Flight attendant Betty Poor once hit the ceiling during severe turbulence
Seat belts help passengers, but what can protect flight attendants?
January 5, 1998
Web posted at: 3:22 p.m. EST (2022 GMT)
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Over the years, flight attendants have amassed a collection of horror stories about the dangers of unexpected turbulence. Most of them are personal.
"All of a sudden, we hit clear air turbulence and I hit the ceiling and came down, dumping drinks all over people," flight attendant Betty Poor recalled.
Unless you've been aboard an aircraft during such turbulence, attendants say, you cannot imagine what it's like -- or what it can do.
After working for more than 20 years for a major airline, one unexpected
jolt sent Marie Dickens rocketing to the ceiling and then crashing to the
floor. She fractured bones in her ankle so badly that she may never fly again.
"There was no indication," she said. "It absolutely has changed my life."
Passengers are urged to keep their seat belts buckled to prevent the kind of trouble that occurred on United's Flight 826 to Honolulu on December 28. A 32-year-old woman was killed and 104 other passengers were injured on that flight. Many of those injuries might have been prevented if passengers had been restrained.
Yet flight attendants spend the bulk of their trips on their feet -- and, consequently, make up many of the turbulence injuries reported each year. But, say many flight attendants, there's not much that can be done.
"We can't completely eliminate the risk," said Pat Friend of the International Association of Flight Attendants. "We are not free to be seated anytime that there is reported turbulence."
The National Transportation Safety Board has made dozens of turbulence safety recommendations over the years, including one directly aimed at the unique vulnerability of flight attendants.
After two flight attendants were injured in a turbulence event in 1971, the NTSB recommended that regulators consider installing handholds on the backs of aisle seats, giving people standing something to grab on to.
The Federal Aviation Administration chose not to act on that recommendation. Twenty-six years later, efforts to prevent turbulence injuries, for the most part, focus on keeping passengers in seat belts and keeping carry-on items secured. While these solutions are considered likely to improve the safety of passengers, few expect similar benefits for flight attendants.
Correspondent Christine Negroni contributed to this report.
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