Starting this fall, all new planes will be required to have heartier seats that can withstand 16x gravity without popping out of place. Plus, they'll be getting airbags in select areas.
As of now, plane designs that were certified before 1988 are permitted to have seats that can withstand just 9x gravity. And airbags are pretty much only found in cars. But beginning October 27, newly manufactured planes with these old designs will need the incorporate the new seats and airbags in places like first/business class where seats are far apart and exit rows where passengers can simply hit a wall.
So do these standards actually matter, or do they just placate nervous fliers? We'll let this particularly humorous passage from the NYT answer that question:
In some airline crashes, the strength of the seats is irrelevant because the crash is not what the engineers call "survivable." In other crashes, still violent but not as much so as exploding in midair or breaking up in flight, the passengers' survival depends on suffering little or no injury in the first phase of the accident, as when a plane runs off the runway, and then getting out of the plane quickly to avoid a postcrash fire.
Ahh, those witty engineers. [NYT]