During the airplane safety check of your most recent flight, you may have found yourself asking, “why on earth do I have to wear a seatbelt in here?" At cruising altitude, you don't have to worry about a fender bender, and planes are statistically far safer than cars. But much like a car experiences bumps on the road, a plane experiences bumps in the air. These bumps, known as turbulence, are the reason everyone from passenger to pilot is buckled in.
While a variety of injuries can occur as a result of turbulence, head trauma is the most prevalent. During turbulence, most people think they are being lifted off their airplane seat. In actuality, the plane is dropping out from under you. In other words, you’re not moving, the plane is. As you would imagine, this makes injury a very real possibility during turbulence. Odd as it may sound, seatbelts essentially protect your head by bringing you down with the plane. Without a seatbelt you’ll still feel the sensation of weightlessness...until your head smashes into the overhead compartment and you're brought back down to your seat.
Fortunately, due to the vigilance of airline crews, these injuries are relatively rare. According to the Federal Aviation Agency, there were only 234 of such accidents in the nearly forty years between 1980 and 2008. Still, these accidents accounted for 298 serious injuries and three deaths. Two of the three fatalities occurred while the passenger was not wearing their seat belt, and 194 of the injuries were to flight attendants. Flight attendants are at higher risk during turbulence because they need to be up checking passengers’ seat belts as well as securing loose objects to prevent them from flying. Turbulence is not something to be taken lightly. It can occur without warning and cause drastic changes in movement, so buckle up.
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