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A "breakover feature" in airline seats is supposed to assist in absorbing head impacts during a crash, when the passengers are in the brace position. However in some scenarios, most notably the forced water landing of US Airways Flight 1549, the NTSB investigation found that the seats did not have this feature, which led to shoulder injuries in some of the passengers who were in the brace position.

My questions are:

  • Is it mandated by the FAA that seats in all commercial airliners should have a breakover feature?
  • As a passenger, how do I know if the seats in my plane have this feature?
  • If the seats don't have such a feature, is it still wise to adopt the brace position in case of a crash or forced landing?
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    $\begingroup$ If it were mandated by the FAA, US Airways would have been fined for not having those seats. As a passenger I guess you might not know unless you ask or inspect the seat back assembly. The other way to know is after a crash. If the seats don't have the feature yes it is wise to still use the brace position, that position was developed many years ago and is still in use for a good reason. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Aug 12 '16 at 14:23
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    $\begingroup$ Related (regulation at least): Are the current seat belts used in commercial airlines safe enough? $\endgroup$ – mins Aug 12 '16 at 16:55
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I can't speak to the regs, but my understanding of the brace was primarily to protect your head, not being as exposed to any debris, and not having very far to travel to bang against something.

As far as I understand (and I'm less sure of this), your back being in a curved position like this is better able to absorb impact/jarring than if it's vertical and you drop suddenly, or are whipped forward and backward by suddenly arresting horizontal motion.

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