Friday, January 16, 2009

Women And Children First?

I heard on the radio this morning that "women and children first" was how that US Air plane, the one that landed in the Hudson River yesterday, was cleared. I certainly have no problems with getting children to safety, but several interesting questions are raised:

1. I've flown a few times with my son, who's now 12. Especially when he was younger, does it seem reasonable to have him alone in what would clearly be a high-stress situation? Or to have a bunch of children standing out on the wing in the Hudson with their parents inside?

2. Wouldn't it make more sense to evacuate the aircraft in an orderly manner, and not have to squeeze around men?

3. Not that I have anything against chivalry, but given that we no longer hold Victorian views of the roles of men and women--and in this time of equality of the sexes--on what basis might we argue for allowing women off first? I admit, I'm not coming up with anything good.

And on a completely unrelated note, I've heard (but not seen confirmed yet) that the pilot was an Air Force Academy graduate.


Anonymous said...

And you wonder why you're single...

Anonymous said...

I heard he was a '73 grad. Nothing like a grad saving the day.

Darren said...

Who says I wonder?

John H said...

Darren, Quoting Heinlein above you should know the answer to why Women and Children First.

PeggyU said...

From a purely pragmatic standpoint, shouldn't it be fatter/low density people first, followed by those who can swim, and then finally the remainder of the passengers? Toss in the ones who can float, and then let the others hitch a ride?

angryimmigrant said...

[insert protected class here] first systems are nice when it's only a matter of gallantry. I choose reason 2) to agree with Darren. Airplanes have the "Cathedral" problem of limited pathways to the door that require ordered (and preferably orderly) movement. Unless you have rows populated entirely of the "protected class", the people to the inside of them need to hustle first.

On the wide, flat deck of a slowly sinking ship, where putting the protected class first doesn't significantly slow the time it takes to get 100% off (it just decreases the time to get 100% of the protected class off), then this makes more sense.

Choose which-ever protected class you want to. But everyone else in the panicky situation has to agree with you in order for it to work.

With an old-school Air Force flier in charge, it's going to be women and children first, and himself last.

allen (in Michigan) said...

Whatever someone might have said I rather doubt that the tight confines of an airliner, especially an airliner sinking into water, would be a place where any distinctions could be made other then proximity to an open exit. In fact, any other method would be likely to increase the danger to everyone on board so.

Could it have been in taking passengers off the wing that the "women and children" selection was made? That at least makes some sense since you can see and get at people on some sort of a selective basis.

Ellen K said...

I am sure given that the new administration will want parity on all things that first when the plane starts going down, a committee will be formed to oversee the evacuation. Then a total count and breakdown of the entire plane population will occur to define the percentages of various ethnic, racial, religious, gender, disabilities and groups of sexual orientation. Then, in an orderly manner, the first segment of the group, representing the overall demographic of the entire population of the plane will be release to the wing. Of course, by then the plane will have sunk to the bottom of whatever body of water they crashed into. But at least things will have been done fairly according the lights of the EEOC, NAACP, LULAC, ADA, and whatever other alphabet groups apply.

PS. The pilot, I have heard, was also a Texan.

DADvocate said...

You must have the wrong idea of feminism. It's all about women first. Indeed, the existence of children is sexist.

Darren said...

Danville, CA, is claiming him as their own, too. I think he lives there now.

Ellen K said...

But he went to Denison High School. Dallas news had his high school yearbook pics and his sister still lives there. Once a Texan, always a Texan. Whatever, he's a hero and from what I understand, he actually executed a successful ditching, which has never happened before with a commercial jet. Amazing.

PeggyU said...

Yes, I guess they are studying the daylights out of it, to see what went so right with this accident.

And I think ... it's nice to have a bit of good news out of the media for a change. :)

Sandy said...

I was amazed to hear that the women and children were taken care of first. In the Heartland and the South, it wouldn't have surprised me, but in the Northeast? My experiences there would lead to me expect "every man for himself." Hearing that the pilot was a Texan cleared up that mystery.

>> on what basis might we argue for allowing women off first?<<
I guess that would depend on your worldview. What's most important? Survival of the fittest? Order and Efficiency at all costs? Or the belief that we have a God-given duty for those who are strong to take care of those who are weaker first- even at the expense of our own lives? In spite of the nice idea of "equality of the sexes," it's a fact that most men are physically stronger than most women (and would be more likely to survive a dip in the freezing Hudson, or a confrontation with an intruder in the home, or hand-to-hand combat in a war.)

>>does it seem reasonable to have him alone in what would clearly be a high-stress situation?<<
Yeah, that would a tough situation, but in my observation, it would also be the exception to the rule. I rarely see men flying alone with young children, but I commonly see women flying alone with young children. Makes one think maybe the sexes aren't so equal after all :-)

BTW, I enjoy your blog and your thoughtful commentary.

Darren said...


My preference for order and efficiency in this type of situation comes not from a belief in those for their own sake, but from the practicality that within the confines of a passenger jet, those will most likely save the most lives by getting the most people outside in the shortest amount of time.

Steve USMA '85 said...

OK, I'll take an actual stab at your three points:
1. This is going to be a high-stress situation no matter how it is handled. Note that you would not have a bunch of children alone on the wing, they would be with a number of women, many of them mothers of said children. I am confident the these women would take under their wing any non-attached children to ensure their safety while waiting for rescue and/or their parent to emerge from the plane.
2. If the men don't stand up in the aisle, no squeezing necessary. If man is in the aisle seat, it is not that hard to climb over (yes, I've been in planes - they are small but in an emergency all things become possible). So, you only have women and children and no one to go around.
3. This point adds justification to #'s 1&2. The best and relatively easiest time to evacuate the plane would be at the start. The plane has not begun to sink (note that we don't know how long that will take). Flight crew will be at their prime to handle helping children out the emergency escapes. Women in general being smaller and less muscular will also benefit from this fresh help. Also, helping a 200 pound man will tire the crew faster than helping a 120 pound woman (remember averages here). Women are also the ones children run to under stress and are generally more stabilizing to young ones (please don't make me have to cite sources - who did most of you all run to when the bogeyman came?). Once the plane begins to settle, water rising in the aisle, light becoming dim, who has - in general - more physical strength to overcome the increase in difficulty to egress the plane? Therefore, the men are last.

So, I think there is still merit in women and children first but I don't think it needs to be mandatory nowadays. If indeed it is harder to get around the man than letting him go first, common sense should prevail.