How Much is Your Life Worth?

Dealing daily with all things emergency management, I spend way more time than the average person considering the ‘what if’s’ of people’s circumstances. Quite often when setting up systems and procedures for ensuring people’s safety the question of cost arises and when weighed up against; “How much is your life worth?” then the objections usually subside.

Well after more than a few incidents it would appear that the answer to how much is your life worth, is becoming clearer and it is ‘the cost of a Gucci handbag’.

Yeah alright; that was shock value and cheap sensationalism! But not really that far from the truth.

But here’s a few incidents that form the basis of this assumption.

July 2006, Armed police removed a woman from a Cathay Pacific flight after she refused to stow her Gucci handbag under the seat in front of her or in the cabin overhead. The flight from Hong Kong to Tokyo was delayed for about an hour as the woman contested the cabin crew’s instructions to put the handbag on the floor or in the compartment above her seat.

This type of scenario is not a one-off. Speaking with friends of mine in the airline industry about unruly passengers on aeroplanes, it appears that seldom a week goes by where cabin crew must have ‘the talk’ with a passenger who considers themselves exempt from regulation and requirements.

But where it crosses the line big time is in the event of an emergency.

Whilst not the only example of luggage drama, mobile phone footage from inside Emirates flight EK521, which crash landed in Dubai in August 2016, shows chaos passengers block the aisle while retrieving their bags whilst smoke fills the cabin and screams intensifying from other passengers.

luggage 2.jpg

Another similar incident on a United Airlines plane that slid off the runway at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. Despite orders from the captain to leave luggage, several passengers argued and refused to comply.

One crew member said they encountered a passenger who was “running up the right aisle with a bag over his head,” and, when a crew member tried “to get it away from him,” he yelled, “I’m taking it with me”.

Another told of how a woman didn’t listen to orders so the flight attendant attempted to take the bag away. After “a short struggle,” the crew member “decided the woman was causing a delay in the evacuation and instructed her to exit the aeroplane with the bag”.

You get the picture. People’s perceived value or importance of their belongings outweighs their own safety but more importantly, the safety and possibly lives of others.


One solution being considered by the airline industry internationally is the introduction (well, actual enforcement) of significant fines for disobeying cabin crew instructions during an emergency. Figures like $300 000 are already a possibility. However, not even aviation experts have heard of anyone being charged over baggage incidents relating to crew interference.

Unfortunately, I cannot see this phenomenon solving itself. Sadly, I think this problem needs more stick than carrot. Legal charges and fines will effect change but only if authorities have the gumption to enforce it; whether that’s a building, a workplace, an aeroplane or a bus.

Or we could ban designer handbags!