21 Passengers Injured In 2015 Air Canada Turbulence Incident – TSB Blames Passengers For Not Using Seat Belts!

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Back in late 2015 an incident made headlines when an Air Canada flight from Shanghai to Toronto hit some severe turbulence and had to make an emergency landing in Calgary after 21 people were injured.

It was immediately clear that none of the 21 injured were wearing their seat belts at the time turbulence hit and they were shaken around pretty violently.

The Transportation Safety Board has now released the final report with it’s findings in the matter blaming the injuries mostly on the fact that passengers ignored the instructions to wear their seat belts.

You can access the TSB Report here and it includes several graphics and images.

This is the entire report in PDF version:

Download (PDF, 1.02MB)

Here are some key sections of the report.

Summary

On 30 December 2015, the Air Canada Boeing 777-333ER (registration C-FRAM, serial number 35250) was operating as flight 088 (ACA088) from Shanghai/Pudong Airport, China, to Toronto/Lester B. Pearson International Airport, Ontario. At 1924 Coordinated Universal Time, 8 hours into the flight, ACA088 encountered severe turbulence at flight level 330, approximately 85 nautical miles east-northeast of Anchorage, Alaska, United States. During the encounter, 21 passengers were injured, 1 of whom was seriously injured. ACA088 diverted to Calgary International Airport, Alberta, and landed approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes later. …

As usual it doesn’t just go down as simple once you go into detail of such incidents and once you read deeper in the report it becomes apparent that passengers’ ignorance indeed played a big, if not THE major part in their own injuries.

At approximately 1850, or about 35 minutes before ACA088 entered the area of known moderate to severe turbulence, ACA088’s augment first officer called the in-charge flight attendant and said that they were approaching the jet stream, and that significant turbulence had been reported by the preceding aircraft, which was flying at a higher altitude. The augment first officer then directed the cabin crew to stop service and secure the cabin—actions that were in accordance with the Air Canada Flight Operations Manual.

The in-charge flight attendant directed the flight attendants to secure all service carts, secure all loose items in the galley, suspend service, make announcements to the passengers, and walk the cabin to visually check that seat belts were fastened and loose items were stowed. The lighting in the cabin remained in the sleep mode, on a dim/low light setting.

While securing the cabin, several announcements were made in English, French, and Mandarin. The announcements were consistent with Air Canada company procedures (refer to section 1.17.3 of this report). …

Just before ACA088 entered the area of turbulence, a passenger seated in row 1 of business class got up to use the washroom. At this time, all flight attendants were seated with their lap and shoulder harnesses fastened. The in-charge flight attendant told the passenger to return to their seat, but the passenger insisted on using the washroom. As the passenger was returning to their seat, the aircraft encountered turbulence for the first time, and the passenger was thrown into the ceiling and then onto the floor. …

The moderate to severe turbulence events featured a significant negative force, followed quickly by a positive force. The height of the ceiling of the Boeing 777 is 2.4 metres in the aisles and 1.6 metres at the window seat. Several passenger service units were damaged when passengers were thrown upward into the ceiling during the negative event. The passenger who was seriously injured was seated near the L4 door (Appendix A) and was thrown upward and then downward onto the floor area by the door.

Most of the passengers who were physically injured were aware that they were required to wear their seat belts, but chose not to. Two of these passengers were asleep and did not hear the announcement.

Oops… I guess these passengers regretted that decision very quickly.

Here is a picture of a broken ceiling panel after a passenger smashed against it as described above:

You can imagine what kind of force is needed to cause such substantial damage on a durable component such as this ceiling panel. The passenger in question is lucky that he’s still alive today.

Here is a seat map outlining all injuries that occurred during the incident:

Why do passengers ignore the announcements to use seat belts and other safety related advisory by the cabin crew? The report explains in detail the psychology and rationale that passengers apply in this matter which I found very fascinating.

In its guidance on turbulence management, the International Air Transport Association states that passengers tend to respond more to seat belt announcements when they are made by the flight crew, as opposed to the cabin crew.

In this occurrence, because the turbulence was anticipated, announcements were made by the cabin crew as per Air Canada’s procedures. However, these announcements used less directive language than the language used by the flight crew. If safety announcements made by cabin crew do not use language that conveys the expectation of compliance, there is a risk that passengers will perceive these announcements to be less authoritative, which may result in non-compliance.

Passengers’ attitudes and behaviours are strongly influenced by their ability to assess risk and their confidence in their own abilities to respond in an emergency. Once on board an aircraft, passengers are not provided with any specific information or education on the probability or effects of turbulence. And when the aircraft is in cruise flight, there is no immediate sensory feedback to indicate risk to the passenger, especially when the surrounding environment is dark and calm. …

I can’t say that I’m not guilty of also ignoring certain advise from cabin crew at times and yes, it plays into the same pattern as described here.

For some reason though I always feel more comfortable on board when I wear my seat belt as I’ve seen people being bumped around more than once including after landing when the aircraft hasn’t reached the gate yet and some folks think it’s a good idea to get up.

Conclusion

Turbulence can sometimes hit the aircraft unforeseen even though mostly the crew is able to give advanced warning to the passengers.

Some folks might feel they can assess the risk involved and think they don’t have to use the seat belts just like they probably also think it’s not necessary driving without seat belts in their own car or as a passenger in other cars such as taxis which I absolutely don’t get. I grew up in an environment where use of seat belts is absolutely mandatory and wouldn’t even think of it to get into a car without using it. I guess this attitude also transfers to when I sit down in a plane, I see the seat belt and automatically use it.

Use your seat belts when on board an aircraft, especially after being prompted to do so! Remember that it might not be just yourself who gets injured once you get catapulted around the cabin.

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  • Nick Hevelian

    I read the full report and one thing that struck me was how effective it would be if there was some kind of system (eg with warning light) to indicate non-compliance of individual passengers in fastening their seatbelts.

    The current system relies solely on cabin crew doing visual checks for compliance and this incident occurred during a time when the cabin lights were dimmed and many passengers may have been asleep.

    There were also cultural issues, such as generally much lower use of seat belts among Chinese passengers and the fact that announcements from the cabin crew are seen as less authoritative than those from the flight crew, hence less compliance.

    • Holiday_Hero

      True. But there is always a warning that you should put it seat belt on over ur blanket. I always put my belt on and even insist the people I am flying with wear theirs when the flight crew buckle up. For them and for me, if they go flying.

  • Holiday_Hero

    If you travel to India. You may notice fully grown men struggling with authority, especially of female flight crew. Having a seat reclined during take off and landing is not something I tolerate as it’s my safety compromised. If another pax is injured due to their ignorance, I assume a civil case would be inevitable.

  • Chuck Simundson

    We were flying from Hong Kong to Toronto on that day and hit the same turbulance. I have never seen aything like it. We were in J and the turbulance was so bad you could not lie down, even with the seat belt on. I sat up and held on to both sides of my seat. The crew had to be very persistent with several passengers who kept getting up from their seats. I was really impressed with the professionalism of the flight crew. They had to keep putting themselves in danger because of uncooperative passengers.

  • Harry Webb

    Hard to be sympathetic to those who ignored professional advice, but two very sensible suggestions have already been made: the instruction would be best given by a member of the aircrew in stern tones, and a light should appear above the seats of recalcitrant pax, perhaps accompanied by a loud tone or siren, as cabin crew should not be expected to place themselves at risk because of the inaction of the arrogant or ignorant.

    • I have no sympathy at all for the injured in this case. Passengers are required to follow instructions by crew members, regardless if it’s a female flight attendant saying it nicely or a male pilot in a stern voice! It’s not professional advice, it’s a direct order that you have to follow, whether you agree or not.
      If passengers think the rules don’t apply to them and they are not smart/informed enough to assess the risk for themselves, they’ll have to live with the consequences.
      I have sympathy with the passengers around them that might also be injured due to their irresponsible behavior and actually the airline who has to take the plane out of service and repair it, but probably can’t recover the expenses from the passengers who caused the damage!

      • John Dickenson

        You are right. The issue here is the same as with drivers who drink and then drive. The innocent are liable to suffer.

  • John Dickenson

    This is the first time I have ever read any nations TSB report. I am extremely impressed by its thoroughness even going into the cultural mores at length. It is difficult to envisage a situation where law enforcement could be called in to arrest passengers who fail to fasten their seat belts when the light is switched on especially when we know that flight crew not infrequently keep the light on during a flight to keep the passengers quiet and out of the aisles to make the crew’s job easier. However maybe this is a sanction that should be enshrined in flight regulations and used every now and again as a means of upping the compliance rate. Another similar issue is passengers who jump up the minute a plane lands, while still on the runway or taxiing to the gate, to get out their carry on items from the overhead lockers. Here the danger to other passengers is considerable. Invariably those who jump up have the heaviest, and therefore most difficult to manage items. I was on a flight last week from Bucharest to Tel Aviv where this happened. Despite tannoy calls and a stewardess running over to the two passengers, each simply pretended not to understand English [which they were talking with another passenger earlier in the flight] and carried on taking their article down. All that fell on another passenger was a coat. This would have been an opportunity to make an example by asking for law enforcement to meet the plane. Even if no criminal action was taken, if passengers knew that they risked being delayed many hours trying to save a few minutes, it may substantially improve the situation.

  • Roundabout

    Let’s say you disregard instructions to fasten your seatbelt, then hurt yourself in turbulence so badly you need medical care after arriving at your destination… What will your insurance company say when they find out you were not obeying orders given by the crew?

  • Flyboy

    As a former flight attendant myself, I heed those announcements dearly. But even so, its automatic for me to fasten my seat belt when sitting, or when laid flat. I see many passengers in the premium cabins not bothered fastening their seat belts over themselves. So what if its ‘uncomfortable’, its meant to save you in times like this. One other thing that I find irritating that so many people do is that once aboard, they take off their shoes. I don’t take off my shoes until after the plane has taken off. Case in point is because if there is an emergency situation during take off and you need to get out quick.. there certainly won’t be any time to put on your shoes. After the SQ 6 incident in Taipei in 2000, SQ stewardesses are now required to wear steel toed shoes during take off and landing and they change to their sandals only after reaching cruising attitude. Many stewardesses feel were badly cut and injured on the night of the crash when they tried to rescue passengers. So now you know..

  • LouS22

    Part of the reason that the risk assessment is all wrong for passengers is that the fasten the seat belt sign isn’t consistently applied. That sign can be lit and the FA are still performing service and even handing out hot beverages.

    I’d have to say that the clear indicator that you should stay in your damn seat and secure any objects is when the FAs are instructed to sit and fasten their seatbelts.