Monday, September 10, 2007

Thoughts on Airline Safety

by Debby Atkinson
I’ve already mentioned that I’m a nervous plane passenger. Not a white-knuckled, cocktail-swilling nail-chewer (as far as I can tell), but I don’t walk that gangplank, er, jet way, without considerable trepidation. My father died in a plane crash. However, I live on an island and if I took a boat to help my college age son move into his dorm, I’d be lucky to arrive for graduation.

Jetlagged yet safe, I arrived safely in Boston yesterday, and over lunch today I asked him his opinion as to whether the list of things passengers are asked to do on take off and landing actually had any bearing on the overall safety of the passengers. I can see why tray tables should be stowed, but I couldn’t see why returning your seat backs to the upright position protects a person. And does it matter if the headrest is up? And are seat belts, for that matter, going to be any good in a crash? Why do the flight attendants sit facing the rear of the plane? Which is where the only survivor in my father’s plane was sitting—facing the rear.

So I’m a picky, nervous cynic, but even I was surprised when my son told me he hadn’t worn a seat belt on a flight for the last two years. He’s not a nervous flier, obviously, but is this wise?
Consequently, I checked airline safety information, and tried to stick with independent websites that would give unbiased facts.

Here is the information I found, and some of it surprised me:

• In flight, turbulence is the leading cause of injuries to airline passengers and flight attendants. When this occurs, it’s usually at altitudes of 30,000 feet or more. Each year, approximately 58 airline passengers in the United States are injured by turbulence while not wearing their seat belts. Some of the injuries have been fatal.
• This is still controversial, but there’s a good chance facing the back of the plane is safer in the event of a crash. An airplane crash propels the body toward the front of the plane. In forward-facing seats, that means the passenger is propelled into a two-inch lap belt. This causes the body to jack-knife - the torso and limbs fly forward while the hips stay back. In seats facing aft, or rearward, the passenger is propelled into the back of the seat, and the force is spread over the entire body. The seat would support the head, torso, hips and limbs and significantly reduce the potential for injury.
• Sitting in the back of the plane, behind the trailing edge of the wing, is statistically safer than sitting forward of the wing—or in first class. Yikes. (Popular Mechanics).
• Putting your seat back into the upright position for takeoff and landing does seem to have a basis in practical safety. It allows easier access to the aisles in the event of an evacuation. Note here that accidents are most apt to occur during takeoff or landing. Also, it keeps your body in the safest position during an impact: it reduces the distance your head would travel backward, thus lessening whiplash-style injuries, and prevents you from "submarining" under the seatbelt in a crash.

This is just some of the information I found, but I’m going to be telling my son to wear a seat belt, and I’ll be doing the same. Now, will someone tell me if it’s safe to fly on 9/11? Cuz I’m going back home!


Vicki Delany said...

I got my booking info today for my flight in Alaska. They need to know how much I weigh (uh, 120 pounds??) because the plane only takes 7 passengers.

I guess I can't lie eh?

Rick Blechta said...

Tell them your real weight but explain that "most of it's baggage!"