Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Airline Passenger Injured During Turbulence: Individual Caution is Essential

Sylvia Tena, 47, who suffered a fractured neck in April, while was traveling on a short Continental Airlines flight from Houston to McAllen, TX, appeared on NBC's "Today" show on May 26, from her hospital bed, whereby she said that her flight from Houston was already delayed because of thunderstorms.

In the "Today" telecast, Tena said she got up to use the restoom while aboard the flight, when the airliner was hitting a particularly harsh patch of turbulence. While inside the restroom, Tena said she was suddenly plummeted upward against the ceiling and suffered serious injuries that left her paralyzed her from the chest down. Tena emphasized that there were passengers in the aisle when she went to the restroom.

Tena contends that there was no announcement aboard the flight urging passengers to return to their seats and to buckle up; however, an initial report by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said that the captain made "four or five announcements" telling passengers to remain seated. The report also said that as the plane was descending at 20,000 feet, it encountered severe turbulence for about 15 seconds that included a roll of about 30 degrees.Two other people suffered minor injuries during the flight.

COMMENT: As someone who has flown on perhaps 500 flights over a 35-year period, I continue to be overwhelmed by the the large percentage of airline passengers who put themselves at risk by not keeping their seatbelts buckled at all times during flights and in getting up from their seats during obvious turbulence, regardless of whether air crews make an announcement to return to their seats and fasten their seatbelts.

Given the turbulence which the aircraft experienced, it is highly doubtful that that the air crew did not make several announcements for passengers to return to their seats as the NTSB has related. No doubt, the airline crew will be interviewed and data reviewed as to whether passengers were ordered back to their seats.

Airline passengers must realize that they are are not immune from responsibility while in flight. Keeping their seatbelts fastened at all times while in their seats and not getting up when they sense turbulence, and taking any seat nearby when turbulence occurs is felt is just common sense.

Considering that the flight from Houston to McAllen is so short, and assuming that Ms. Tena was not abnormally ill, she could have delayed using the restroom until the aircraft landed.

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