Are Airplane Flotation Devices Actually Useful?

Q: In any event, wouldn’t the flotation devices be useless in a crash anyway?

As in the two instances above, there have been many crashes into the sea where passengers have indeed survived (“many,” in the context of air crashes equating to “a handful in the past 75 years”). Most of these were decades ago, but only a few years back an Ethiopian Airlines 767 ditched in the Indian Ocean after a hijacking. There were many passengers who indeed made use of their floatation devices.

The myth that air crashes, whether on land or sea, are not survivable is something passengers should banish from their list of assumptions. In fact, most crashes do have survivors. The ones that don’t, however, tend to be a bit more high-profile, especially when involving mysterious circumstances and widebody aircraft.


This Q&A is part of a collection that originally appeared on Salon.com. Patrick Smith, 38, is an erstwhile airline pilot, retired punk rocker and air travel columnist. His book, Ask the Pilot (Riverhead) was voted “Best Travel Book of 2004” by Amazon.com. Patrick has traveled to more than 55 countries and always asks for a window seat. He lives near Boston.