Buckle up and stay that way for the whole flight

John Hanscombe
May 23 2024 - 12:00pm

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That sinking feeling came with the last passenger to board the flight. We'd thought we'd jagged an empty seat in our row of three but he here was, a ragged Kiwi dressed like an Afghan, carrying a prayer mat and demanding his passport from the officials who'd seen him onto the aircraft.

Watch: A man has died and more than 30 others were injured when severe turbulence hit a Singapore Airlines flight from London to Singapore.

He was being deported and as bad luck would have it, he was allocated that seat in our row. After being assured his passport would be returned once the flight had landed in Sydney, he took his seat.

It was an anxious flight for us as we watched him fiddle endlessly with his phone, muttering to himself as he appeared to delete contacts. For the whole eight hours we were alert and alarmed.

He was an extreme example but almost every time I fly, there are fellow passengers whose demeanour or silly behaviour are unsettling. You know who they are.

The parents of the young child behind you, oblivious to its constant kicking of the back of your seat and mystified by the murderous look you shoot them as your sciatica is triggered.

The passengers who make their way to the toilet the moment the seatbelt sign comes on and the crew warns of turbulence.

The bloke still gabbing on the phone long after the announcement to switch off mobile devices, who looks annoyed when the flight attendant tells him to hang up.

The woman hauling so much cabin baggage, there's no room left in the overhead locker for the people seated next to her.

The list could go on and on. There's nothing quite like being crammed into a metal tube to fire up your intolerance of other, thoughtless people..

But the one thing I don't understand is why passengers don't keep their seatbelts fastened, even when the sign is off.

There are always fellow passengers whose demeanour or silly behaviour are unsettling. Picture Shutterstock
There are always fellow passengers whose demeanour or silly behaviour are unsettling. Picture Shutterstock

The leading cause of injuries on aircraft is not what is politely called "impact with terrain". It's in-flight mishaps caused by turbulence.

If the aircraft drops suddenly in clear air turbulence, unrestrained passengers will hit the ceiling in a moment of zero gravity. And there's a risk they'll come down on fellow passengers who are buckled in, causing injury to them.

The Singapore Airlines mishap over Myanmar is an extreme and tragic example of the perils of turbulence. That it took place while breakfast was being served made it worse.

When flight SQ312 plunged into that air pocket, it was not only hot coffee, tea, chicken sausages and omelettes flying around the cabin, it was 70-odd unrestrained passengers and crew. That's roughly 30 per cent of the 229 people on board. Far too many not buckled in.

For some reason, the arrival of the food trolley is interpreted as a signal to passengers to unbuckle and get up for a stretch, no matter the inconvenience this causes for the crew.

If anything good comes out of the Singapore Airlines incident, it will be firmer messaging about seatbelts and passengers who actually heed the warnings.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Do you keep your seatbelt fastened at all times when flying? Have you experienced bad turbulence and has it put you off flying? What are the most annoying behaviours you see when flying? Email us:

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THEY SAID IT: "The time to be worrying about flying is when you're on the ground. When you're up in the air, it's too late. No point in worrying about it then." - Denzel Washington

YOU SAID IT: Arrest warrants for the leaders of Hamas and Israel are long overdue given their appalling conduct.

Ian writes: "Both Netanyahu and his cronies and the Hamas leadership ought to be held accountable for the carnage committed in Gaza. Even though any arrest warrants issued by the ICC are probably unrealisable, their prospects will have a positive effect, I think. Surely more and more Israeli citizens, seeing this latest world condemnation of the behaviour of their country, must be thinking that maybe it's past time they got rid of their government. It must be sinking in with the US too that their reputation is being degraded by their support for what is looking increasingly like a pariah state in the world's eyes."

"Doesn't really matter what I or Australia thinks? Why, oh why, does Australia want to get in with aid money or time or opinions for either side? I would have thought we had our fair share of domestic issues that need our time and focus!"

Stuart writes: "The Israeli attacks on Hamas in Gaza can be likened to the random bombing of Cologne and Dresden in World War II. In war, civilians get killed. Their presence close to terrorist targets, whether supportive or not, will prove hazardous."

"Fantastic news!" writes Jennifer. "At last the murder and maiming of so many innocents (especially the children) is being called to account. That is the cause of the rising anti-Semitism. I fear Biden (and his condemnation of the ICC) is like Albanese and Netanyahu, all being more focussed on keeping their own jobs than on the bigger picture. We expect more of national leaders. Good on Craig Foster in coming out in support of the arrest warrants. And thanks for the info on B'Tselem. Good to know of other groups aligned to Australia's Jewish Council of Australia. Hopefully people will see that Jews are not all the same, any more than are Palestinians, or Australians."

David writes: "It isn't just Israel and Qatar that are not signatories to the ICC, there is also Israel's biggest supporter and arms supplier, the US. Should any Israeli be brought before the ICC I wonder if the US will invoke the American Service-Members' Protection Act. This act authorises the president to use 'all means necessary and appropriate to bring about the release of any US or allied personnel being detained or imprisoned by, on behalf of, or at the request of the International Criminal Court', up to and including a military invasion of Holland. Rules based order? Yeah, right."

"The political leadership of Israel should definitely face war crimes proceedings for its over reactive attack on Gaza," writes Marilyn. "Politically, Israel has long demonstrated its intent to subsume all the land occupied by Palestinians prior to 1947 by all and any means available. Any well-read person would not dispute the extraordinary harms that have been meted out to Palestinians since. Hamas's attack on October 7 was indeed brutal but never forget their rise was supported financially and encouraged by Israel to wedge the ineffective PLO. Clearly the ICC has more information and evidence than any of us so I trust that they've made the correct decision."

Richard writes: "The fact that they requested arrest warrants for perpetrators on both sides of the conflict shows the impartiality. Those who call out anti-Semitism in defence of war crimes/criminals are just as guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes. Level headed people should look at who reacts and respond accordingly."

John Hanscombe

John Hanscombe

National reporter, Australian Community Media

Four decades in the media, working in print and television. Formerly editor of the South Coast Register and Milton Ulladulla Times. Based on the South Coast of NSW.