What Are Three-Point Harnesses & Why Are They Important?

In the economy section of commercial airlines, passenger safety during flight is made possible through the use of a lap belt. However, business sections and other premium cabin seats have three-point harnesses. What exactly are these three-point harnesses and what are their qualities? In this blog, we will discuss the three-point harness in more detail..

Be it economy, premium, or a form of business cabin, most passengers in aft or forward facing seats are directed to use lap belts during the instance of turbulence or other adverse flight conditions. In these various seating options, there is usually no option for three-point harnesses. Three-point harnesses are generally only available in certain premium seats that are angled away from the aft/forward trajectory. Why is this the case, though? The intent of installing a three-point harness in certain premium sections of the aircraft is to protect the passenger from contact with the forward side of the seat shell.

In the event of sudden deceleration, the bodies of passengers who are sitting in seats not angled towards the rear or front of the plane would move very differently. Instead of leaning forward, there is a possibility of the passengers being thrown sideways, and three-point harnesses help in stopping this from happening. There are also instances where even forward-facing premium seats have three-point harness seat belts, and this enables passengers to stay secured during taxi, takeoff, and landing procedures.

The 2005 FAA Amendment

The rules regarding the required seat standards in passenger transport airplanes were amended in 2005 by the FAA. The rules were built on a regulation that was decades old and was based on calculating the Head Injury Criterion (HIC). The HIC is a complex sum that was originally used in the automotive industry for calculating the risk of serious head injuries. The calculation considers time, the rate of acceleration, and the proximity of objects that a head could strike for producing a number. For an aircraft to be declared safe, the HIC has to be less than 1,000, as per the 1988 FAA ruling.

Regarding the economy class, airline companies came to the conclusion that it would be possible to maintain compliance with the 16g seat rule. This is achieved by substantially padding the headrest of the seat in front of a passenger. However, when it comes to business class seats, airline companies needed to analyze and identify the different objects the head of passengers could hit in the case of an emergency. Remaining compliant was a problem in business class sections, especially with angled seats, the presence of IFE screens, bulkheads, and tray tables.

To solve this problem, airline companies came up with a simple solution--three-point harnesses. These harnesses provide passengers with the highest level of protection against head injuries while remaining compliant with FAA rulings. Moreover, it keeps a passenger’s upper body still and prevents their head from swaying and hitting objects present in the cabin during turbulent conditions. Though the three-point harness has not been adopted in every type of passenger cabin, these harnesses can be often seen in aircraft with angled seats.

Three-Point Harnesses Drawbacks

Despite their inherent benefits, airline companies usually have a tendency to avoid the three-point harness. The reason behind doing so, especially in economy seats and other cheaper seats, often comes down to the expense involved in maintaining them. As such, there is a low chance that you will be able to utilize three-point harnesses if your flight duration is short. Additionally, you will not get to see three-point harnesses in budget airlines, unless regulatory bodies mandate airline companies to provide them and have legal consequences for not following such rulings.

Having said that, in the past few years, airline companies have been facing pressure to regularly update their safety provisions. This happened especially after the 2013 crash landing of Flight 214 of Asiana Airlines, where the investigation found that lap-only seat belts resulted in injuries. Nonetheless, additional safety measures are being taken by airlines in addition to installing three-point harnesses to keep the passengers safe and their journeys as comfortable as possible.


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