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How passengers can help prevent in-flight fires

Passengers themselves can do a lot to cut down on in-flight smoke and fire hazards. ''Many passengers are unbelievably careless about smoking,'' says Del Mott, who recently returned to her job as a flight attendant after several years as director of air safety for the Association of Flight Attendants.

She tells of a man on one flight who dropped his cigarette between the seats, but was too embarrassed to admit it. He asked if the console separating the seats could be pulled out. She asked why. After he confessed, they eventually pulled it out and doused a the white smoke that was coming from the smoldering cigarette.

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Despite the federal ban on smoking in lavatories, Mrs. Mott says that in the last two months she has found four people smoking in restrooms. Three were smoking marijuana. And the fourth smoker had been seated, for lack of other space, in the no-smoking section.

''I really read them out severely,'' says Mrs. Mott. She adds that she favors an ''embarrassingly loud'' smoke detector system for washrooms. ''People have no reason ever to smoke anywhere near a plane's restroom. . . . An airplane is a machine in the sky which needs to be treated with exceptional respect.''

In addition to watching more closely for fire and smoke hazards and reporting any to flight attendants, passengers can help themselves by paying closer attention to the announcements made by flight attendants on safety procedures and exits.

''Generally people ignore the announcements and pay no attention to the exits , except the one they came in,'' says Mrs. Mott. ''They seem to think either that someone else is going to get them out or that it can't happen to them. That's sticking your head in the sand.

''I think many more passengers could have lived through crashes if they had checked the exits and knew in advance how they were going to get out in the event of an emergency,'' she says.

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