Frequent flyers jaded by free flights will soon have an alternative: redeeming their mileage points for a course on how to survive plane crashes. British Airways is to offer members of its Executive Club the chance to benefit from a four-hour session on air safety, The Independent has learned.
Next year the airline plans to offer places on such courses for the price of a return trip from Gatwick to Rome: about £125.
Training passengers to cope with a crash takes the pre-flight safety briefing to its ultimate conclusion. And given the astonishingly good safety record of UK airlines, the plan may at first appear, unnecessarily, to arouse anxiety. But Andy Clubb, the BA manager running the course, said: "It makes passengers safer when travelling by giving additional skills and information, it dispels all those internet theories about the 'brace position' and it just gives people so much more confidence in flying."
Despite public perceptions, most aircraft accidents are survivable. But experience shows that passengers often perish in the chaotic aftermath of a crash. Research into emergency evacuations by the Civil Aviation Authority in 2006 found that a significant number of passengers struggle with the most basic of tasks: releasing the seat belt.
If fire is spreading, every second of delay is potentially fatal. Mr Clubb said that travellers who had been trained can accelerate the evacuation, potentially saving lives. "With other passengers around them reacting in a positive manner to the instructions being given by the crew, the few passengers that might have frozen might follow those who demonstrate that they know what they are doing," Mr Clubb said.
BA developed a passenger-training programme at the request of BP, which sends staff into remote regions of the world where safety standards are less rigorous. The course covers basics such as practising releasing the seat belt and checking the location of the life jacket and concludes with a simulated emergency evacuation down the escape slides.
The UK enjoys an unrivalled aviation safety record. No British passenger jet has suffered a fatal accident since 1989, when 47 people died in the British Midland 737 crash at Kegworth, Leicestershire.
Virgin Atlantic has never had a crash in its 27-year history. Yet it, too, offers a course. Virgin charges companies £78 per person for a three-hour course called Expect the Unexpected. "It educates their staff on what crew will be doing and also what they can do to help themselves should the unexpected happen," said a spokeswoman for the airline.
"From Virgin Atlantic's point of view, it shows how seriously we take the safety and security of our passengers and how highly trained our crew are," she said.