Staying in your seat on a flight when seatbelt sign illuminated

I imagine LSL guy will be able to answer this quickly…

I’ve heard horror stories about passengers fouling themselves at the beginning of 8-hour flights because the crew wouldn’t let them up for a bathroom emergency. I’ve seen people ordered back to their seats after making it all the way to the bathroom doors. I’ve also been on trans-USA flights, can’t remember what airline, where a flight attendant told me to sit back down, I said I really had to go, and she said, “I have to say that, but I’m not going to make you” or something similar.

What really are the rules? Can the crew force you to stay in your seat if you’re desperate? Or do they rely on intimidation?

No answer, but I’m interested in the response. I’ve never felt closer to murdering somebody than when a flight attendant told me I couldn’t go until the fuming light was off.

“Fuming” was not my word, but auto-corrected above, and I decided to keep it.

After a loooong night of drinking waaaaaaay too much sake, I had a flight which of course had pretty bad turbulence on the decent. Just after touchdown I really had to vomit and I preferred not to use the baggies and ran to the bathroom since I was just 2 rows away from it. They were forced to stop the plane on the taxiway until I came out, which thankfully was pretty quick. The stewardess was banging on the door the whole time tho, and not very happy. I was pretty embarrassed and apologized profusely.

True story.

You are required by law to follow the instructions of a crew member. Failure to do so is ‘Interfering with a crew member’ 14 C.F.R. §§ 91.11, 121.580, 135.120

If they tell you you must remain seated you should remain seated. Penalty can be up to $25K for failing to do so.

I flew Southwest last week. The airline gate folks made an announcement 30 minutes before boarding was to start for everyone to use the ground restroom facilities now. They said due to taxiing, ground stops and and weather it would be at least 90 minutes after the aircraft pulls away from the gate before the pilot would allow anyone out of their seats to use the on-board toilets.

The airline gate folks were accurate. The pilot did not allow anyone out of their seats for 90 minutes.

Okay, but part of law enforcement is selective enforcement–I mentioned my own experience above. If the pilot says “stay seated” and I run back to the toilets yelling “I’m gonna shit myself,” how likely is it I’m going to get turned away? We might be getting into IMHO territory but I would like for flight attendants and pilots to weigh in with thoughts and real experiences if any.

Actually stop you probably not. Bring charges against you, not all that likely. Use your refusal to follow instruction as a means to avoid liability should you be injured, absolutely.

If you are otherwise compliant and cooperative with the crew they are still human beings. You’re making things difficult for them but you are a customer and they don’t need to drive you away or have to do extra paperwork.

I’d image they’d say ‘no stop return to your seat’ as you ran by. If you get bounced off the ceiling due to turbulence and break your arm they’ll be telling their superiors ‘he refused to listen’ when we told him to stay seated.’ If the only result is you use the bathroom and return to your seat, I doubt anything would come of it.

For a contradictory response, I am “that person” that routinely gets up to use the lavatory even when the seatbelt sign is on and I have hardly ever been called out on it and never been forced to return to my seat when I explain that I really have to go out of many hundreds or more flights. I obviously never do it during takeoff or landing but cruise flight in marginal weather is fair game and the flight attendants always treat it that way as well. I never ask permission. I just go and they hardly ever say much at all. I always took that warning to be for casual use of the isles that doesn’t apply to a real lavatory need. I always take it as a warning and not a demand. OTOH, I have been on some flights in truly violent weather where everyone including the flight attendants have to be strapped in and I wouldn’t even think about violating the directive in those circumstances.

An FA scowled at me a couple months ago when I got up while the seat belt light was on. We were in slightly lumpy air, but really no worse than riding the subway and nobody chased me back to my seat.

The real pain is when the FAs ask the captain to put the seat belt light on solely to have the aisle clear for themselves during beverage service.

I have never seen this, nor noticed any causative rather than correlative effect.

It seems pretty abusive of procedures, and detrimental to safety–passengers should know that the sign is on for flight safety and only for that, and that’s why it should be “obeyed.” The “beverages are now being served, watch your toes” FAA-mandated FA or pilot announcement suffices for the other.

But I’ve heard stories about ambulances (or cops) putting on their alarms and flashers so they could get to lunch on time.

Richard Pearse also flies the heavy metal, and he too is active on SD.

Some thought-bite independent paragraphs that don’t add up to a coherent essay …

If everybody was like **Shagnasty **this’d be easy. We’d eliminate the stupid sign and folks’ common sense would be adequate to the task. But relatively few people are like that. Or said another way, the most clueless amongst the customers may not want, but absolutely needs, protection from their own abject cluelessness and near total absence of judgment. Protecting them from themselves involves over-protecting the Shagnasty’s of the world. Oddly enough, this is true throughout life, not just for seatbelt signs on airplanes.

We have one sign that has to give safety advice for athletic 20-somethings and infirm 80-somethings who’re wobbly enough on dry land. And for kids.

As pointed out above, the regulations require your absolute compliance on pain of truly silly fines. But the same paragraph also applies to not punching a pilot or breaking down the cockpit door. So you can see the punishment might be appropriate for those other offenses.

Certainly most FAs most of the time are reasonable about able-bodied folks being up in flight against the sign. But … They understand how mob psychology works and they’re outnumbered 50 to 1 by y’all. The first able bodied person might get a pass; after the 3rd including a wobbler or very obese person they’ve got to re-assert control before everybody starts ignoring it completely. At some point them being “reasonable” shades into them being deliberately derelict in their federally mandated safety duties. That’s a tough spot you’ve put them in.

Regulations require it to be on for all taxi, takeoff and landing ops, and for “turbulence”, without further elaboration on what those key words mean. Ideally the sign would be on exactly when needed and no more.

The need for seatbelts during taxi is pretty self-explanatory. Taxiing we can easily generate turning or braking far beyond what most of you have ever felt. If you’re standing up, you won’t be when we’re done. Where it can get stupid is the long-lasting slow-moving line where we’re moving just often enough that there isn’t time to be letting people up. Under those congested conditions we’ve got to keep moving.

Peoples’ perception of time is silly. When sitting in their seat and bored, every 10 seconds feels like an eternity. When busy walking, & peeing, & washing, & primping, even 5 minutes goes by in a flash. You can see how this time perception glitch encourages people to make bad decisions about how much time is needed versus available.

During taxi we often get a call from the back that somebody is up in the lav. We’re not obligated to stop, but we are obligated to use caution to avoid setting up a need for abrupt maneuvering, and we absolutely can’t take off. If you manage to hold it until we’re finally number 2 for takeoff, *then *you get up, expect to get barked at from the cockpit. We know you can’t know exactly where we are in the departure process. But we also know that in a backlogged situation the last thing the other *three thousand *people in our & the airplanes lined up behind us want is an extra 4 minutes of delay while *one *of our passengers pees.

Beyond the regs, different company legal departments have put different spins on how they want the sign used for liability control inflight. And if that makes it into our manuals, we have to comply or face the wrath of the Boss if we’re doin’ our own *laissaze faire *thing and somebody gets hurt. Again this comes down to us deliberately violating a federally mandated safety procedure. That’s a difficult one to explain to a hostile administrative judge looking for a fresh scalp for his/her collection.

My own personal POV is one of the biggest things I can do from my post to improve your flight is minimize the time that sign is on without good cause. Turn it off promptly, leave it off as long as practical, and don’t forget it after clearing an area of turbulence. Not only does that help you, but it helps train you that the sign means business; there’s a legit issue here.

IMO the alternative approach, leave it on a lot for corporate CYA or FA convenience quickly trains the already-rebellious public that the sign is BS and it being on has no connection to their actual safety. Which attitude they bring to their next flight. And the next …

Many pilots and some FAs have given up any thought towards enforcement. They (cynically?) decide that corporate CYA policies like “leave it on for all climbs, all descents, and whenever there’s the slightest detectable wiggling motion while level” plus the general public’s modern attitude towards authority (e.g. “screw that”) has created a situation where all passengers treat the sign as barely even advisory anyhow. So why bother pissing uphill?

OTOH, at various times in history the sign was used as a security measure around Washington DC. And may be used that way again some day. When tensions were at their highest, anyone getting out of their seat once we were in “sterile cabin” mode mandated that we divert to a distant alternate away from DC. Even for a grandmother digging in her purse in the overhead. And we were not permitted to really explain the importance of your compliance nor the consequences of your noncompliance. Had to keep the procedures and logic secret from the bad guys. Or so the brainaics at FBI / TSA / TLA-du-jour said. Happily we’re past that stage. For now.

Bottom line on the OP’s actual Qs: It’s exactly as clear and bright line as the muddled mess you just read.

For a simple toggle switch, the darn thing takes a lot of space in our policy manual and generates a lot of inflight conversation, musing, and mulling over the best, or maybe least bad, way to operate it.

Thanks LSL Guy.

Most of the people I’ve seen up when the light is on get up five minutes or so after the last bit of turbulence. That’s not to say there might not be more, but most of the time things are smooth for a long time before the light goes off.

That’s a sad consequence of three things:

  1. Often the turbulence is patchy and when in a smooth area we have no effective way of knowing how much longer the smooth lasts before the next patch. Nor whether we have flown out of the patchy area into truly smooth air. On patchy days a lot of chatter on the radio (other traffic permitting) is spent on folks asking one another what they’re encountering. So practically speaking the way we know it’s appropriate to turn it off is after a reasonable time has passed without much bumpiness.
  2. Each time we turn the sign on, either an FA (or on the new airplanes the entertainment system computer) is required by FAA to pause the videos and make a PA announcing the sign has been turned on and reminding y’all to agree to comply to it.

When the sign is turned off no announcement is necessary although IIRC some entertainment computers also pause the video and make an announcement amounting to: “sign is off; get up if you want but keep wearing your belt when seated”. But said (of course) in ponderous corporate-speak (and a couple of languages) so it takes a full minute to run.

Either way the intrusion on the entertainment annoys those watching our vid or listening to our music and the overhead PA annoys those sleeping or resting or working or reading or fiddling with their devices.

So we try to avoid toggling the sign more often than about every 10 minutes. Besides, it takes some folks 10 whole minutes just to get up, wander back there, pee, primp, & return to their seat. :slight_smile:
3) Pilots forget the stupid thing is on. The switch is someplace on the overhead out of direct sight. The job in cruise consists of juggling a slow but continuous flow of short term tasks and promptly forgetting / dumping each of them to make room in short term memory for the next pop-up interruption and the handful of fact-bites relevant to it. Eventually the ride slowly gets smoother but by then it was 30 tasks / interruptions ago that you turned it on.

I use the stopwatch on the panel as a reminder. Which is in plain view of what I’m watching. If that thing is ticking, the sign is on. When I notice it’s smooth & the view, radar, and reports from airplanes ahead aren’t bumpy-looking, I’ll reset my stopwatch and if it gets to 5 minutes with no bumps I’ll turn the sign off. Unless I zen out for a few and don’t notice the reset timer until it’s passed 10 minutes :slight_smile:

Just piss on the TSA groper before you get on the plane. Problem solved.