Sizable Safety Concerns

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ThinkstockPhotos-101211179-e1445372349533Over 60 years ago, when the federal standards regarding the strength of airplane seats and passenger safety belts were established, the average passenger weight was recorded as 170 pounds. The typical American man now weighs nearly 200 pounds and the average American woman 165.

Engineers and scientists have recently begun raising questions about whether airplane safety belts and seats — which are tested with 170-pound crash dummies — are strong enough to protect heavier travelers. In theory, if a seat collapsed or a safety belt failed, not just one passenger would be hurt. Those nearby could also be endangered by the unrestrained motion of the unsecured passenger who was too heavy for the equipment.

In 2005, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) updated the average passenger weights used in calculating every flight’s weight and balance. That summer, calculations were raised to 200 pounds for men and 179 for women, with higher weights for the winter when passengers wear heavier clothing.

While the width of airline seats is restricted by the width of the airplane body, the airline seat construction may not be strong enough to withstand the impact of heavier passengers on those seated behind them, simply because the testing protocols have not been updated. So far, much of the attention on air travel for larger passengers has been drawn to whether they need to purchase two seats.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) did recommend that the FAA begin collecting data about the size and weight of passengers flying in private planes to better understand whether the testing accurately predicts the effectiveness of seat restraints. The NTSB has not addressed the issue on commercial planes because investigators haven’t encountered any accidents in which passenger weight was a factor in being able to escape injury in a crash.

Equal safety, however, does not mean equal comfort. As airlines further restrict seat size to maximize paying customers, an adapted seat has been designed by SII Deutschland. This innovative design is one and a half times as large as the standard seat to accommodate wider passengers and the needs of toddlers traveling with an average-sized parent. These larger seats, as well as “comfort bookings” in which a traveler purchases two seats, are aimed at overweight passengers, but are available to passengers of all sizes, as well as those flying with children. Still other airlines have considered basing charges on each traveler’s weight.

While passengers focus on issues of comfort and the NTSB focuses on safety, it’s clear these juxtaposed forces agree that the testing regulations need to be updated to verify safety for all travelers with the presence of heavier passengers.

Contact L & L International if you need assistance in purchasing or selling a private jet. You can reach our sales specialists today at, call us any time at +1.305.754.3313, or visit us online.

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