Are First Class Seats Safer than Economy Seats on Airplanes?
As an economy traveler, there are things about your flying experience that you know will be different from those flying first class — a smaller seat, less leg room, more lines to use the facilities, and probably the food is not as good. What many don’t expect to be different are the safety features of an economy seat versus a first class seat. Based on some of the information that has been gathered following the Asiana crash, however, we are seeing that there is indeed a discrepancy between the safety features in first class and economy.
Eugene Rah, who was sitting in the first class section of Asiana OZ214 when the tail section of the Boeing 777 slammed into a seawall at SFO, issued the quote above in the aftermath of the crash. He credits the shoulder strap of his seat’s safety belt for saving him from serious injury, and rightfully so. The people seated in the economy section of the passenger cabin sat in seats that only had a lap band seat belt. Do shoulder belts provide more protection? If you were to pose that question to a survivor of Asiana OZ214 that was seated in the economy section, the answer would probably be a resounding ‘yes,’ because many economy passengers suffered serious injuries such as traumatic brain injuries, abdominal trauma and spine fractures.
A surgeon at San Francisco’s St. Mary’s Medical Center told the Wall Street Journal that he treated an elderly crash victim brought to the hospital with major spinal fractures. “Because there was no shoulder component to his seat belt, that allowed him to violently slam [his] forehead into the seat in front of him, and then this resulted in some head trauma,” said Dr. Dimitriy Kondrashov. The blunt force of this blow to the head “dissipated across his neck, and that’s why he sustained a very unstable fracture of his cervical spine.”
Airlines have long dragged their feet on installing shoulder belts in the economy cabin because, according to Time Magazine, they feel that “there simply isn’t the data to support that adding a chest strap would protect passengers from further injury.” The industry also believes that adding shoulder belts to economy seats would require the economy section to be drastically redesigned to include a heavy mounting system and the seats themselves would need to be heavier. This added weight, of course, would add to fuel costs for the airlines, which is likely the biggest reason that airlines have been reluctant to install shoulder straps in economy — they don’t want to pay for it.
This certainly defines second class — it is not economy for the passengers at all, but economy for the airline. The airlines are saving money by refusing to do the hard work of designing shoulder belts for the majority of passengers. Or maybe they believe the wealthy passengers in first class are more worthy of protection? No one should ever have to pay extra to be safe.
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