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In my travels, I like to read the safety instructions for airplanes..

During my last round trip flights, I flew on four different aircraft:

I have taken the time to photograph part of the safety instructions!
Please excuse the color balance / graininess / lack of focus
I used my cell phone to take these pictures.  I neglected to use my phone’s macro mode, and the auto white balance wasn’t working well, especially with the phone’s built in light.

Anyway, there are three things to be aware of when opening the emergency exit doors. This seems to vary by plane. I assume this has to do with the smaller planes have their exits over the wing, so the doors should be above the water line in the extremely unlikely event of the pilot properly ditching the plane.

De Havilland Canada DHC-8 Dash 8-300 Safety Instructions
The De Havilland Canada DHC-8 Dash 8-300 suggests the passenger to be aware of: water, fire, and what appears to be an iceberg.

Embraer EMB E90 Jet Safety Instructions
The Embraer EMB E90 Jet suggests the passenger to be aware of: smoke, red kelp? (possible underwater landing?), and Yellow Fire. Note, there is nothing mentioned about looking out for water.

Boeing 737-500 Safety Instructions
The Boeing 737-500 suggests the passenger to be aware of: fire, pointy smoke, and water.

Saab SF340A/B Safety Instructions
The Saab SF340A/B suggests the passenger to be aware of: Smoke, Fire, and Debris.

They make sure to write it out in English and Spanish, so that 99% of the people in the United States can understand it. This is a small plane, and probably won’t fly internationally, except to Canada, which does have French speakers, and they didn’t put it in French on there. I’m sure most Francophones can understand the word debris, as it is a French word anyway, and fir and fire are close enough, smoke might cause a problem with the completely monolingual. Also, Quebec/Canada has some weird laws about what is required to be in French, so it may not be legal.

The people who created the book for the Saab SF340A/B had the right idea. They included words to describe the pictures. Apparently the unidentifiable object was debris. Meaning that it is probably not pointy smoke, or an iceberg. Kind of disappointing really! I’m not sure why the Embraer EMB E90 has yellow debris. The plane wasn’t yellow on the outside. I also don’t know why the fire looked a lot like red kelp. It may be a plot to intentionally confuse the passengers?

My conclusion (since I need one) is that, while a picture may be worth a thousand words, one word still may be more effective. This should be a well known fact, as the popular game Pictionary seems to be based on this principle.

  • http://robochristine.blogspot.com/ Christine

    That debris is very reminiscent of the Asteroids arcade game…

  • http://nil Mark

    You’d be right about one word being more effective than a picture and it would indeed be a well known fact, if everyone spoke the same language, and then again if everyone who could speak that language could read it as well! Talk to a traffic engineer and you’ll learn the best road sign is one with no words at all, so that everyone from any can understand the sign’s meaning. So in fairness to the millions of people who can’t read your language but fly, the issue is the effectiveness of the depiction, not the lack of a word.