flying: seat belts and turbulence-related injuries

During the past week several commercial flights experienced severe turbulence, with a number of people being sent to the hospital as a result.

Question: how effective are seat belts in preventing turbulence-related injuries? I can certainly imagine injuries happening even with seat belts being used (e.g. two passengers clunking heads together, or a drink cart slamming into someone’s shoulder), but seat belts will prevent you from slamming head-first into the ceiling during a negative-G event, or from landing in an awkward orientation on a seatback or armrest.

The FAA says that 58 people per year are injured by turbulence while not wearing their seat belts. How many are injured despite wearing seat belts? Relevant to all of that: what is the rate of seat belt usage during the cruise portion of commercial flights?

I always wear my seat belt snugly during takeoff and landing, and loosely during cruise; just wondering how much I’m reducing my risk.

Maybe they were struck by people NOT wearing their seatbelts (or other loose objects).

My understanding is that most of the people injured in turbulence are flight attendants. The remainder are probably people using the restroom, belted passengers hit with luggage falling out of overhead compartments or by falling people, or people who just chose not to wear their seatbelts. I think very few if any other belted passengers get injured.

I’ve been on a plane that experience severe turbulence during the flight. I normally always keep my seat belt fastened whenever I’m in my seat. Several people on the flight I mentioned did not, and as the plane descended rapidly, several people came up out of their seats, with many of them striking their heads on the bulkhead above them. Fortunately, no one was severely injured on my flight, just a few bumped noggins.

it’s funny they still have brand new planes with the no smoking signs that light up when smoking was banned decades ago.

Because if they don’t, people will light up because “there’s no sign!!!”

Am I the only one that likes turbulence? It lulls me to sleep.

Can the pilot turn the no smoking sign off? I would think he cannot.

Are there any studies or statistics comparing the injury rate of passengers wearing lap belts vs four-point harnesses?

Do the pilots wear four-point harnesses? Pilots and passengers in small private-size aircraft generally do.

Are any of the injuries infants or children young enough to not have their own seat? I’ve long thought the policy of letting little kids sit unrestrained in an adult’s lap wasn’t the safest plan.

I fly regional jets every week. Was on a brand new one, a CRJ 900 IIRC and the light up signs were fasten seatbelts and turn off electronics.

I am not an airline pilot but the answer to that is assuredly yes if it is needed for some reason (an electrical short or a need for total darkness in the cabin for example). Airliners have a amazing number of switches and other controls for a reason but many of them are rarely used. There is no pulling over to the side of the road in case of a rare emergency so pilots have open access to a large number of emergency systems, controls, overrides and even circuit breakers that they will likely never use in their career but they are available in case some impromptu engineering is needed in an emergency.

Here is an article that shows how to disable the ‘No Smoking’ signs on a 747:

The diagram for that control is a little over half way down the page. Smoking on airliners isn’t banned everywhere in the world.

Most private aircraft I’ve been in have had 3 point harnesses like a car seat. The only 4 point harnesses I’ve seen were on a Tiger Moth though I’m sure there are others. Anything rated for aerobatics will typically have a 4 or 5 point harness some even doubling up on the lap belt with a separate “negative g” strap. Airliners have a 5 point harness for the pilots and I think it is normally a 4 point harness for the flight attendants, though I haven’t paid much attention to this.

Many pilots will remove their shoulder straps when in the cruise, leaving only the lap straps and centre strap attached.

As far as studies go, I can’t help, sorry.

Depends on the age of the aircraft. I’ve seen newish aircraft where the “no smoking” sign is a decal rather than a light. I fly old Avro RJ and BAe146 aircraft that still have a lit “no smoking” sign and a switch in the flight deck. The switch stays on all the time (as in, I have literally never touched it in the five years I’ve been flying the type.)

That is an issue. In Australia babies and children who don’t have their own seat are provided with a belt that loops on to their carer’s belt. These are worn for take-off and landing and at other times when the seatbelt sign is on, but are unlikely to be worn when the signs are off.

Pictures of Flight Attendants’ restraints: Mostly 4-point, apparently at least one 3-point and some who choose to slip off the shoulder straps.

I’m strictly a small-plane pilot. Earlier small planes may only have a lap belt, say, pre-1965 or earlier (and often feature an ash tray in the cockpit or, if there is a second row of seats, in the seat arms, chair back, rather like cars from the 1950’s or 1960’s). From the late 1970’s onwards 3-point harnesses are a feature. As noted, aerobatic airplanes have 4 or 5 point harnesses, but a lot of small planes/ultralights from the 1990’s and later also feature them.

The 1942 Stearman I flew had two sets of harness - a typical aerobatic 4-point, and a second system attached to completely different anchors in the frame of the fuselage. This may have had something to do with it being a fully-aerobatic open-cockpit airplane capable of extended inverted flight, a belt and suspenders approach if you will.

I’ve known some people who purchased older models of airplanes who had them retrofitted with an upgraded safety harnesses in place of the old, single lapbelt. This is not always feasible, it depends on the airplane.

So, for small private aircraft the only answer to the question “what kind of seat belt/safety harness do they have?” is “it varies”.

Two heads clunking together is highly unlikely as both heads are subject to forces in the same direction and so they should be moving in formation as it were rather than towards each other.

The forces in turbulence are predominantly up and down so I would think the main injuries would be from being slammed into the ceiling then back down to the seat, something the simple lap belt is ideal for preventing. I would be interested in seeing the stats though, if they exist.

? I’ve flown little Cessnas (150, 172) back in the day, and gliders (Schweizer 2-33), and been passenger in some kind of twin-engine 6-seater once – all of them had 4-point harnesses in all of the seats.

Am I calling them by the right terminology? A lap belt in two pieces (left side and right side) and two shoulder straps, one over each shoulder, all coming together in a single buckle right in the center over the pilot’s or passenger’s solar plexus, right?

It’s not, but they’ve found that if you do not allow lap infants, many families will drive instead, and that is much more dangerous.

Aw, they drive? And deprive us of the joy of a screaming infant?
The cads!

. . . and generates no revenue for the airlines.

I was on a pretty rough flight once (several sick passengers, one having a screaming panic attack). I was with my son who was 8 at the time. I treated it like an amusement park roller coaster, in an attempt to keep him relaxed. He got caught up in it as well.

If you assume a happy ending, it can be a rush to get tossed around a bit.