Canada: Air Travel: When The Safest Form Of Travel Results In An Injury

Last Updated: April 18 2017
Article by Paul Miller

Knowing that flying is the safest form of travelling is cold comfort to anyone who has sustained a personal injury while aboard a plane. "Safest" does not mean risk-free, and although plane crashes are relatively rare, there are a number of hazards passengers may encounter when on an airplane that can cause serious and sometimes life-threatening injuries. In this blog, I discuss the law relating to air travel, common injuries sustained during these trips, and some ways to make the safest form of travel even safer.

The Law

Air travel in Canada is governed by the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority Act and the Canada Transportation Act. Internationally, the Warsaw Convention and the Montreal Convention generally address the carriage of passengers, baggage, and compensation for air disasters.

The law related to air travel personal injuries is complex. Jurisdiction and relevant laws are affected by the origin, destination, and arrival of a flight, together with the countries involved and the differences between laws. However, an airline is ultimately liable for damages in the event of injury or death suffered by a passenger while traveling on an aircraft or while boarding or disembarking from an aircraft.

Air Travel Personal Injuries

When you fly you're likely thinking about being high up in the sky. But the potential for slip and falls or trip and falls on the aircraft, jetways, stairs or bridgeways, even before the flight, could keep you grounded. Once in the air, be aware of the following types of injuries:

Injury Type / Cause

  • Head Injury (including concussion) from objects from the overhead bin and collision with cabin ceiling/objects
  • Neck and Back Injuries (including soft-tissue whiplash-type injuries) from severe turbulence and crash landing/rough landing
  • Injury to Limbs and/or Torso (including sprains, fractures, broken bones, lacerations, bruises) from collision with beverage cart, other passengers and turbulence (severe or otherwise)
  • Burns from hot water spills and service accidents
  • Hearing Loss from pressurization issues
  • Food Poisoning from Improperly prepared/contaminated food

Make "Safest" Even Safer

Under the Canadian Aviation Regulations, passengers must follow all safety-related directions given by any member of a flight crew. The preflight and in-flight safety briefings are mandatory and include the following safety recommendations and items:

"     Seatbelts

Using a seatbelt is the most important preventative safety measure you can take while traveling on an aircraft. Transport Canada suggests that you remain in your seat and have your seatbelt fastened for the duration of your flight, even when the seatbelt sign is turned off. Remember that you must fasten your seatbelt during takeoff, landing, turbulence, and at any time the flight crew instructs you to do so.In a recent report regarding an aircraft that encountered severe turbulence, Canada's Transportation Safety Board concluded that 21 passengers sustained injuries because they ignored warnings to fasten seatbelts. The turbulence caused unbuckled passengers to be thrown out of their seats and into overhead cabin fixtures, the ceiling, and other objects in the cabin. Turbulence is the leading cause of in-flight injuries and the report cited lack of seatbelt use as the primary contributing factor.

"     Safety Features Card

These cards contain important information related to using exits, life preservers, oxygen masks, and the "brace for impact" position." your particular seat requires. Familiarize yourself with the information contained in the Safety Features Card so that you are prepared for an emergency.

"     Emergency Exits/ Exit Row Seating

If your seat is in a row next to an emergency exit, you are responsible for operating that exit in an emergency. Be sure to pay close attention to the instructions given by the flight crew. If you feel that you are not able to operate the door, request to be relocated to another seat.If, on landing, you are required to evacuate the aircraft, then it is critical that you do so as safely as possible. This includes leaving your possessions behind, proceeding to the nearest exit in an orderly fashion, jumping feet first onto the evacuation slide (placing arms across chest, elbows in, legs and feet together), leaving the slide, and clearing the area.

"     Safety Equipment

Familiarize yourself with the location and operation of all personal safety equipment, including your life preserver and oxygen mask.

"     Child Safety

Ensure that your child's seatbelt is properly fastened. If you are traveling with an infant, be sure that your child is secured in an appropriate child restraint system.

"     Avoid Disruptive or Inappropriate Behaviour

Harassment, physical/sexual assault, smoking (smoking is prohibited on all commercial aircraft in Canada), disregarding safety instructions, verbal abuse, intoxication/impairment, and generally endangering the safety of the aircraft puts all passengers at risk.

"     Boarding/Disembarking

Pay attention to your surroundings and be aware of any potential hazards as you enter or exit the plane. Do not rush, push, or attempt to carry an excessive amount of items. If you are boarding or disembarking from an aircraft on the tarmac (also known as the "apron"), ensure that you follow the recommended safe path to the entrance of the aircraft or the terminal. If the engines of the aircraft are running, there is increased potential for a propeller or jet-blast-related accident.

"     Clothing and Apparel

Wear comfortable clothing and appropriate footwear. In the event of a fire or severe heat, clothing made of natural fibres are less likely to melt onto skin and cause serious injury. Bring an extra pair of eyeglasses as they can be broken or lost during a flight.

Whether a personal injury occurs while embarking, disembarking, or during a flight, the law is not always as clear cut as you might imagine. If you are bringing a personal injury case against an airline or other entity, it's important to consult a lawyer who has extensive experience with aviation personal injury law.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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