CALGARY — The Transportation Safety Board is reminding air passengers to wear their seatbelts after 21 people on an Air Canada flight that was diverted to Calgary were injured by turbulence.
The board is investigating Wednesday’s mishap that sent three children and 18 adults to hospitals with injuries ranging from minor sprains to serious chest and neck trauma.
Air Canada said three passengers remain in hospital in Calgary after they were injured on the flight from Shanghai to Toronto.
The airline said flight AC088 continued on to Toronto last night and all but a few remaining passengers were to fly out of Calgary Thursday.
The safety board posted the seatbelt warning Thursday on Twitter and followed it up with another tweet that linked to a report about 16 passengers and crew being injured on an Air Canada flight in 2011.
In that case, a Boeing 767 flying over the North Atlantic pitched up and down for 46 seconds as it dodged another aircraft.
The report notes that some passengers were not buckled up despite being briefed to wear their seatbelts, and that the seatbelt sign was on at the time.
Airline safety expert John Pottinger said people should always wear a seatbelt, just like they would in a car.
“At any time slight little bumps can be huge,” said Pottinger. “So of course it’s important because just the slightest thing can cause damage.”
He said many passengers are lulled into a feeling of safety by an industry that doesn’t want to scare people, as well as an aircraft that isolates the senses.
“You’re travelling at a speed that our mind is not absorbing,” said Pottinger. “Because in this tube it all feels so nice and calm and we even get up and walk around. But we’re still doing 450, 500 miles an hour.”
Elaine Parker, an aviation expert at Beyond Risk Management, said the safety records of the airlines makes it hard to get passengers to wear their seatbelts.
“It’s because we’ve made it such an incredibly safe mode of transportation that people’s awareness and their concern for their own safety is actually quite low,” said Parker. “We’re, as an industry, almost hindered by our success.”
She said some frequent flyers have also become desensitized to seatbelt instructions after turbulence warnings don’t lead to major bumps, but added passengers should still listen to the attendants.
“The only time the crew is going to tell you to put your seatbelt on is when they are unsure that it will remain calm and so they are trying to protect you,” said Parker.
Transport Canada issued a statement Thursday clarifying the rules around seatbelt use on planes.
“The Canadian Aviation Regulations require passengers to wear their seatbelts during taxi, takeoff, landing, when the seat belt sign is on and whenever directed to do so by crew members,” the department said in an email. “It is recommended that passengers keep their seat belts fastened during the entire flight.”
Turbulence injuries are a risk on airlines, however small. In the United States about 58 people are injured every year by turbulence while not wearing their seatbelts and between 1980 and 2008 at least two people died after not wearing their seatbelts in turbulence.