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Seat belts reduce airplane turbulence injury risk

(AP Photo/Wally Santana)

On my most recent airplane flight, we hit a bit of turbulence during the descent --enough to make the plane dip sharply and cause some passengers, myself included, to exclaim things like "whoa!" But because we were landing, we'd been told to fasten our seat belts and nobody tumbled out of his seat.

That incident doesn't hold a candle to the one that occurred Tuesday, in which 25 people on a United Airlines flight out of Dulles International Airport were injured when their plane encountered severe turbulence. The aircraft apparently dropped dramatically and then abruptly stopped falling, causing people to bounce around the cabin. Most of the resulting injuries were said to be relatively minor, though one passenger's were described as serious.

It's not clear how many of the injured were wearing seat belts or whether they'd been advised to do so. But according to the Federal Aviation Administration, seat belts are essential to preventing turbulence-related injuries. The FAA recommends passengers wear their belts throughout the flight, even when the seat-belt light has been turned off.

I'm one of those uptight folks who obey that advice. It can be hard, especially on a long flight, to keep yourself strapped in. And even the FAA says only about 60 people a year are injured during turbulence. But almost of all those hurt, the FAA says, were sans seat belts.

Okay, 'fess up: Do you wear your seat belt during the entire flight? Please vote in today's poll and comment if you're so inclined.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  July 22, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  General Health  
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Simple way to reduce the injury risk to airline passengers; every airline should sue any passenger who fails to secure them self when the seat belt warning is given.

Also any none seatbelt wearing passenger causing a passenger wearing a seatbelt injury is surely criminaly negligent. Jail them I say.

It would also reduce the costs for more law abiding passengers.

Posted by: walker1 | July 22, 2010 9:44 AM | Report abuse

Walker1, I'm not sure a lawsuit is the correct way to go about it, but certainly anyone who is out of their seat when the safety belt sign is on should be barred from suing the airline for any injuries.

And I agree that anyone who is up and about when the seatbelt sign is on should be held liable for any injury caused to others.

And I agree that anyone who is seated in their seat should have a seat belt on. It's just simple common sense.

The close question is what should we do about people who are out of their seat legitimately--stretching their legs with a DVT risk, or going to the bathroom--with the seat belt sign off, and the turbulence occurs. I've been on several flights where we've gotten jostled around without any warning; it was minor turbulence, but the seat belt sign was turned on only after the fact. That seems more like the airline's responsibility.

Posted by: JoeSchmoe06 | July 22, 2010 9:52 AM | Report abuse

Jennifer, let's assume that your admittedly unscientific poll was a valid and representative poll of flyers in this country. With >95% wearing their seatbelts most of the time if not all the time (excluding bathroom visits, etc.), having "only" 60 injuries per year may be misleading. If 100% of people were not wearing their seatbelts, the number of injuries could be 1200 or more per year, which might constitute "a lot" in your mind. So, just think about the math before suggesting that there are "only" 60 injuries per year.

Posted by: rlalumiere | July 22, 2010 11:07 AM | Report abuse

POOR WP article. Other media - all of whom obviously checked with the Air Lines - report that the Captain DID warn the passengers to fasten their seat belts both over the intercom and with the lights BEFORE they hit the bad turbulence.

Posted by: dave19 | July 22, 2010 11:13 AM | Report abuse

I have personally had a similar experience. The only reason that it didn't make the news is that there were no serious injuries. However, those passengers and crew that were not in seatbelts, hit the ceiling, including one passenger in the last row of the plane that cracked the overhead bin. It is hard for the pilots to avoid all turbulence and the best way for passengers to prevent injury to themselves or the people they fall on is to have their seatbelts on at ALL TIMES, as inconvenient and uncomfortable as that is. Passengers have been severely injured and killed in severe turbulence. It is easy to get complacent until we hear a story like this. Don't think that it will never happen to you, always wear your seatbelt while traveling at 500 miles an hour at 35,000 feet.

Posted by: npbeachball | July 22, 2010 1:01 PM | Report abuse

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