Travel Truths | #EmergencyOxygen

We have all sat through the safety briefing just before take off.

“In the unlikely event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure oxygen masks will drop down from the panel above your head. Secure your own mask before helping others”

BUT what do you need to do if the emergency oxygen masks are triggered?

If the cabin pressure drops when the aircraft is above 14,000 then oxygen masks are automatically deployed. The equipment has a yellow silicone facial mask and is fitted with elastic that is adjusted by pulling on the ties. It also has a re-breather bag that may or may not inflate depending on the altitude. Some passengers have been concerned in the past that the bag does not inflate and have removed the masks causing them to suffer from Hypoxia. To operate the equipment, the mask must be pulled sharply towards the passenger. The masks allow between 15 to 20 minutes of oxygen that is why the pilots will immediately commence an emergency descent to approximately 10,000 feet where oxygen is not required. If there is a fire on board the aircraft masks will not be deployed. As oxygen will act as a fire accelerant.

There are two systems found on most aircraft being:

Chemical Oxygen Generator system or a Gaseous Manifold system. A Chemical Oxygen Generator will be connected to all masks and is activated by pulling down sharply on the mask thus removing the firing pin on the generator. The generator whilst in use will become hot producing a burning smell. This smell is part of the chemical reaction to create oxygen. Once started the system cannot be shut off. The other type typically found is a Gaseous Manifold system which supplies all masks from a central oxygen supply.

Why Should You Put On Your Own Mask Before Assisting Others?

When cabin pressure drops too low, passengers have an approximate 18-second window of consciousness before hypoxia kicks in. If you are to attempt to help others first, you will wind up unconscious before you are able to make a meaningful effort to the safety of others. If you are rendered unconscious by the low cabin pressure, you are then likely to cause extra problems for those around you. Once your mask is secured, you will be able to safely and effectively help those who require assistance without causing any extra problems for anyone else.

What is Hypoxia?

This is basically a lack of oxygen to the brain and can cause nausea, headaches and will eventually lead to the passenger becoming unconscious and possibly brain damage or death.

“According to Airbus if a plane losses pressure at 40,000 feet passengers have 18 seconds of consciousness to locate a fix their masks”.

Remember passengers are not allowed to leave their seats until the aircraft has descended to safe height (10,000 feet) where oxygen is not required.

How Often Are Oxygen Masks Deployed on Commercial Flights?

Statistics show that in 2014, oxygen masks were deployed just over 60 times and a number of these instances were accidental. In recent times, the number of occurrences that involved the deployment of oxygen masks is so low that its infrequency would render any statistic on oxygen masks almost invalid. Essentially, it is extremely unlikely that you will be involved in a situation that required you to take oxygen from a mask.

What are the take-away messages to remember when flying and the masks are deployed?

  1. Secure the mask as soon as possible.
  2. Help others when yours is secured.
  3. The bag may not inflate -this not a cause for concern.
  4. The aircraft will descend rapidly to a safe height immediately – try not to worry this is a standard procedure.
  5. It is highly unlikely that you will be in this situation (always good to know though “better safe than sorry”)

This has been produced so our customers have a better understanding of what is happening when masks are deployed and how best to react.


“The truth about oxygen masks on planes”. The Daily Telegraph.
“Chemical Oxygen Generators”. SKYbrary.

Other articles you may find of interest include:

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