We’ve all heard that flying is much safer than driving in a car, and while most of us would never think to get in a car without buckling up, flying seat belt-less seems much safer—after all, if a plane crashes, a seat belt most likely is not going to save you.
Why we wear seat belts on planes.
In 2012, as part of a ploy to sell standing seats on Ryanair, a European budget airline, CEO Michael O’Leary tried todownplay the importance of seat belts. O’Leary told the Daily Telegraph that handles should be sufficient for passengers and that seat belts “don’t matter.”
Yet most pilots tell another story. A redditor who identified as a pilot wrote last month that injuries do happen when passengers and flight attendants are up walking around during periods of turbulence:
At my own airline we have not injured any passengers (that I know of), but we’ve had many Flight Attendants hurt by turbulence. We’ve had fractured or broken necks, backs, legs, and feet. The feet get broken when that 200+ lb beverage cart gets lifted off the floor and lands on the poor FA’s foot.
I spoke to another pilot who works for a major commercial airlines (he asked to remain anonymous due to corporate policy on speaking with the media). This pilot echoed the warning of the pilot on reddit.
“Not wearing a seat belt exposes a passenger (and his or her neighbors) to the risk that a turbulence encounter will lift them briefly out of their seat and then return them abruptly back down, possibly on an armrest, a galley cart or another passenger,” said this pilot via email. “If the passenger is up walking about, the potential for injury from falling or landing awkwardly on hard objects during a turbulence encounter is even greater. Therefore, observing and obeying the fasten seat belt sign is a key safety precaution.”
So how do pilots know when to turn on the “fasten seat belt” sign?
“I try to keep the fasten seat belt sign off when we are assured of smooth air and on during periods of turbulence or turbulence risk so that there is ‘credibility’ to the sign,” the pilot said. “Unfortunately, due to the transitory nature of turbulence and the fact that it can be encountered suddenly and sometimes unexpectedly, the fasten seat belt sign often needs to stay on during periods that may appear to be smooth to passengers. This may desensitize passengers to the fasten seat belt sign and cause some passengers to be very casual about complying with the sign. One thing we highly recommend is that any time passengers are seated, they should keep their seat belt on even if the fasten seat belt sign is off.“