(Warning, for the humor challenged: this is tongue in cheek)
Some airplanes, such as the Cirrus, come equipped with rocket deployed parachutes that will allow the entire airplane to descend with relative safety. Cirrus claims that more than 60 lives have been saved by CAPS. Never mind that the the Cirrus overall has one of the worst safety records in the air.
A Cessna 172, on the other hand, actually descends more slowly than a parachute if it loses power.
So we could, at least in theory, pack parachutes into the bodies or wings of airliners. Or we could give them variable configuration wings that would allow them to glide to safety in the event of an emergency. After all, variable configuration wings have been around since the invention of flaps.
Or maybe we could just keep emergency supplies of Valium on board. The passengers will still die, but at least they won’t care.
MODERATOR NOTE: This thread is for humorous responses to the column. Column found here: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/3141/why-don-t-commercial-jets-have-parachutes
For serious responses, please go to : http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=711439 – CKDH