American Airlines limiting passengers on some jets

January 28, 2009 8:12:25 AM PST
American Airlines is limiting the number of passengers on some planes while it orders additional life rafts needed in case of a water landing like the one made this month on the Hudson River by a US Airways jet. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

American will allow no more than 228 people including passengers and crew on its Boeing 767-300 aircraft, which normally holds 236 people including a crew of 11, spokesman Tim Wagner said Wednesday.

The planes are mostly used on flights over the Atlantic to Europe, and to Latin America.

American is taking the step to make sure it complies with Federal Aviation Administration rules on raft capacity, Wagner said.

The spokesman said the problem arose after American added additional seats when redesigning the business-class cabins of the 767s between 2005 and 2007. The airline discovered the shortage this week when it reviewed life raft capacity on new Boeing 737 aircraft and then decided to re-examine the situation on other planes in its fleet.

FAA rules require aircraft to have enough room on life rafts to accommodate everyone on board, including children seated on their parents' laps, and to plan as if one raft fails to work.

In a note to employees Tuesday, the company said it had never endangered the safety of passengers, who can use other flotation devices on planes, presumably including seat cushions.

The 767-300s make up 9 percent of American's fleet of 625 planes. Wagner said all of American's other planes meet FAA requirements for life rafts.

Wagner said it would take about a month to get additional or larger rafts for the 767-300s, and flight attendants will need training for the new rafts.

Until rafts are added, American will limit the number of seats it sells on the planes, and the airline doesn't have any pending flights that are booked over the 228-person limit, Wagner said.

"Given the time of year and what's going on in the economy, I'm not aware of any flights where we're going to have to bump someone," he said.

This is usually the slowest part of the year for airlines, and demand for air travel has been hurt by the recession.

American eliminated many flights last year but not fast enough to match the falling demand for seats. The Fort Worth-based airline, a unit of AMR Corp., expects to cut capacity more than 6.5 percent this year.

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