Fasten seat-belt sign vs. passenger's need to use restroom

Another airline story, this time a passenger complaining that she was not allowed to use restroom when the plane experienced turbulence.

Now, usually I side with the airline in such instances - and I still think the airline was right in this story. (Also, I don’t know if, in this story, the “fasten seat belt” sign was on or off.) However - this segues into a related issue - I do think some airlines make “Keep seat belt fastened” the default status (keep the sign on unless there’s a good reason *not *to), and use that too much, and basically would always err on the side of “Keep holding your bladder/bowels.”


  1. Do airlines use the “Seat belt on” sign too much, needlessly so?

  2. Isn’t clear-air turbulence very rare, although dangerous when it does happen?

  3. At what point does the passenger’s need to relieve himself/herself override the seat-belt-sign-on order?

I recently took a flight which waited on the runway for some time before take-off. Once we were in the air, I kept a sharp eye on the seatbelt sign because I had to piss like a racehorse. Finally it changed color and I jumped up and headed to the restroom, only to be told right at the doorway that I shouldn’t be up yet. (Apparently I was looking at the wrong sign; in my defense, my eyeballs were floating). I said, “Okay, should I go back to my seat, or…” I must have looked sufficiently desperate because the flight attendant said, “Well, I can’t tell you what to do…” I said, “I’ll be quick!” and had the door locked behind me by the end of that sentence.

Thank you, merciful flight attendant!

I think the general theory is, however unpleasant it would be to pee in your pants, it is still preferable to bashing your noggin on a bulkhead during unexpected turbulence.

The seat belt sign is a suggestion. The flight attendants can’t make you remain in your seat, especially when nature is calling.

It sounds like there was a great misunderstanding between the passenger and the flight attendant in that story. And really, who the fuck is going to piss in a cup when you could defy the flight attendant’s “order” and just leave anyway? Is she going to tackle you?

This is at least the third version of events of the linked incident in the OP I have seen.

In the linked article the woman states the bathrooms were occupied. I do see telling passengers to stay seated with the seat belt buckled due to turbulence while the bathrooms are already occupied. But this requires the flight attendants to manage things better. If you don’t want to have a bunch of passengers standing in line for the loo while the plane shudders through turbulence then you need to control the flow (pardon the pun) of passengers so they can answer nature’s call. I cannot imagine the turbulence was too severe since drink service was underway.

I saw a version of this story with a key difference. In that version the plane was on final descent. In such circumstances, sorry but you need to hold it. Yeah, its going to be inconvenient, but the plane descending to land is something that can be anticipated. Be sure you go with say 45 minutes or an hour remaining in your flight.

I have more sympathy for passengers when there is a ground delay of an undetermined length. Telling someone to hold it for 20 minutes is far different than telling them to hold it for a completely indeterminate amount of time while a mechanic works on a problem. And if that means the crew cannot push back the flight the instant a mechanic fixes the problem then the crew mismanaged it. Communicate with your passengers. They want the flight to get off the ground in a timely manner too.

I don’t know what happened here. I’ve seen several different versions. If they told her to pee in a cup in her seat, that’s ridiculous! However, if I had over-active bladder and were taking a flight, I’d PAD UP.

This was pretty much the story I was going to share, as well. :slight_smile:

We were leaving Tampa, heading home to Chicago. After they loaded the plane and pushed away from the gate, but before we took off, there was a ground stop due to a thunderstorm which parked itself on top of the airport (not uncommon in Florida). We probably sat there for at least 90 minutes before finally taking off.

Due to occasional (but not tremendous) turbulence, the flight crew kept the seat-belt sign lit after we reached cruising altitude. I desperately needed to go, and finally did so (at this point, it had been over 2 hours since we’d boarded the plane). The flight attendant was very understanding, and I understood that I was doing so at my own risk.

Here’s my last missive (from 2 years ago) on point:

Perhaps that’s the case in Canada, but I’m pretty sure in the US, passengers are required to follow instructions from the flight crew and the lighted signs.

Like I said, is she going to tackle you? We all share the same biology. No right-minded person is going to deny you the right to pee.
I just can’t believe it.
“Sorry, you’re going to have to piss in this cup, and then you can get up and dump the contents.”

Come on.

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Aye, miss… This wont do, have you got a 2 litre bottle?
I would suppose the lawsuit for making you piss your pants is much less than the lawsuit your family brings if you bash your head and die or something?

I was told to stay in my seat after the sign went out. Turned out it was so she could serve coffee and peanuts.

When she took the trolly back up to the galley for a refill, I was up like a shot and into the toilet. Then when I got out, I had to wait until the trolly got past my seat so that I could sit down again. While she gave me dirty looks for daring to disobey.

At the start of LA-NYC, daytime flight. Perhaps I was lucky this was pre 9/11

That’s not how it works.

The “fasten seatbelts” sign was illuminated.
The passenger was warned of the potential hazard.
The passenger accepted the risk. That’s how it should work.

The last time I saw someone in power make someone piss their pants was in grade 2, because it was just after recess and he should have gone then.
And I thought that was a ridiculously embarrassing thing to do to a 7 year old.

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Careful! Who knows what she might say?

“…but of course…! Here. Take empty one but take this full one and this little tablet too.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Its a Mento. If you find yourself cramping so much that you just can’t go, just drop it into the full one before inserting the nozzle. Good Luck…!”

I’ve seen the COMPLY! type people counter argue that you could go flying around the cabin in turbulence and hit somebody else, but they by nature like to argue COMPLY! and find reasons you always should :slight_smile: I tend to agree with you though and IME it’s the attitude flight attendants take in most cases. I don’t know about final moments of approach or rolling down the runway, never saw anyone try it at those times. The flight attendants are often standing except in those few moments, or in pretty bad turbulence, and they theoretically could go flying into passengers.

This would work better if “accepting the risk” also meant they got to leave you on the floor bleeding from your ears and ignore you when you smash your skull into the overhead bin. But unfortunately it means they would have to divert to get you to an ER and make all the other passengers 4 hours late. Nothing on a plane happens in a vacuum.

Hmm. I have about as much sympathy for someone who needs to pee when the seatbelt sign is on as I do for my kids when they suddenly need to pee shortly after we’ve got in the car. Passengers know that their opportunities to pee will be limited in flight. I suggest that if they haven’t taken the opportunity in the terminal then they have no one to blame for pissing their pants other than themselves. That view is balanced by the recognition that the seatbelt sign shouldn’t be on needlessly, but most of the time it is due to poor planning by the passenger. I’ve been the passenger desperately waiting for the sign to turn off. Who would’ve been responsible for me pissing my pants? Me, that’s who, no one else.

They could go down that route. Maybe the passenger is a terrorist who waits for the signs to be on so everyone is seated then they feign desperation and get up for the toilet as part of a plan to take control of the cabin. Highly unlikely, but for very good reason airline crews take a dim view of people who don’t comply with instructions. Your inability to plan for the most basic of bodily functions shouldn’t put the crew in a position where they have to turn a blind eye to non-compliance.

If the signs have been on for a long time, then common sense should prevail of course.

If you do this, you are subject to the possibility of significant penalties, under federal law. So there is, indeed, a potential cost. See the excellent post by LSLGuy.

It happened to me. I guess I could have been more forceful, but I was not allowed to use the restroom until that fucking sign went off. I really wanted to piss all over the cabin out of spite. I’m not one where this is normally a problem, but nature was calling something fierce like it never has before. I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it without pissing my pants. Assholes.

I just want to point out that in every story I read, it was the passenger who decided to pee in a cup and not the FA suggesting it. Reading between the lines of the story, I see an alternative story. What may have happened was that the passenger wanted to get up to pee but the airplane hit turbulence and the fasten seatbelt sign was turned on (or they were landing but I am going to go with the passenger’s story). The passenger tried to get up to go to the bathroom but the FA pointed out that the seatbelt light was on. The passenger then told the FA “What do you want me to do-pee in a cup?” The FA most likely just told her she needed to remain seated. The passenger then took it upon herself to pee in her cup. At that time, the FA came back and informed her that she would need to dump the urine in the bathroom and made a comment about how they would have to clean the seats since she had been peeing. This scenario fits with everything I’ve read just as well as the story of the FA telling her to use a cup, handing her one, then shaming her for using it.