Passengers won’t have to pay for airbags on planes

Would airbags on planes jack up your ticket prices? It doesn’t seem that way, according to MSNBC. The maintenance of safety equipment does cost money – there’s no question about it – but, as in many industries, costs really don’t drive pricing. Customer demand and market forces play the greatest roles, along with the cost of fuel (really the only major cost that impacts fares).

This is why airlines are always in a rush to cut jobs and amenities when they are forced to lower their prices. With fuel the only major cost that affects pricing and competitive pressures generally squeezing margins, the only lever they have to pull is to lower expenses that they can control.

By October 27, 2009, all new commercial planes will have to come equipped with airbags, as the seats will have to be able to withstand a force 16 times that of gravity. Now, these devices won’t show up magically – there are no elves poised to run into the factory the night of October 26 and surprise the manufacturers and airlines the next morning. And, AmSafe, which makes the airbags, isn’t likely to give them away for the greater good. Instead, they are forced to charge $1,250 a pop.

The money’s going to have to come from somewhere. This is a difficult thought for an industry that can’t seem to find a profit anywhere. The airlines will have to dig into their own lint-filled pockets, since, as you saw above, the customers can’t be expected to pay for safety (after all, safety isn’t like peanuts).

But, let’s be realistic. How nasty an expense is this? Over 20 flights, it results in an incremental cost of $62.50 per seat. Over 40 flights, it’s half that. The big number – when you add up all those airbags – can seem menacing, but on a per seat basis, it’s a bit more manageable. Of course, there’s maintenance on top of this: they have to be checked once a year and replaced after 14. It’s manageable. Unfortunately, it’s just another expense for an airline that can’t handle any more.

The good news? You’ll be protected by an airbag and won’t have to pay for it with higher fares.

Since you can’t talk about airbags without showing some crash test fun … remember this commercial? Crash test porn at its finest.