QUESTION:Airplane seats have lap seat belts, like automobiles, but not shoulder straps. Why is this? Wouldn’t it be safer? (Asked by a frequent flyer.)

REPLY: Well, there is probably a combination of reasons. First, the type of restraint needed in commercial aircraft differs from that of an automobile. Shoulder straps are an advantage in sudden stops, which usually don’t occur for aircraft. Also,on an airliner, you don’t have the windshield to contend with. (With the small leg room, the back of the seat in front of you would act as a bumper if you didn’t have your lap belt on. They don’t give you much space.)

Another consideration is where shoulder straps would be anchored. With as many as five seats in an aisle, there would be a jungle of straps going somewhere above. (You wouldn’t be able to see the in-flight movie.)

Of course, there is a cost factor, not only for the shoulder straps themselves and their installation, but also in excess weight. A shoulder strap may not sound like much, but consider a whole plane times the number of planes that fly, and you’ve got a big bunch that would cost big bucks in fuel over time.

Evidently, there is no great need for shoulder straps, or we would probably have them. One way to get around the need would be to have the seats face backward. Then, we would have no problem with sudden stops, and we could watch all the people waiting in line for the restrooms. It’s perhaps a good safety idea; however, it probably wouldn’t fly. A lot of people, including myself, don’t like to ride backward.

Well, that was a relatively short one, so I’ll add a biblical observation. It seems that 40 is a very popular number in the Bible. For example (I hope I get all this right), it rained for 40 days and 40 nights for the big flood, and Moses went up on Mt. Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights. Elijah spent 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness, but the Israelites spent 40 years. Jonah gave Nineveh 40 days to repent. Jesus sojourned in the wilderness for 40 days, and Lent is 40 days long. That’s a lot of 40s going on.

C.P.S. (Curious Postscript):“One advantage of talking to yourself is that you know at least somebody’s listening.” -- Franklin P. Jones

Curious about something? Send your questions to Dr. Jerry D. Wilson, College of Science and Mathematics, Lander University, Greenwood, SC 29649, or e-mail jerry@curiosity-corner.net. Selected questions will appear in the Curiosity Corner. For Curiosity Corner background, go to www.curiosity-corner.net.