According to this question, life jackets are not mandatory in planes that do not fly over large bodies of water. However, I have never been on an airline flight without life jackets (and the corresponding safety demonstration).

Why do airlines not remove the life jackets from planes that fly over land? The plane would be lighter and the safety demonstration shorter. Moreover, it can not be hard to dedicate different planes to different routes and avoid returning the life jackets each time the plane has to fly over water.

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    $\begingroup$ The manpower and paperwork costs for removing the life jackets and then putting them back in outweigh potential cost savings. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Jan 12, 2018 at 15:12
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    $\begingroup$ You seem to miss the point that areas with no lakes or big rivers, but enough room to land (no mountains or very uneven area) are few and far in between. So as Flight 1549 showed the situation can happen anytime. $\endgroup$ Jan 12, 2018 at 15:23
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    $\begingroup$ Good point @ThorstenS. You'd have to factor in the potential for diversions as well. If a flight has the potential to cross a large body of water they'd have to be on board. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Jan 12, 2018 at 15:43
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    $\begingroup$ I think the question is based on a false premise. Thousands of commercial flights operate every day with no life jacket or accompanying safety demo. I'm mostly thinking of US domestic flights. Also, many large craft have successfully ditched with survivors over the past 100 years or so, the benefit of life jackets on over water flight is very high compared to the cost, which is pretty miniscule compared to maintaining the engines, for example. $\endgroup$
    – nexus_2006
    Jan 12, 2018 at 15:53
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    $\begingroup$ @ThorstenS. 1549 would have had to carry lifejackets anyway, since approach and departure from NYC often crosses Long Island Sound and CLT-LGA flights are usually routed over Chesapeake Bay and Delaware Bay. (LGA-CLT, as 1549 was, tends to be routed a little farther north, over land.) $\endgroup$ Jan 12, 2018 at 16:29

5 Answers 5


The plane would be lighter.

Not by much.

It cannot be hard to dedicate different planes to different routes.

This adds to the logistics difficulties in scheduling the airframes. It's MUCH easier if all the airframes can be used on all the routes.

Returning the life jackets each time the plane has to fly over water.

This involves extra down-time/logistics before the airframe can fly the next trip.

You've used the phrase, "large bodies of water"; think about if the airplane needed to ditch in a "small body of water". It would be preferrable that all people had life jackets and thus a chance to live.

  • $\begingroup$ Maybe in addition to the logistical overhead of loading / unloading of life jackets there would also be the issue of significant wear and tear on them due to such frequent handling ? $\endgroup$
    – njuffa
    Jan 14, 2018 at 8:16

Why do airlines not remove the life jackets from planes that fly over land?

They do, at least some of them. I fly on intra-European routes regularly (mainly Eurowings) and have never seen life jackets on flights that don't cross the Mediterranean. Obviously, the safety instructions don't include the life jacket demonstration either.

I would guess that especially for low-cost carriers, the weight advantage makes a difference.

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    $\begingroup$ Seats bases are flotation devices on some aircraft, so you might not realize you have one. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Jan 12, 2018 at 15:10
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    $\begingroup$ @GdD They're flotation devices, yes, but they're not life jackets. $\endgroup$ Jan 12, 2018 at 15:50
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    $\begingroup$ Sure @DavidRicherby, but they satisfy requirements in some places. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Jan 12, 2018 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby Was it? Considering the OP claims to have never been on a flight without life jackets, they may be using it as a generic term for flotation devices. $\endgroup$ Jan 12, 2018 at 22:10
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    $\begingroup$ @CarlKevinson Sorry, but doesn't it seem more likely that "life jackets" means "life jackets"? There are now two answers that say that some planes don't have life jackets but do have other flotation devices; that hasn't prompted the asker to say "Oh, I was including all flotation devices." The asker's main points are simplified safety demonstrations and reduced weight, and both of those are achieved by using seat cushions instead of life jackets. Surely the asker would have mentioned that if they knew about it? And if the asker's from the UK, all flights really do have literal life jackets. $\endgroup$ Jan 12, 2018 at 22:23

Because this can still happen.

US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River.

That’s US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River. They made a movie about it starring Tom Hanks.

There’s no way to predict disasters, and had the plane been “efficient” having no life jackets, I suspect it could have meant a lot of people drowning. [But see comments.]

So it’s better to plan for contingencies, especially when it’s a cheap solution (Like life jackets or floating seats). In other words, planning for anything and everything going wrong is just something pilots and aerospace engineers (and lawyers) are in the habit of doing, ideally.

  • $\begingroup$ While I don’t agree that a lot of people would have drowned if there hadn’t been life jackets (many boats in the area responded very quickly to pick up passengers and there were other floatation devices available), this is still an excellent example of why it’s wiser to just have life jackets and floatation devices available on all flights. $\endgroup$ Jan 13, 2018 at 3:30
  • $\begingroup$ @ToddWilcox thanks for the clarifying comment! (And also why I caveated my opinion with “suspect.”) ;-) I’ll make a minor edit though. $\endgroup$ Jan 13, 2018 at 3:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Todd Wilcox: But if the boats hadn't been able to respond so quickly, the lifejackets might have been quite useful. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Jan 13, 2018 at 4:24
  • $\begingroup$ Although (as your photo shows), most passengers did not take a life jacket! Of the 150 passengers on flight 1549, only 33 took a jacket (although many more took a - useless - seat cushion) and only a fraction of those put them on correctly. $\endgroup$ Jan 13, 2018 at 15:55
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    $\begingroup$ @GrayTaylor thanks for clarifying things Gray! I guess want your comment illustrates is that people should listen to the in flight instructions ;-p And fortunately, everyone was okay, and not over the ocean far from rescue. $\endgroup$ Jan 13, 2018 at 17:48

Why do airlines not remove the life jackets from planes that fly over land? The plane would be lighter and the safety demonstration shorter.

Some do. As a specific example, if you fly Delta from Minneapolis to Lincoln, Nebraska, you'll be on a Canadair RJ-something (actually run by Sky West) that will only have a couple of infant lifejackets on board. Everyone else can use their seat bottom cushion to help float – there are straps on the bottom to help you hold onto it.

However, it only makes sense to do this on planes that won't be used over any significant body of water. For example, the lack of lifejackets prevents Sky West using those particular planes for something like a Minneapolis–Detroit flight, which would either pass over Lake Michigan or take an uncompetitive detour to the south. They probably couldn't be used on Minneapolis–Chicago flights, even, since those can be routed out over the lake to approach O'Hare from the east. Similarly, a European carrier that decided not to carry lifejackets would be unable to fly that plane to the UK without spending the time to put the lifejackets back and replace all the safety cards.

  • $\begingroup$ And, obviously, some regional carriers may still decide to keep the planes equipped anyway for route flexibility. I was on a SkyWest CRJ-200 from Flagstaff to Phoenix (119 miles over mostly desert) and they still gave the life jacket safety demonstration, although the flight attendant put a comical amount of emphasis on the “in the EXTREMELY UNLIKELY event of a water landing…” line. $\endgroup$
    – bogardpd
    Feb 16, 2018 at 21:44

The Airbus A380 seats around 850 passengers 4. American Airlines has a fleet of about 950 aircraft of various models 2. The Cadillac of Wal-mart life-vests, purchased individually, costs \$30 1. Outfitting a fleet of 950 A380s with life-vests purchased individually at Wal-mart comes in a $24,225,000 USD. Even though I outfitted one of the largest fleets consisting of the largest aircraft with the life vests purchased using idiotically low business-sense, if I managed the rest of the business with some sense then the cost is (optimistically) about a day's worth of profits (American Airlines had a net profit of \$7.6B in 2015, though 2016 was a little slower at \$2.7B 3) for a once-in-an-aircraft's-liftime purchase (though there's no reason to retire them with the aircraft).

Regardless, your question was "why", not "why not"; what incentives are there for doing having life vests? One possible incentive for airliners to go ahead and equip all aircraft with them is to take out any restrictions on the aircraft's serviceable zone that would be in-place if not equipped with life vests. Maybe airports such as New York require life vests because it's so close to a large body of water that traveling over it is practically unavoidable? Maybe it's economically advantageous to be able to re-route aircraft without the luxury of predictability.

Still I apologize I still have not fed you with any true answers, only supposition. Maybe there is a regulation...Otherwise, maybe the CEO of American Airlines will respond and tell us why the hell he blankets the life vests.

(Edited for coherence).

Mins raised a point about cost of maintenance being a significant cost (possibly larger than the cost to supply). So maybe the there isn't much strength in the "why not" court.


  • $\begingroup$ I’d assume the life jackets used likely cost more than $30, given that they’ll be nicer than the nicest ones at Walmart (self-inflating, probably has a locator beacon, certified for flight which will add $$$). But your point still stands — the life jacket cost is going to be such a small fraction of the airline’s costs that in most cases it would be far more important to have the additional route flexibility of having them than the minuscule cost savings of not. $\endgroup$
    – bogardpd
    Feb 16, 2018 at 21:50

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