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American: Keep Seat Belts On

March 31, 1998

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) _ Hoping to prevent injuries from unexpected turbulence, two of the nation’s largest airlines will soon require passengers to stay buckled up whenever they are seated.

American Airlines was the first to announce the seat-belt requirement, and United Airlines late Monday said it would do the same. Delta, the nation’s other Top 3 airline, said it would watch how the policy works at the other airlines.

Currently, passengers may unbuckle their seat belts during the flight when the pilot turns off the seat-belt light. Under the new policy, passengers could only unbuckle for trips to the restroom or to walk down the aisle.

``We don’t think it’s a burden to keep the seat belt fastened if you’re seated,″ said United spokesman Joe Hopkins.

The new policy is aimed at protecting passengers from turbulence, areas of unstable air that can buffet a jet without warning. In December, a United jet flying from Tokyo to Honolulu hit turbulence that killed one passenger and injured 83 others.

Federal Aviation Administration figures show that between 1981 and November 1996, two passengers were killed and 63 seriously injured in 252 incidents of turbulence reported by major U.S. air carriers operating worldwide. Both of the passengers who died and 61 of those seriously hurt failed to wear seat belts.

Pilots always wear seat belts.

``It is clearly the best way to deal with unexpected turbulence from a safety standpoint,″ American spokesman Tim Smith said Monday.

American could put the new policy into effect by the busy summer travel season, though no firm date was set. United also did not disclose a potential starting date.

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