Surviving a Water Landing With a Seat Cushion

Q: I roll my eyes each time the flight attendants go through their life vest drill. Has anyone ever survived a water landing by donning a vest or using a seat cushion?

Please don’t disrespect the cabin crew. (I’m thinking now of the Replacements song, “Waitress in the Sky.”) They are forced by regulation to recite the safety briefing, and you should pay attention. My problem isn’t with the safety demo itself, but the way it’s presented — a snoozer full of legalspeak and vapid redundancies like “at this time” and “in the event of.”

But yes, there have been several instances where passengers have made use of their floatation devices. A recent example is the Ethiopian Airlines 767 that crashed in the Indian Ocean after a hijacking. Additionally, there have been times when aircraft have overshot, undershot, or otherwise parted company with a runway and ended up in the harbor of a coastal airport. So if you’re flying from New York to Phoenix and smirk when you hear “water landing,” remember that twice since the late 1980s jets went off the end of a runway at La Guardia and ended up in the bay. There were several survivors in both cases.


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.