SIT DOWN. SHUT UP. BUCKLE UP.
By Joe Brancatelli
January 17, 2008 -- We should be talking about many things: cabbages and kings, Presidential primary things and airfare swings.
But just between you, me and the cabin walls of our next flight, let me ask: Do some of us want to die? Is frequent flying an elaborate, expensive ruse to disguise a death wish? Or is it a comprehension problem? Tell me: What part of "Buckle your seat belt" don't some of us understand?
You'll forgive me if I'm angrier than usual this week. The news that about a dozen fellow travelers were injured last week when an Air Canada Airbus A319 dropped sharply and violently makes me crazy. The thought that eight passengers and two crew members were shaken up enough to be hospitalized infuriates me.
There is no debate here. No shades of gray. No moral imperatives or civil-rights issues to balance. There is nothing subtle to comprehend. This is not about us against the airlines.
When you're flying, sit down, shut up and keep that seat belt buckled low and tight across your waist.
I cling tenaciously to the belief that frequent flyers are smarter than the average bear. We are people of influence in the business world. We travel around the world and experience things that Joe Six Pack and Linda Lunch Pail will never experience. We are people of wealth and taste--and, one assumes, superior judgment.
So why is it so hard for some of us to understand that traveling five or six hundred miles an hour in a metal tube cruising five or six or seven miles above the earth is risky business? Why can't we just accept that unexpected in-flight disruptions are possible, dangerous and potentially fatal? Why are so many of us unconvinced that the simple act of keeping the seat belt fastened could keep you alive?
Why is it that people who wouldn't back their car out of their garage without fastening their seat belt suddenly feel invulnerable on an airplane? What possible message are they sending to the airlines by indignantly unbuckling the safety belt just for the sake of saying it is unbuckled?
I won't waste your time or mine by recapping what you may have already heard or read about last week's incident on the Air Canada flight from Victoria to Toronto that was diverted to Calgary. I won't bother massaging the facts about how many people have died in recent years due to turbulence (at least five in the last two decades); how many have been seriously injured (thousands); how many incidents there have been (hundreds); and how many travelers suffer minor injuries each year. And I will not make a big deal of the statistics that say one in five airline injuries are related to in-flight turbulence.
All I will say is this: The Air Canada jet was flying without incident at 35,000 feet when all hell broke loose. A week later, we don't know if it was clear-air turbulence or an equipment failure or turbulence that knocked out the flight computer. Whatever the cause, a massive jolt rocked the aircraft and it dropped at least three times. For about 15 seconds, the plane rolled left and right and unbuckled passengers and crew members working in the aisle were tossed around the cabin.
One passenger said a friend "flew up" and hit the ceiling. Another passenger described dishes flying through the air and a service cart tipping over. A third passenger told the Canadian Broadcasting Company that "some of the armrests on the aisle seats were bent 60 degrees from people holding on. That's how extreme it was."
You missed those little tidbits, didn't you? The skies were clear over British Columbia, but suddenly the aircraft went berserk. Just like that, about a dozen travelers were injured. The injured passengers weren't wearing seat belts--or, worse, they were injured when passengers who weren't wearing seat belts whacked them as they were being tossed around like rag dolls.
This incident isn't even the worst we've endured in recent years. Sixty passengers were injured en route to Bermuda in 1999 when a Continental Airlines jet hit clear-air turbulence and dropped 500 feet without warning. "I saw one man flip right out of his seat," a passenger on that flight said after it landed. On New Year's Eve, 1998, a United Airlines jet cruising over the Pacific hit turbulence at 31,000 feet. The plane dropped just 100 feet, but one passenger was killed and more than 100 were injured and hospitalized. Three years ago, another United jet over the Pacific hit turbulence and at least a dozen people were seriously injured.
So I'll say it again: Sit down. Shut up. Buckle your seat belt.
And, please, no excuses. Don't tell me you need to get up and walk around. Of course, you need to walk around. No problem. Just unbuckle your seat belt, get up and walk around. Then, when you return, put your damned seat belt back on.
Don't tell me you need to get up to get a drink from the galley or hit the lavatory. You need a beverage or need to go to the lav? Just do it. Unbuckle your belt and do your business. Then go back to your seat and put the seat belt back on.
Wearing a seat belt while you're seated doesn't impede your movement around the cabin. When you want to get up, get up. But while you're seated, keep your damn seat belt buckled.
And don't you dare tell me about flight attendants who don't come to tell you to buckle up. Don't you dare tell me about seat-belt lights. And don't you dare tell me about what the government requires and what the airlines enforce.
Just sit down, shut up and pull that seat belt low and tight across your lap.
Next week, we need to talk about cabbages and kings and primary swings and you need to be alive after your next flight to be a part of that discussion.
ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.
THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.
This column is Copyright © 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.