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Fuel Saving Imperiling Safety?

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You may have read that Air Canada's regional airline Jazz has removed life vests from all of its aircraft to save weight and thus get better fuel mileage. I've read that the reason Jazz can do this is that Canadian regulations permit airlines to use flotation devices (i.e., seat cushions) rather than life vests — with the provision that the planes stay within 50 miles of the shoreline. I'm not quite sure where they came up with the 50-mile rule, but Jazz is taking the regulators at their word.

The natural question that many are asking is, is this taking fuel savings to an extreme? Does eliminating life jackets compromise safety? Aren't life jackets superior to seat cushions when push comes to shove?

Frankly, I always wondered if life jackets weren't just so much window dressing. After all, when was the last time you heard of a passenger jet crash-landing with passengers hopping out with their life jackets on? As it turns out, this month a plane crashed into the Hudson River in New York City, leaving 155 people on board to strap on those life jackets and hang on to the wings of the plane while waiting to be rescued. My colleague and fellow blogger Robert Buckman says that there have been two or three airplane accidents in the past 20 years in which passenger lives have been saved by life jackets.

Who knew?

Which brings me bank to my original question — are carriers like Jazz pushing the envelope on the whole fuel savings issue? Some say that if the airlines are looking for sensible ways to slash weight, they ought to first look at cutting the baggage weight allowance for passengers.

On the other hand, how likely is it for modern passenger jets with their large, low-hanging engines to land on the water? Well, not terribly likely, but it does happen once in a great while, and I for one would prefer to have a life jacket to tie on rather than try to float in choppy waters with just a seat cushion. Life jackets can make a difference.

Apparently the domestic airlines have been thinking of other things to remove from planes as well, like trash carts, not to mention meals.

How about seat belts? Do they really serve a purpose? some have asked. Well, if you've never been on flight that has hit serious air turbulence you wouldn't ask that question. Answer: Yes, they sure do.

If it were up to me, I'd lose all of those magazines that nobody reads — most passengers either bring their own reading material, or their laptop or iPod, or they watch the in-flight movie, or they take a nap.

What else can the airlines jettison without safety coming into question? What are the airlines missing in the toss-it-overboard department?

Road Warrior '˘ Miami '˘ www.us.amadeus.com

Last updated: Feb 2, 2009




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