Archive for August, 2009

Airbags in Airliners: Is the Human Cost too Expensive?

Monday, August 17th, 2009

Search the internet for ‘Why don’t airliners have airbags?’, and answers range from patronizing to downright rude. But check this out…

The technology exists, and has saved lives in several private plane crashes. A thicker seatbelt contains the airbag, which is set off by accelerometers and inflated with helium. Unlike a car, the airbag inflates up and away from the passenger, creating a soft barrier between them and the seat, or bulkhead, in front.

Would it make a difference in a 737? The commercial aviation industry thinks not.

Properly done, airbags could work. There have been fatal accidents during taxi and take-off where hitting soft cushion instead of hard seatback would have undoubtedly saved lives.

Basically, each adapted seatbelt costs $2000. Airline risk managers weigh the cost of safety measures against the chance of them being needed, and airbags are currently in the same box as parachutes. This will only change if the authorities mandate their use.

Don’t hold your breath, though – airlines also use lobbyists who wrangle alleviations by making aviation a special case. In no other industry would it be acceptable to have toilets two meters away from the kitchen, or a row of seats next to an emergency exit.

However, it could be argued that airbags aren’t suitable for commercial use. The major problem is the location of the unit, in the seatbelt itself, which places it within easy reach of a cabin engineer’s worst nightmare: children.

Unless on Ritalin, children do not travel well. They’re easily bored, leading to restlessness, fidgeting and, inevitably, vandalism. These airbags deploy in 30 milliseconds, AWAY from the wearer – imagine a small hand nearby at the time.

So, to the next argument against; namely that not every traveler is as intelligent and urbane as a person who would, say, be reading this article. Safety videos still contain seatbelt and lifejacket instructions. However, in recent evacuations some passengers pressed the buckle, thinking they were in a car. And when an Ethiopian 767 ditched, some drowned because they inflated their lifejackets before the crash and couldn’t get out.

With airbags it would be imperative that passengers didn’t adopt the brace position. Otherwise, 30 milliseconds after the first impact, they’ll be getting another. Then, if necessary to evacuate, they’d have to unfasten a belt which would be underneath the bag. Finally, those using overwing exits would have to get past balloons! That’s bound to stretch the average Jerry Springer audience.

Still, properly done, airbags could work. There have been fatal accidents during taxi and take-off where hitting soft cushion instead of hard seatback would have undoubtedly saved lives. ‘Controlled’ crashes, like the Hudson River Airbus, and landing mishaps would also benefit through a reduction in the number of impact injuries.

There is also a train of thought that, in catastrophic situations where only a very few ‘miraculously’ survive, ‘few’ may have been ‘several’ if airbags had been fitted. Unfortunately, the only way to be sure of this would be to fit them to every jetliner.

And then wait…

$524: New York to Brazil

Monday, August 10th, 2009
The market is so turbulent and unpredictable that you can’t wait on these gems.

Flight prices have been just as volatile as the housing market as of late, with sudden spikes in prices that leave you scratching your head. Should I buy now? Or, should I wait?

We’ve noticed that flights prices have, in fact, increased during the last several weeks, making us believe they may be rebounding from a ‘bottoming-out’. This may be the last chance to land the types of great deals we’ve seen this spring and summer.

Just last week I was touting the Los Angeles to Tokyo $475 rate on Singapore Airlines. BOOM! Now, it’s back up to $650. The market is so turbulent and unpredictable that you can’t wait on these gems.

This deal, $524 to Sao Paulo from New York in early 2010, which we’ve found with Aeromexico on Orbitz is one of those “ASAP” deals. Jump on it ASAP, because it could be gone tomorrow!