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The Most Dangerous Thing You Do On A Plane

Ask anyone who has a fear of flying what it is specifically that they’re afraid of and the answer is almost unanimously that the plane is going to crash. In their minds, they see flaming wreckage broadcast on the news with a somber news anchor declaring that there were no survivors. But most of the passengers who fear the plane potentially falling out of the sky tend to overlook a way more real scenario, and it’s so frustratingly avoidable – and that is off turbulence-related injuries.

Statistics aren’t the easiest to come by, since the injuries aren’t always reported to the FAA, and even when they are, the criteria for what makes an injury count as being turbulence-related is very stringent. But speak to any flight attendant, and any of them would be able to recount personal tales or tales of coworkers who’ve sustained serious injuries from clear air turbulence. It’s a real threat, and the evidence showing the importance of seatbelt use is there. Last week, there were reports of an Air Canada flight from Shanghai to Toronto in 2015 that experienced an emergency landing in Calgary due to severe turbulence. Pilots were warned of impending rough air by Air Traffic Control, and advised passengers and crew to buckle up. Of the 21 passengers injured (one seriously), most of these admitted to being aware of the seatbelt sign and ignoring it.
It’s really boring to hear, and even more boring for us to repeat several times a flight. But of all the rules we enforce on the plane, that’s the one to take the most seriously. We prepare for so many potential scenarios, but turbulence happens often and it doesn’t take much to cause injuries. I get it when people come bouncing down the aisles for the bathrooms when they just can’t wait anymore – although we don’t advise it – because that’s a natural physical need. But it’s not uncommon to be going through fairly strong turbulence just to have a passenger or two struggle to the galley just to ask for a drink (and it’s always coffee, which is especially unreasonable since someone has to pour it, and it’s as fun for us as you could imagine).
There’s no excuse for behavior like this, and seatbelts are not so uncomfortable that you can’t keep one loosely on. Air pockets can sweep you right off of your feet and can occur without warning. So leave your seat belt on while at your seat. Really. It’s a heck of a lot more comfortable than a dislocated shoulder.
[Photo: Shutterstock]
Comments are Closed.
N1120A March 10, 2017

There is a massive problem in the US with over use of the seatbelt sign. Pilots keep it on too long and in smooth air, which makes passengers and flight attendants more dismissive. Similarly, the Chinese carriers leave it on the whole flight and cycle it when they "really mean it," which makes it no wonder Chinese passengers ignore the sign all the time. When a pilot for Air Canada or a European card is route the sign on, it is always legitimate. And yes, you should definitely keep the belt on when seated. I think the US carriers do a good job impressing that part.

ioto1902 March 1, 2017

Those who willingly ignore the seat belt sign should de facto lose their right for compensation in case of injury. FA have better things to do than trying to convince uncooperative pax.

eng3 March 1, 2017

Great article! and I agree this is probably the single easiest thing one do to give the largest improvement in safety. No different than wearing a seatbelt in the car. I once saw a mother lash out verbally at a FA because her 3yr old didn't want to put on his seat belt. Later she told the kid that they'll never fly that airline again. I wonder what the kid does in the car. One note though, the pilot needs to do his part. I've been on some flights where the seatbelt sign turns of seconds after lift off even when the plane is still shaking and other pilots that leave it on for hours or the entire flight. I know its impossible to predict the future but in these cases the seat belt sign is rendered useless as the pax have no way to know when is best to get up.

skidooman March 1, 2017

I totally agree. Whenever seated, you should strap yourself in, whether the seatbelt sight is on or not. And coffee can be ingested later (at least get water!) However, a captain should actually turn that sign off whenever possible. Unfortunately, this is not always happening. Sometimes, the sign is left turned on, continuously, for hours on end. I saw TPAC flights where the sign never came out for the whole flight. We are talking 10-13 hours. This type of inaction does a grave disservice to the future obedience of a seatbelt sign. It encourages people to use their own judgment. Personally, I don't want to do this, I want the seatbelt sign to be significant.

KRSW March 1, 2017

And I thought eating the mystery meat in Y was the scariest thing...