26 October 2016
Nearly one in three of the passengers who board a VietJet Air flight is a first-time flier. Photo: Bloomberg
Nearly one in three of the passengers who board a VietJet Air flight is a first-time flier. Photo: Bloomberg

No, the toilet isn’t behind the plane’s emergency door

It turns out that mainland Chinese aren’t the only airline passengers who sometimes feel the urge to open the emergency door.

As VietJet Air flight 175 prepared to leave Hanoi for Ho Chi Minh City, 43-year-old passenger Nguyen Thanh Chuong opened the emergency exit door because he wanted to go to the toilet, Bloomberg reported Tuesday.

Chuong, a farmer from a village on the outskirts of Hanoi, activated the Airbus A321’s evacuation slide, causing a three-hour delay and costing the airline tens of thousands of US dollars.

He’s not alone.

The sudden emergence of a middle class and the rise of discount carriers is causing headaches for flight crews across Asia as the world’s fastest-growing region for aviation welcomes 100 million new fliers every year.

“People are now more mobile than they have been in the history of mankind,” the report quoted Graham Hunt, head of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Asia in Singapore, as saying.

“The fact that you have people who have never before seen an airplane getting on airplanes is a real challenge.”

Vietnam will be among the 10 fastest-growing aviation markets in the world in the next two decades, the International Air Transport Association says.

One in five of the country’s 90 million citizens flies today, and within two decades virtually all Vietnamese are expected to travel by air, Airbus Group SE predicts.

Chuong’s decision to open the emergency door in April cost VietJet about US$30,000 and a chain reaction of flight delays, managing director Luu Duc Khanh said.

The airline, which has been operating for almost four years, says at least 30 percent of the 10 million passengers it will handle this year will be first-time fliers.

Khanh advocated better communication and education for the public, as well as “sterner warnings from airlines and aviation regulators” to reduce the number of such incidents.

Chuong was fined US$687 but was excused after he showed that he lives below the poverty line and his family is recognized for contributing to Vietnam’s revolution.

Aircraft design makes it impossible to open an emergency door while the plane is in the air.


But stories of confused and errant first-timers meddling with emergency exits while a plane is on the ground regularly crop up.

A 61-year-old passenger opened one in Thanh Hoa province last year, claiming he forgot Vietnam Airlines’ instruction not to do so without a cabin attendant’s permission, while a farmer opened another one in April to get some fresh air, local media reported.

“We’re trained to keep a close eye on passengers sitting near the exit doors,” Bloomberg quoted Huong Nguyen, who has worked as a flight attendant for two carriers, including one based in Vietnam, as saying.

VietJet said it also stations cabin crew outside bathrooms to avoid mishaps when first-time fliers fail to lock the door.

Some passengers argue loudly with flight attendants because they don’t understand instructions, while others take life jackets from under seats, assuming they are included in the ticket, Huong said.

Huong and her colleagues are keeping an eye out for those newbies.

Most are easy to spot, because they look nervous or excited, Huong said.

“Some of them carry helmets, and sometimes they put their helmets on when the plane is landing,” she said.

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