Why We Wear Seat Belts On Airplanes

This post is inspired by Matt Simmons‘ fantastic post on why we still have ashtrays on airplanes, despite smoking being banned over a decade ago. This time, I’m going to cover seat belts on airplanes. I’ve often heard people balking at the practice for being somewhat arbitrary and useless, much like balking at turning off electronic devices before takeoff. But while some rules in commercial aviation are a bit arbitrary, there is a very good reason for seat belts.

airplane

In addition to being a very, very frequent flier (I just hit 1 million miles on United), I’m also a licensed fixed wing pilot and skydiving instructor. Part of the training of any new skydiver is what we call the “pilot briefing”. And as part of that briefing we talk about the FAA rules for seat belts: They should be on for taxi, take-off, and landing. That’s true for commercial flights as well.

Some people balk at the idea of seat belts on commercial airliners. After all, if you fly into the side of a mountain, a seat belt isn’t going to help much. But they’re still important.

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Your Seat Belt Is For Me, My Seat Belt Is For You

In a car, the primary purpose of a seat belt is to protect you from being ejected, and to keep you in one place so the car around you (and airbags) can absorb the impact of an impact. Another purpose, one that is often overlooked, is to keep you from smashing the ever loving shit out of someone who did wear their seat belt.

In skydiving, we have a term that encompasses the kinetic and potential energy contained within the leathery sacks of water and bones known as humans: Meat missiles. Unsecured cargo, including meat missiles, can bounce around the inside of airplanes if there’s a rough landing or turbulence. With all the energy and mass, we can do a lot of damage. That’s why flight attendants and pilots punctuate their “fasten you seat belt” speech with “for your safety and the safety of those around you“.

A lot of people don’t realize that if you don’t wear a seat belt, you’re endangering those around you as much as, or more so, than yourself. Your seat belt doesn’t do much good if a meat missile smashes into you. Check out the GIF below:

In the GIF, there’s some sort of impact and as a result the unsecured woman on the left smashes into the secured woman on the right. It’s hard to tell how bad they were hurt, though it could have been a lot worse having two heads smash into each other. The side airbag doesn’t do much good if one solid head hits another solid head. Had the woman on the left had her seat belt on it’s likely their injuries would be far less severe.

While incidents in commercial aviation are far more rare than cars, there can be rough landings and turbulence, both expected and unexpected, and even planes colliding while taxing. Those events can cause enough movement to send meat missiles flying, hence the importance of seat belts.

Commercial aviation is probably the safest method of travel, certainly safer than driving. But there is a good reason why we wear seat belts on airplanes.So buckle up, chumps.

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