, like many of the Southwest passengers from the images, they won’t get enough oxygen. The nose is the most direct pathway to the lungs, and to better oxygen extraction, so it needs the oxygen from the face mask, too. When people don’t get enough oxygen, they can experience hypoxia. The symptoms of hypoxia include dizziness, reduced vision, impaired judgment, unconsciousness and even death.

Thankfully, the pilot quickly directed the plane to a lower altitude, and to a safe emergency landing. As a result, how the passengers wore their masks ultimately did not hurt them.

Realizing many passengers ignore the life-saving instructions from flight attendants, more are jazzing up their spiel. For example, one flight attendant let his sense of humor shine and made his plane full of passengers take notice:

So tune in before your next flight and listen to your flight attendants. Then turn on the music and movies after you’ve settled in.