Why don’t commercial airplanes have passenger parachutes?

“In the event of cabin depressurization, the masks will automatically fall out of the compartments above your head. Take one of them, place it over your nose and mouth, tightening the elastic around your head, and then, if necessary, help others. In the event of a landing on water, remember that your seat floats…”

Passengers Airplane
Passengers Airplane

If you’ve traveled by plane, you’ve probably heard these instructions from flight attendants. At no point are you told: “Your parachute is located under your seat for use in the event of a serious accident on the plane.” The reality is that commercial flights do not have this equipment and, curiously, many people are unaware of the reasons.

Seat belts and oxygen bags undoubtedly save many lives. In the same way, parachutes save people who, for various reasons, need to get out of an airplane at full speed in flight, usually in small airplanes or air force planes.

However, on commercial flights, parachutes are not available in case of an emergency and there are good reasons for this. The first is that they will almost certainly not save anyone’s life. But, before we talk about why, let’s review the characteristics of the most popular aircraft used in commercial flights.

An average commercial airliner.

One of the most popular series on commercial flights around the world is the Boeing 737. One example is the 737-800 model which is capable of transporting a total of 200 people.

Boeing 737 Norway

Although their speeds are variable, on average a 737-800 travels at 960 km/h, at a cruising altitude of 10.6 thousand meters. The cruising altitude is provided by air traffic controllers and they usually reach 12 thousand meters, except for long flights, which can go a little higher.


On private flights where skydiving is practiced, the plane usually travels at speeds of between 130 and 180 km/h when the skydiver makes the jump. Accelerated free-fall jumps take place at between three and four thousand meters, while static line jumps involve lower altitudes, such as 1,000 meters.

Experienced skydivers can make riskier jumps, although when descents begin at higher altitudes of 4.5,000 meters, the risk of hypoxia (oxygen deficiency) increases significantly, affecting safe and effective decision-making at critical moments.


For this reason, skydivers who jump at a distance of 4.5 thousand meters or more wear a supplemental oxygen mask. Now, imagine a jump to six thousand meters. So what would that be the case if you jumped out of a commercial airliner? The risk of oxygen deprivation is excruciatingly greater, plus the speed of the aircraft is much faster.

Add to that the fact that each parachute can weigh about 20 kg and that the equipment is expensive. To be fully equipped — with a main parachute, the reserve parachute, the AAD (Automatic Opening Device), altimeter, helmet and goggles — a complete “kit” would cost upwards of MXN $65,000, according to a Gizmodo article.

Not to mention that for passengers it would be necessary to take a training course of at least four hours (minimum time in which the instructions for individual jumps are taught), because using the equipment is not as simple as Hollywood makes it seem, much less in panic situations and for those who have never done it. For this reason, those who venture into a jump for fun, do so with the essential company of an instructor trained to jump in pairs (tandem jump).

In a hypothetical situation where the plane was going down, you would have very little time to grab the parachute and position it correctly, and you would have to do all of that while keeping the oxygen mask around your head and the belt fastened so as not to be thrown against the walls of the cabin. Considering all these variables, it is highly unlikely that a parachute team will save lives on a commercial flight.

In addition, everyone would have to stay calm and jump in an orderly fashion, which would require waiting patiently for your turn to jump. Something very difficult to achieve in a group of panicked people fighting for their lives. But the unfeasibility of parachutes on commercial flights doesn’t end there.

In an aircraft with a capacity of 200 people, including the crew, the weight of all the necessary skydiving equipment would add almost four thousand kilograms to the aircraft, which would not be good at all.

Also, it would take up a lot of space in a place that is already quite restricted. And even if there was a compartment available to organize the bulky equipment, it’s possible that its use was wasted in extreme situations. Here’s why.

In mid-flight.

The ideal time for people to jump out of the plane is when it’s stabilized. However, the most fatal accidents happen during takeoffs and landings. To give you an idea, between 2003 and 2012, only 9% of all fatal accidents took place while the plane was in flight, according to Boeing statistics.


Worse still, at least one of those accidents was caused by strong gusts of wind or intense storms. Two situations in which the use of the parachute is totally inadvisable, even if you are a specialist in the area.

Thus, even if it were possible to jump out of an airplane, the conditions under which parachutes could, theoretically, save lives will almost never occur in fatal commercial accidents. But, there’s more. Teams would have to include more elements to contribute to survival on a high-altitude jump.

Faster and higher.

At 10.6,000 meters, all passengers would have high-altitude equipment, including an oxygen tank, mask and regulator, special flight suit, ballistic helmet and a specific altimeter. Without that, the person will almost certainly faint due to lack of oxygen and wake up later with the parachute open (or not) at less than 4.5 thousand or 6 thousand meters.

However, that chance is next to zero, given that planes move so fast that many passengers would crash into the plane while trying to exit and suffer debilitating injuries, to say the least.

The strange cases of survival without a parachute.

According to reports from the Geneva-based Aircraft Crashes Record Office, between the years 1940 and 2008, there have been 157 recorded cases of people who fell from planes during an accident, without a parachute, and miraculously survived to tell their story.

In addition, 42 of these cases took place at altitudes of more than three thousand meters. One of the cases involved a British officer whose plane was shot down in 1944, during World War II. The man fell from a distance of 5.5 thousand meters without a parachute. His fall was cushioned by pine trees and soft snow. After his “landing”, he emerged without serious injuries, with only a cut on his leg.

Vesna Vulovic

While Vesna Vulović, a Yugoslav stewardess, survived a fall of 10,160 meters when the plane she was traveling in exploded over Czechoslovakia, on January 26, 1972. She clung to her crew seat in the tail of the plane, which was held together to the bathrooms.

These parts of the plane fell onto a snow-covered mountain, which somewhat cushioned the impact of the fall. Vulović broke both legs, was left in a coma for 27 days and temporarily paralyzed. No other passengers survived that day.

In December 2006, Michael Holmes, a British skydiver, survived a fall of 3.9 thousand meters, when his main parachute and also the reserve parachute failed to open. He fell in New Zealand, on a bush of wild blackberries, broke his ankle and punctured his lung. NYTimes.