Air Canada Jazz Ditches Life Vests, Who Cares?

Looks like Air Canada’s commuter, Jazz, has decided to take life vests off its planes. 08_08_27 lifepreserverThis will save a little over 50 lbs per plane, and you know the story from here. (Less weight = less fuel, blah blah) As usual, some people are up in arms suggesting that passenger safety is at stake. Come on, really?

Who can tell me the last time those life vests actually came in handy? I seem to recall a hijacked plane crashing into the Atlantic off the West African coast awhile ago. Since it was a controlled descent into the ocean (ran out of fuel when the hijackers wouldn’t let them fill up), there were survivors. Maybe they got some use out of those things.

But let’s be honest. For the most part, if a plane goes into the ocean, there’s not much left of it or anyone onboard. Back in the day, those flying boats could easily ditch into the ocean and wait for rescue. But now with planes flying faster and higher, the results aren’t usually so ideal. Then again, planes are forced to ditch far less often (almost never) than they did back in the old days.

Even if you think life vests are valuable, most domestic aircraft don’t have them. You know the ones – they have the “seat cushion that can be used as a flotation device.” Jazz has just decided to move two routes a bit closer to land so that the life vests aren’t required at all. Doesn’t seem like a big deal to me. I’d probably make the same decision.


27 Responses to Air Canada Jazz Ditches Life Vests, Who Cares?

  1. Skinny says:

    I love the demonstrations of how to inflate the lifevest I get on flights from BGM-PHL…there’s no water anywhere near that flightpath.

  2. Jennifer says:

    I’ve always thought the idea of a “water landing” was absurd. I mean, I haven’t flown to Hawaii lately, but you get that same demonstration flying Reno to Denver for Pete’s sake!!

    I’ll stick with the young lady on SWA who stated, “In the event of a water landing, we are definitely off course.”

  3. Skinny says:

    “In the unlikely event of a water landing . . .” Well, what exactly is a water landing? Am I mistaken, or does this sound somewhat similar to CRASHING INTO THE OCEAN!? “. . . your seat cushion can be used as a floatation device.” Well, imagine that, my seat cushion… Just what I need — to float around the North Atlantic for several days — clinging to a pillow full of beer farts…

    -George Carlin (RIP)

  4. Dustin says:

    While flying on a QX operated F9 JetExpress flight from OMA to DEN a while back, the QX Flight Attendant absolutely cracked me up. She said, “In the highly unlikely event of a water landing between Omaha and Denver, clutch the seat cushion tightly to your chest and stand up. The water won’t be that deep.”

  5. Marc says:

    The vests came in handy in “Airport 77″ but apart from that…not so much

  6. Sunil says:

    This may be a little off the subject, but I noticed on the first Economy Class trip I took on Jet Airways (9W)after having flown several Business Class trips with them, on their 737s, Business Class Passengers get life vests while Economy Class passengers have to make do with hugging seat cushions. Their 737s make trips from India to Bangkok and over water trips from India to Kuala Lumpur and until recently, Singapore. Having flown many different airlines including the exotic ones like AirNuigini, I had never seen a class distinction when it came to life saving equipment.

  7. CF says:

    Sunil – That’s pretty funny, actually. I suppose it’s one way to upsell people to business class! I don’t recall having heard of that before either.

  8. Sue says:

    for heaven’s sake, IF I survived a “water landing” I am NOT stopping to wrestle my floatation device out of the seat. IF I got out of the cabin before it sank, you can bet I’m going to swim a safe distance away–hopefully helping others; I pray I’m that type of person–and tread water while I find alternative floats.

    Get rid of ‘em. Who cares?

  9. Eric says:

    I was on a recent Mesa/US Airways Express CRJ flight from ICT to PHX, and the flight attendant deadpanned that the seat cushions could be used as flotation devices, “in case of a water landing in the desert we’ll be flying over between here and Phoenix!” Nice!

  10. Robin Johnson says:

    The most important information about lifejackets is not to inflate them until clear of the plane. In a cabin filling with water, they could seriously impede your chance of reaching the exit. I imagine a seat cushion might too.

  11. David M says:

    Robin, that scenario almost exactly happened back in 2000. A small twin ditched off the coast of Hilo, Hawaii and the only fatality was found inside the aircraft with her life vest inflated: http://starbulletin.com/2000/08/29/news/story6.html

    Eric, there is the possibility of the plane ditching in Tempe Town Lake, which you fly over or near when you’re on final approach to PHX from the east. ;)

    Skinny, the same goes for PHL which is right next to a river.

  12. Skinny says:

    I guess, I don’t picture any river in the U.S. other then the Mississippi near New Orleans as being worthy of a life jacket, especially if I just lived through a plane crash.

  13. Dustin I had a QX operated F9 JetExpress say that exact same thing on a flight from DAY to DEN.. Probably had the same person! That was great flight.

  14. Wei says:

    The majority of crashes are minor ones, happening during takeoff or landing. Almost all major cities are near a river, lake or coast, and many major airports have runways very near water or even extending into the water. It is not uncommon for aircraft to mess up their takeoff or landing and end up in the water.

    I’d rather have a life-vest on my plane than not.

  15. David M says:

    Skinny, I know what you mean. Last week I took a short cruise/tour up the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, and thinking back to the life vests, I figure I could swim to shore faster than I could put the life vest on. But not everyone knows how to swim…

  16. David SF east bay says:

    Living in California in both the bay area and Los Angeles where all your takeoffs and/or landings are over water you do think about what would happen if you wind up in the water. Life vests would do no good since you’d be in the water before you could even think about sticking your hand under the seat to see if a vest is even there.

    I can understand long over water flights as you are so high up that unless you just drop out of the sky, you would have time to put one on. Over the gulf should have them also.

  17. Million Miler says:

    To Sunil’s comment – I don’t think there is an intentional class distinction between vests in first/business and seat cushions in coach. More likely the fancy leather seats up front were not designed with detachable flotation seat cushions, hence they must have life vests. If you look around on domestic carriers here in the US/Canada you might be surprised to find the same situation on some aircraft configurations – just no one pays attention to the safety briefing (unless a SWA crew member does a comedy routine as described by others) and who bothers to read the safety card in the seat back pocket…

  18. Million Miler says:

    interesting post

    As to Cranky’s original post about Jazz, I wonder how much fuel they save by pulling off 50 pounds of life vests. Especially if they are really adjusting routing to stay closer to shore as they claim. I think it is a fair assumption that the original routing further off shore represented the shortest distance from point A to point B. I would realy love to ask AC/Jazz to quantify this in hard numbers. There is likely something larger (much larger) than shaving 50 pounds of load involved.

    I have become increasingly suspicious that there is a lot more cost cutting go on under the guise of saving fuel/weight reduction than meets the eye. For example by charging for checking bags, are you really recovering fuel cost associated with baggage? Or is the same amount of luggage going on board in the form of carry on (zero net weight/fuel savings) but you don’t have to pay staff to handle it because the passenger is doing all the work for you. In all fairness, truth is probably some of both.

    Same for blankets and pillows – are we really saving weight, or are we eliminating laundry costs, reducing the time needed to straighten up the cabin between flights and other maintenance costs, not to mention replacement cost due to theft by crew and passengers. Eliminating pillows and blankets also results in more bin space, further encouraging folks to carry bags on!

    Cranky, you could do a great service by starting to challenge your friends on the inside whenever you get press release relating to these types of claims. I have no problem with cost cutting or revenue enhancement, but I would like to see some truth in advertising…

    Or maybe I am just more cranky than Cranky!

  19. As a regular flyer in/out of Vancouver YVR — one of Air Canada Jazz’s major hubs — I’m keenly aware that about 50% of take offs and approaches are over the Georgia Straight. There is, indeed, a chance of survival on a water ditching at the relatively slow approach speeds, and frankly, I think I could manage not to inflate the vest until outside the plane. I’m NOT sure, however, that I’d have the ability to swim to shore if I were alive and injured, so the vest might save my life.

    But this topic reminds me that all businesses do regular risk assessments. A friend who works in freeway design / engineering once told me that his firm and their clients (usually, various governments) actually have a price tag on human lives — deciding how many lives they’re willing to let go in order to save $$ on things like safer curves. I’m sure some airline bean counter has the same idea.

    Now, off to swimming lessons…

  20. CF says:

    Million Miler – Jazz has said that only two routes in the entire system needed to be adjusted to stay closer to the coast, so the savings made it worthwhile.

    But there’s no question that you’re right here. Part of the benefit of these fees is reduced costs for the airlines. Less cleaning/folding/laundry (not that it’s done often) and fewer checked bags are absolutely cost reductions that make it worthwhile. That’s why airlines don’t care if you bring your own food (for now). As long as they don’t supply it, the costs are much lower so they encourage that kind of behavior.

  21. Ben says:

    i disagree with some of the comments made by the writer.i don’t remember the year excacly, but some time in the 1970s an ONA DC-9 ditched after running out of fuel near san juan. out of the 60 on board, 30 survived, and that was down to the fact they had life jackets.

  22. CF says:

    Ben – Good call! I didn’t know about that one. Here’s some more background:
    http://www.super70s.com/Super70s/Tech/Aviation/Disasters/70-05-02(Antillean).asp

  23. Wes says:

    The chance of surviving a water crash is very low in most large aircraft with wing mounted engines. Two things could happen – the pilot either forces a stall a few feet above the water to drop like a rock which will rupture your spine, or he attempts to land in which case the engines will act as scoops causing a massive deceleration until they rip clear, which will probably cause massive injuries to most passengers. You do have a good shot at living in a DC-9 or 727 aircraft which can do a clean landing on the water and allow for an evacutation before the plane sinks (5-7 minutes).

  24. QRC says:

    I remember that a number of the pax on the flight that downed near the Comoros Islands died precisely because they had inflated their life jackets prior to the water landing, making it impossible for them to swim out when the plane started to sink.

  25. Robin says:

    In the African crash I think you are referring to (Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961), I think the life vests claimed as many lives as they saved. People panicked and inflated them before touch down – it is pretty hard to escape from from an aircraft that is rapidly filling up with water when your life vest is pushing you up the ceiling. I would definitely take my chances without the vest.

  26. JS says:

    Ready to eat humble pie yet, given the Flight 1549 emergency water landing?

  27. Guy Incognito says:

    If you do a quick Wiki search… you will find that the chances are surviving a ditching over water are actually quite good. Do you the life vest… just don’t inflate it until you’re outside the plane. As for no water being over the flight path… maybe so… but in an emergency situation… the pilots will look for the closest possible place to land and they’re not going to care about the flight path. So altho’ the plane might not normally fly over water… the pilots might divert to some nearby water if that is their best and only chance.

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