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Turbulence on Singapore Airlines: Mandatory seat belt rule on all flights not practical, analysts say

Passengers have told media that the turbulence occurred almost immediately after the seat belt light came on and those who were not fastened were thrown into the air, hitting the roof of the plane before falling back down. Breakfast was also served at that time.

Singapore Airlines said on Thursday that following the incident it had “taken a more cautious approach to managing in-flight turbulence”, including suspending meal services and having crew members return to their seats and put on seat belts. safety during seat activation. belt sign.

The crew will also continue to advise passengers to return to their seats and fasten their seat belts, and will monitor customers who may need help, including those in the bathrooms, the spokeswoman added.

An Australian passenger who was injured on Singapore Airlines flight SQ321 that was hit by severe turbulence speaks to reporters at Samitivej Srinakarin Hospital in Bangkok. Photo: AP

When asked whether rules should be tightened for passengers to enforce the use of seat belts while seated, Seletar Flight Academy chief ground instructor Albert Tiong said it was not feasible to do so.

“The traveling public generally accepts that seat belts should be fastened during takeoff and landing, and whenever seat belt signs are illuminated during turbulence. But leaving them on for the entire flight during the cruise is not very practical,” he stated.

“This accident, with so much media coverage, already serves as a reminder that it is necessary to fasten your seat belt while seated.”

A spokesperson for the Flight Safety Foundation agreed, saying that making seat belt use mandatory at all times may not be practical and could be difficult to enforce.

“During a flight, especially a long one, many passengers will have to get up to go to the bathroom, get something from the overhead bin or simply stretch their legs.

“Passengers have a responsibility to ensure their own safety and that of those around them, but by taking practical precautions, such as wearing a seat belt as much as possible during a flight,” he said.

Passengers of Singapore Airlines flight SQ321, which made an emergency landing in Bangkok on its flight from London to Singapore, arrive at Changi Airport in Singapore. Photo: EPA-EFE

A retired Singapore Airlines pilot who spoke to This Week In Asia on condition of anonymity agreed that wearing a seatbelt was a personal responsibility, saying: “Hopefully, with this high-profile incident, more people will see the benefits.” to keep seat belts fastened while seated. .”

Before SIA’s latest announcement, the former pilot said other airlines had also practiced the rule that flight attendants had to be seated and buckled when the seat belt sign was on.

“However, at Singapore Airlines our cabin crew walked down the aisle to make sure passengers put on their seatbelts and continued to be served.

“This event is a reminder that turbulence It affects everyone on the plane. The cabin crew is not immune and must also be seated,” said the former pilot with more than 30 years of flight experience.

Singapore Airlines said that as of 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, two of SQ321’s 18 crew members were in hospital receiving medical treatment in Bangkok, where the flight made an emergency landing on Tuesday.

The Flight Safety Foundation spokesperson said that in certain situations, the fasten seat belt sign would be on for passengers, but cabin crew would move around the cabin or prepare for landing as part of their safety duties. .

“If turbulence is expected or occurs, the captain will often tell the flight crew to sit down,” he said.

A screen showing the nationalities of the injured passengers on Singapore Airlines flight SQ321 after its emergency landing in Bangkok. Photo: Reuters

Seat belt signs are generally intended for passengers, as crew members are trained to walk in the cabin during light turbulence, according to Tiong.

“It is up to the pilots’ judgment whether they are aware of the impending turbulence, its severity and whether they should instruct the cabin crew to sit down and put on their seat belts,” said Tiong, who has worked in the aviation industry for 22 years. years. years.

In an update on Thursday evening, Singapore Airlines said 65 passengers and two crew members who were on board SQ321 remained in Bangkok. This includes 46 passengers and two crew members hospitalized receiving medical treatment.

The BBC reported that more than 20 people on the flight were in intensive care with spinal injuries. Among those hospitalized in Bangkok was a two-year-old boy.

Samitivej Srinakarin Hospital said late Thursday that 41 passengers were still there. Of these passengers, 22 have spinal injuries, six have skull and brain injuries and 13 have bone, muscle and other injuries.

The man who died was identified in the media as Geoff Kitchen. It is suspected that he died from a heart attack.

Singapore Airlines has had seven accidents in its history, according to the Aviation Safety Network, a database that provides information on airline safety issues and accidents.

The last time a Singapore Airlines crash caused fatalities was in October 2000, when a plane crashed on a closed runway during takeoff at Taoyuan International Airport in Taiwan, killing 83 of the 179 people on board.

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