The Lifesaving Detail You Probably Missed In The Pre-Flight Safety Briefing

"Put on your own mask before helping others"

We've all been there.

From our seat on the airplane, we watch the flight attendant go through the safety briefing with a glazed look on our face. We're not giving it our full attention; we just want to get the show on the road and start flying to our destination. 

While frequent flyers can probably recite the entire spiel verbatim, there's one line in particular which is so much more important than we give it credit for when talking about the oxygen masks: "Secure your own mask before assisting others."

Because we've all been taught to put others before ourselves, it's something that seems incredibly selfish to do, particularly for parents traveling with children. 

Of course, the odds of the average passenger ever having to do this on a flight are extremely rare, but remembering to do it can be the difference between life and death. In order to understand why this bit of advice is so crucial, we need to understand what happens to the brain when it is starved of oxygen, a condition known as hypoxia.

Oxygen is needed all over the body, but the brain uses an incredible amount for its size. Oxygen helps our neurons firing and helps clear out waste products that could lead to disease. Without it, our brains simply can't work properly.

Smarter Every Day
Smarter Every Day

Destin Sandlin of Smarter Every Day recently underwent hypoxia training alongside astronaut Don Pettit, which allows us to see how oxygen starvation affects the brain under well-controlled conditions. 

The test is done in a hyperbaric chamber, so they can understand how they are each affected by a lack of oxygen. Destin is wearing a pulse oximeter on his finger so he knows exactly where his oxygen level is and can take action if it gets too low. 

During the test, Destin is given a shape sorting toy that is meant for preschoolers. Given his level of education, it's pretty hilarious to see him identify squares and triangles. But as time goes on and he has gone a few minutes without oxygen, the struggle gets real. By the time he finally gets his oxygen mask back on, he could have been very close to suffering permanent brain injury or death.

As quickly as Destin's experience went from pretty funny to "holy crap, please don't die," this hypoxia training is nothing compared to what it's actually like when an airplane cabin suddenly loses pressure and the oxygen masks deploy, where the timeline is shortened dramatically.

Watch the video for yourself and you'll remember to show a little more respect during the safety briefing the next time you're on a flight.

Cover image: Smarter Every Day