Starting this summer, the carrier will be the first to require use of lap belts all the time while passengers are seated from takeoff through landing. Currently, passengers may unbuckle during the flight if the pilot turns off the seat-belt light.
Other airlines could follow American's lead, said David A. Fuscus, spokesman for the Air Transport Association, an industry group of major airlines.
The policy is intended to stem injuries caused by so-called clear-air turbulence - invisible, unpredictable areas of unstable air not caused by such obvious factors as storm clouds or mountain ranges.
"People in their seats need to be belted in," American spokesman Tim Smith said today. "We've had that as a recommendation to passengers for a long time. It is clearly the best way to deal with unexpected turbulence from a safety standpoint."
A United Airlines jet flying from Tokyo to Honolulu hit clear-air turbulence in December that killed one passenger and injured 83 others.
American could put the new policy into effect by the busy summer travel season. Smith would not give a date but said, "Certainly by the middle of the year would be a logical time to get it in place."
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