This week, a long-brewing FAA regulation requiring planes to protect passengers from 16 G crash forces will come into full effect. What does this mean for you? Well, your next seat—or more accurately, seat belt—could have an airbag.
Instead of building airbags into plane seats or the bulkhead—that big flat wall at the front of the cabin—AmSafe, the biggest name in the I'm-guessing-not-terribly-crowded commercial jet passenger airbag industry, has hidden them in seat belts: the bag is mounted at shoulder height and connected to a trigger and helium inflation device underneath the seat.
AmSafe's Tom Barth, pictured here holding a comically oversized seat belt that's obviously hiding an airbag or something, told NPR:
The air bag seat belt looks pretty much like a standard seat belt. People don't really notice that it's there.
No need to deny the lumpiness, Tom—I think people will forgive a little bulk if it means they won't splatter their brains all over that darling floral bulkhead carpet next time a landing doesn't go quite as planned.
But alas, the rollout won't be universal. The FAA regulation doesn't require airbags per se, as long as aircraft manufacturers can somehow claim that a 16 G impact is survivable by way of padded seatbacks, open space, or better restraints. Only a handful of commercial jets have
exploding seat belts
airbags today—none of which have ever deployed, by the way—but the regulation, which only applies to new planes, should make these things a common sight. [NPR]
UPDATE: Now with added video edutainment: