Is the Airline Industry Doing Enough to Keep You Safe?

April 23, 2009 06:40 AM
by Liz Colville
After a woman was paralyzed on a flight due to turbulence, some wonder if flight attendants are doing enough to keep passengers safe.

Woman Paralyzed Due to Airplane Turbulence

On a Continental flight from Houston to McAllen, Texas, a woman, 47, visited the bathroom while the seatbelt sign was on and hit her head on the ceiling. The woman, whose name has not been released, suffered a fractured neck following the accident, and was operated on for six hours at McAllen Medical Center, The Associated Press reported. She is currently paralyzed from the chest down, though doctors are not sure whether the paralysis will be permanent.

A spokesperson for Continental Airlines, Mary Clark, said on April 20 that the passenger remained in the hospital; she would not comment on her injuries. “Our priority right now is to assist the customer and the customer's family with their needs.” According to The Houston Chronicle, Clark said the seat belt signs were illuminated when the flight first experienced turbulence.
The Chronicle adds that a second passenger and a crew member were also injured on the flight, which touched down in McAllen at 2:17 a.m. on April 18. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the flight.

“Even though airliners’ encounters with turbulent air are the nation’s leading cause for passenger and crew injuries … serious injuries are extremely rare,” the Chronicle reported in a follow-up article, citing the Federal Aviation Administration.

According the FAA Web site, “Each year, approximately 58 people in the United States are injured by turbulence while not wearing their seat belts.” Between 1980 and 2004, there were 198 accidents from turbulence, “resulting in 266 serious injuries and three fatalities. At least two of the three fatalities involved passengers who were not wearing their seat belts while the seat belt sign was illuminated.”

Background: Has the airline industry grown complacent?

The March 22 crash of a private plane in Montana that was carrying several families with young children was one in a series of air crashes that have brought attention to the way the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board investigate and regulate air travel. The plane was over capacity and the crash killed everyone on board.

“[A]lthough airlines are safer than ever,” according to experts, “adopting the lessons from such disasters can be excruciatingly slow,” The New York Times wrote in February. The NTSB “can only make recommendations,” which the FAA "sometimes takes years to respond to."

Related Topic: 30 injured on China Airlines jet due to turbulence

In September 2008, 30 passengers on a China Airlines flight from Taipei, Taiwan to Bali, Indonesia were injured when severe turbulence made the plane drop several thousand feet, causing many to hit their heads on the ceiling, The China Post reported. Four crew members and two passengers were treated in the hospital; others were treated on board.

Reference: Turbulence and airline safety


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