Are Heavier Airline Passengers At Greater Risk For Harm?

Usually when we bring up the topic of weight and air travel it involves either passenger comfort or controversial airline policies regarding “customers of size.” But some worry that outdated safety standards are actually putting people at risk while flying.

The NY Times reports on scientists who have several concerns regarding passengers over certain weight and size thresholds.

First up are the standards regarding airplane seats and seat belts that use 170 pounds for the weight of a passenger. But with the average American man weighing in at 194 pounds and the average woman at 165 pounds, is it time to rethink how seats are designed?

“If a heavier person completely fills a seat, the seat is not likely to behave as intended during a crash,” said Robert Salzar, the principal scientist at the Center for Applied Biomechanics at the University of Virginia (an awesome school in my completely unbiased opinion). “The energy absorption that is built into the aircraft seat is likely to be overwhelmed and the occupants will not be protected optimally.”

The FAA recently updated the passenger weight standards used to calculate a flight’s total weight but those changes did not carry over into any standards revisions for seat design.

With regards to seatbelts, a professor of emergency medicine at the University at Buffalo conducted a study of more than 300,000 serious automobile accidents and found that very overweight drivers were 67% less likely to be wearing seat belts, even though they are often legally required.

So that could be an even bigger problem on planes, where they are only generally required during take-off and landing.

The National Transportation Safety Board has recently recommended that the FAA collect size and weight info on travelers to investigate whether or not seat belts were effective on the wide range of passengers shapes and sizes.

Questioning Safety of Heavy Passengers on Planes [NY Times]

Thanks to Howard for the tip!