Life Raft Concerns Force American Airlines to Downsize Flights

In memo's sent to employees Tuesday, American Airlines said it will immediately cut the number of passengers on some flights, because of questions about the size of the life rafts on board those planes. 

The planes involved are Boeing 767-300s, jets the airline uses mostly on international and transcontinental flights.

In a message sent to flight attendants, airline management said, "concerns about the capacity of our life rafts were identified," in what the company describes as a "self-audit." 

The message goes on to say, "we are immediately restricting the total number of people on board these aircraft to 228.  People includes customers, lap children, pilots, flight attendants, and jumpseat riders." 

According to fleet information American provides on its Web site, the company's 767-300s seat 225 passengers.  Additional crew members or children held on parent's laps could push the number of people on-board over that 225 on some flights.

The airline said it has notified the FAA that the life rafts on board those planes may not have met federal regulations.  The company said it uncovered the issues during a routine check of compliance issues.  An airline spokesman, Tim Smith, says those checks were not prompted by the US Airways water landing in New York, where passengers were seen using life rafts on a different type of aircraft, an Airbus A-320.

Smith said the size of the life rafts never posed a threat to passengers.  He referred to a memo sent to company managers today which reads in part, " This issue of compliance never endangered passenger safety.  We have always had more than enough safety equipment on our 767-300 aircraft to handle passengers and crews." 

The airline points to the fact that the planes carry additional flotation devices including inflatable vests and seat cushions.

American says it is now working on a permanent solution, looking for a way to place an additional life raft on the planes affected.  In the meantime, American will leave some seats empty on those flights.  The airline said it does not  believe it will need to re-book many passengers, because planes have been flying recently with lighter loads, as travel demand has declined along with the economy.

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