Video: Put Your Oxygen Mask On First

Filed Under: Videos

This video popped up in my Twitter feed the other day, and I thought it was worth sharing. Smarter Every Day visits a NASA training lab to experience (and demonstrate) the effects of hypoxia — the term for what happens to the human brain when deprived of oxygen.

Hypoxia is one of the risks of aircraft depressurization, which is why they have emergency oxygen masks on airplanes. Depending on physiology and altitude it can only take a few moments for brain function and motor skills to deteriorate. Applying your own mask first is important, as the 30 seconds it takes to help someone else might be all the time it takes for you to not have the capacity to put your own mask on afterwards.

The video is about 10 minutes long, and I highly suggest watching the entire thing. It’s fascinating to watch how quickly the brain reacts to even a few minutes without oxygen:


Interesting stuff, and a great reminder that no matter how often we fly, or how silly airlines make their safety videos, the information in the briefing itself is important.

  1. Sort of reminds me of the tragic end to Helios Airways Flight 522. A horrible situation to be in.

  2. What is also interesting is that the passenger oxygen masks aren’t pure oxygen but chemicals used to create oxygen. Also, the passenger oxygen masks will last for like 15 minutes which should be more than enough time for the plane to get down to a level where people can breathe, but the amount of oxygen you get is basically just enough to prevent you from getting brain damage. There may very well still be temporary side effects etc. By comparison pilots have different oxygen masks on the flight deck that gives higher amounts of oxygen so that they can fully functioning while controlling the plane. I have also heard that if one pilot leaves the flight deck the other pilot is required to wear the oxygen mask until the other pilot returns. I’m not sure if that is a specific airline rule or a general aviation rule.

  3. Didn’t watch the video yet, but I wonder if the oxygen systems require periodic maintenance/testing. For instance on a DC-9 built in 1972 that’s never had it’s oxygen masks deployed. Are they going to function properly 40+ years later?

    I wonder the same thing about sprinkler systems in buildings, but that is unrelated to this blog…

  4. @Ian: there are scheduled maintenance requirements for the emergency oxygen deliver systems, which include checking the integrity of the material for its expiration date and replacing as needed (very similar to how fire extinguishers are checked and replaced as needed).

  5. Really interesting video! I’ve often wondered about that instruction since I think most parents’ first instinct would be to put their child’s mask on first. It obviously is a very important thing to remember when traveling with kids or other people who might need assistance.

    Honestly, it’s good advice period, sometimes you need to take care of yourself in order to take better care of others.

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