Tag: Aviation

Flying the Stupid Skies

Good Lord:

Another day, another fight about reclining seats on a U.S. airline flight.

In the third serious airline legroom incident in two weeks, an angry passenger caused yet another flight to divert Monday night.

Delta Air Lines Flight 2370 from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to West Palm Beach, Florida, was rerouted to Jacksonville, Florida. A passenger became irate about the traveler in front of her trying to recline her seat, a fellow passenger told CNN affiliate WPTV.

“This woman who was sitting next to me knitting actually just tried reclining her seat back,” passenger Aaron Klipin said. “The woman behind her started screaming and swearing and then a flight attendant came over and that just exacerbated what was going on and then she demanded that the flight land.”

This follows two other incidents, including one where a passenger placed a “knee defender” on a chair, refused to remove it when asked by the airline and another passenger threw water in his face.

Look, I understand that people reclining their seats in front of you is annoying. I’ve almost had a laptop crushed on one flight. Once, on a 16-hour flight from Australia, the woman in front of me kept flinging herself against the seat, trying to recline it back even further (this was also the flight where the couple next to me kept going to the bathroom. Together. They were reading a book on tantric sex. I don’t even want to know what was going on there.) Flights are growing ever more crowded and the seats ever smaller. On a recent US Air flight to London, my legs were pressed up against the seat so tightly, I could have given the guy in front of me a prostate exam with my knee. And I’m only 5’10”.

But as much as I hate cramped seats and people reclining into the empty space that used to be my gallbladder, I have to agree with all 6’2″ of Megan McArdle:

The airline owns the plane, not you. You are renting a seat from them. They have chosen to rent seats that recline. If you can’t handle someone in front of you reclining, you have a few choices: You can politely ask them not to recline, you can purchase a more expensive seat that offers more legroom, or you can find another mode of transportation. What you are not entitled to do is modify the seat to prevent it from reclining, no matter how unfair you feel life is to us tall folks. The person in front of you purchased that seat with the expectation that it would be able to recline. If your legs are actually preventing movement of the seat (which happened to me on one particularly tight flight), that’s tough luck on them. But you should not go beyond what nature has given you in the way of reclining prevention.

(She goes on to note that the water throw was also an ass and the airline over-reacted by diverting the flight and inconveniencing hundreds of people. I agree on both counts.)

Josh Barro has another suggestion: if you don’t want someone reclining into you, offer them money. I’m not sure that would work, but at least Barro’s idea provoked a hilarious incoherent response from Gawker.

Look, I know our society teaches us that we are all special snowflakes and the world must revolve around our every whim. But this is getting ridiculous. If you don’t like reclining seats, don’t fly. Or fly first class. Or boycott airlines until they remove reclining seats. But for God’s sake, don’t start fights at 38,000 feet because you suddenly don’t like the discomfort that comes with a cheap flight to Buffalo.

Survival at SFO

Like most people, when I saw the raw footage of the airplane crash at SFO on Saturday, I couldn’t believe that anyone had walked away from it. But it looks like only two people died. Two more will be paralyzed while another 30 are still hospitalized. The WSJ has a great short article on how such an awful-looking crash resulting in so mercifully few casualties. First, there were the heroes:

Mr. Rah noticed that an evacuation slide had inflated inside the plane, pinning a flight attendant against the interior cabin wall. He and another passenger tried to free the attendant, looking for something sharp with which to puncture the slide. Another passenger eventually found a way to let the air out of the slide. Mr. Rah said he has been in touch with the flight attendant’s husband, who said she sustained serious injuries but is improving.

The captain soon started screaming on the loudspeaker for everyone to evacuate. As other passengers began exiting the plane and emergency crews arrived, Mr. Rah saw another flight attendant, whose name he gave as Jiyeon Kim, carrying injured passengers down the aisle to get them off the plane.

“She was a hero,” he said. “This tiny, little girl was carrying people piggyback, running everywhere, with tears running down her face. She was crying, but she was still so calm and helping people.”

Meanwhile, San Francisco police officers at the scene had entered the plane from near the back and made their way to the front, amid worsening smoke, said Lyn Tomioka, deputy chief at the San Francisco Police Department. When they got to the front, male crew members trying to help passengers called out for knives, and the officers tossed their own knives to the men to help them cut seat belts off passengers who were struggling to get out, Ms. Tomioka said.

Click the link and check out the picture of Jiyeon Kim, who looks about 5′ 2″ and maybe weighs 100 lbs on a good day. This young woman was carrying wounded passengers off the plane until it literally went up in flames. Those pretty ladies aren’t just on those planes to serve drinks. They’re trained for this sort of thing. And they almost always come through.

There’s another aspect: regulation.

Regulators in the late 1980s mandated all-new passenger planes must have seats able to withstand stronger impacts than in the past—practices that the Federal Aviation Administration ordered in 2005 be applied to nearly all passenger planes by October 2009. As part of those rules, seats on jetliners must be able in tests to survive collisions that slam them forward at 16 times the force of gravity, or 16g, to ensure the seats don’t collapse or detach from the floor. A Boeing spokesman said the company has been delivering all its jets with 16g-rated seats since 2009.

Before the advent of such stronger seats, Mr. Hiatt said, the intense vertical and horizontal force generated by a crash like Saturday’s “would have caused many more seats to break free and pancake into each other, probably blocking exit paths.”

Mr. Hiatt also said improved fire-resistant materials used on seats and other parts of the cabin “likely helped the fire from intensifying so quickly.”

Some of this safety has come from the market — Boeing specifically designed the 777 to be evacuated in 90 seconds even if half the doors were blocked. Neither airlines nor airplane builders want people to die. But the regulations have proven a critical push to go above and beyond. We’ve had multiple planes hit and break apart with minimal casualties because of the tougher design of the seats specifically.

Because of the vergence of these trends — better engineering, better regulation, better training and faster emergency response, air travel is now light years safer than any form of travel in human history. Since 2000, while airline travel has ramped up, less than a 1000 people have died on American airplanes while nearly half a million have been killed on the nation’s highways. If you exclude 9/11, you’re talking about 20 people per year. In short, you’re more likely to die falling on the curb on the way to the airport than you are on the plane. Globally, 2012 saw the fewest deaths in the sky since 1945 when the Fw 190 was the state of the art.

Capitalistic self-interest, professionalism, prosperity, training and a bit of sensible regulation. Funny how well that works, isn’t it?