Do up your belt or not, but beware turbulence

From Tuesday, Air New Zealand will be increasing long-term domestic fares across all routes....
Photo: RNZ
Here's a question that tells us something about our attitude to rule making and compulsion.

Should fastened seatbelts in moving planes be mandatory for all passengers, apart from toilet breaks? A large proportion of people are likely to say yes.

We have been spooked by the extreme turbulence which struck a Singapore Airlines flight last month over the Bay of Bengal. One passenger died after a heart attack and many received serious injuries.

The plane had hit turbulence and plunged rapidly. Photographs of the cabin damage were dramatic.

An unscientific poll on X soon after the incident showed five to one in favour of compulsion.

Turbulence is sometimes unpredictable, and present advice is to keep seatbelts fastened even when the seatbelt sign is not illuminated. That is common sense and no chore on shorter flights.

Most of us do so willingly, even enthusiastically, especially after the jolt of that Singapore Airlines experience.

There is nothing like such stark evidence to motivate. There is a difference, however, between an instinct which says "let’s regulate and do this for the good of everyone" and a permissive attitude.

That second approach allows some scope for personal choice and responsibility, as well as a touch of flexibility.

Civis is ambivalent about this. The seatbelt compulsion for take-off, landing, taxiing and predicted and actual turbulence is obvious. Perhaps clear and regular encouragement is best for other times.

After all, there could be circumstances — hopefully brief — when being free of the seatbelt is useful on long hauls.

Moving around occasionally is important for body health — deep vein thrombosis anyone? Seating for a long time increases its risk.

Sometimes items are needed from overhead lockers. Passengers might move intermittently to see friends and family.

Cabin crew have enough to worry about without enforcing extra rules. They are also more likely to be injured.

More than 100 serious injuries were caused by turbulence on United States airlines from 2009 to 2023, according to US Federal Aviation Administration figures.

If, as suggested, turbulence becomes more frequent and less foreseeable, the safety imperative becomes more compelling.

Meanwhile, the case will grow for little or no service on shorter flights. Hot drinks are especially hazardous, as illustrated last Sunday on a flight to Queenstown. Hot coffee from a jolted trolley spilt from pots, burning a passenger.

The unexpected "clear air" turbulence also caused moderate injuries to a crew member.

Interestingly, almost all of us don’t think twice about buckling up in a car.


On the aviation theme, Dunedin Airport deserves praise for lighter touches, even if they have been in place for years.

In a form of toilet humour, the hot air from hand dryers is compared to what the airport chief executive spouts and has been a welcome touch. Refreshing, too, is the line in the departure lounge toilets about them being built by a dunnerstunnerplumber.

Auckland has had its attempt at a groan-worthy pun in the crowded domestic arrivals and departure hall. The area is being revamped and the men’s toilet on Civis’ last two recent visits there was outside.

A large sign on the boarded-up entrance inside says: "Relief is on the way. New male toilets arriving soon".

Perhaps the airport authorities could have really taken off and said: "New male toilets landing soon". Whatever. The whole matter was not too much of an inconvenience.


It was probably best not to look for reassurance or be a nervous passenger on an Air New Zealand flight the other day if you tackled the overhead-screen trivia quiz.

The question was: "Is the black box found in the front or the back of the plane?". Maybe this could be seen as an oblique reminder to keep that seatbelt always fastened.

By the way, the box is at the back.