Hilarious Skit About Using The Seatbelt Sign During Turbulence

I love Comedy Central’s Key & Peele — I think it’s one of the funniest sketch comedy shows out there. As View from the Wing wrote about yesterday, just this week they had a skit entitled “Turbulence.” In it, a guy gets up to use the lavatory on a plane when the seatbelt sign is on, and gets into a hilarious argument with the flight attendant.

Here’s the clip (which does contain some profanity):

Not only is it a funny clip, but I think it also gets at an interesting topic. It’s certainly not “illegal” to get up and use the bathroom when the seatbelt sign is on:

  • Nowadays we seem to see more and more pilots leave the seatbelt sign on longer. I’ve even had some pilots just leave it on the whole flight, even on longhauls. I think that’s sort of reckless by the pilots, since they’re less likely to be taken seriously if there actually is serious turbulence up ahead.
  • You’re not violating any laws by getting up when the seatbelt is on.
  • Instead, what you should be more concerned about is not following crew member instructions.

In other words, flight attendants have different ways of asking you to be seated. Sometimes I’ve heard flight attendants say “I’m required to inform you that the seatbelt sign is on, which means you’re supposed to be in your seat.” If you continue to use the lavatory, you’re not violating any regulations. Instead the flight attendant is simply having you acknowledge that they informed you the seatbelt sign was on, and what that means.

Now, if a flight attendant actually says “you need to be seated” and you don’t listen, then technically you’re violating FAA regulations. Will there be a punishment in practice? Probably not, assuming the air is fairly smooth, the request isn’t made several times, and you’re not being ridiculous. It certainly becomes more of an issue when you try to use the lavatory while the plane is taxiing to the runway, though (as I’ve seen happen many times).

So in general there isn’t a problem with using the lavatory when the seatbelt sign is on. Try to avoid it when possible, but if you’ve gotta go you’ve gotta go. If the flight attendant gives you direct orders to sit down, try and do that. If you really have to go, simply try to reason with them — “I really, really have to go.”

What has been your experience with getting up on planes while the seatbelt sign is on?

Comments

  1. Are you sure it is legal to get up while the seat belt sign is on? I thought that the spiel at the beginning of each flight included requiring that you obey all crew member instructions and all posted and lighted signs. If this is the case, would it not be illegal to ignore the lighted sign when the seatbelt sign is illuminated and the crew instructions to obey the sign?

  2. I think it varies by airline. For example, I’ve found BA to be relatively officious, whereas Lufthansa is quite relaxed. Is this to do with the laws / norms of the country where the airline is headquartered (ie stronger health & safety or litigation culture means stricter observance of seatbelt signs)?

    A final thought – does it vary by cabin? I’ve been on several all-Y charters where they treat pax like school kids and physically lock the lavatory doors when the seatbelt sign is on. When I flew J on Cathay and Emirates, though, there was no attempt by the flight attendants to tell the pax what (not) to do.

  3. AWESOME. If I were that F/A I would remind him that no, it’s not illegal, but as you said, it is illegal to not comply with “posted signs, placards or crewmember instructions”. The dumba*s isn’t just risking his safety, he’s risking that of those around him too, as this video amazingly points out. It is karma and I wish this on all the idiots who waited 2 hours to go pee but suddenly can’t wait when the light goes on.

  4. Was that filmed on the Royal Jordanian flight you wrote about @Lucky? 😉

    Maybe it’s a British thing but I do get very annoyed when someone ‘breaks the rules’ and gets up when the seat belt sign is on, and I will admit there is a little bit of me that sometimes thinks, wish we would hit some heavy turbulence, that would serve them right! Am I a bad person!! 😉

  5. I try and avoid it, but have been known to. I’ve gotten a bit pushier about this as I have recently found myself often wishing I’d gone before we began our descent. There was one particular landing in DCA where it took us _ages_ to pull into the gate where I’m shocked my bladder didn’t explode…

  6. @ken, please refrain from such idiotic comments. If you read the first line, Lucky is referencing viewfromthewing. Some people are such haters. As my British grandmother would say, “what a miserable git”

  7. AA long-haul from Hong Kong to DFW just this week – many many lined up at the lavs constantly in the first 2 hours or so after drink service and “in the way” of FA’s who were terse and impatient in all things … pilot finally turned on seat belt sign and left it on the entire remaining 12 hours (no bumps to speak of…).

    Another blindered rules following incident (also AA) from London when a man got up ill and trying to get to the bathroom while on final approach to DFW – he was frail and couldn’t walk well, and FA’s just kept yelling at him to sit down despite his obvious distress – none would get up to help him (maybe 3-4 minutes to touchdown) – he finally got as far as the galley, leaned against a wall and puked all over everything, galley, floor, walls … wouldn’t have taken 15 seconds to put him in the bathroom (still not good but better). I think the safety thing under normal circumstances 99% of the time gets blown WAY out of proportion. Military passenger transports are an interesting contrast of reasonable but plenty safe. These days it all gets conflated with security hooey, following the FA directives for fear of being called out as a threat, etc. Maybe they should just tie us in the seats with gags and blindfolds.

  8. All good and fine, but why is he sitting in the middle seat when the window seat is clearly available?

  9. I agree with you Ben, that when aircrew inappropriately use the fasten seatbelt sign outside of taxi, take-off, landing, and turbulence or times of clearly likely turbulence, it creates a safety risk. This is because it increases the likelihood the people will see the fasten seat belts warning as meaningless (like the boy who cried wolf, except sometimes the wolf actually appears!).

    My view is it should only be illuminated when required, and that it should be strictly observed when it is. It most definitely should not be used as a service opt-out!

    If the fasten seat belts sign is used appropriately, people will be able to hold it in until clear airspace is found.

    Was it just me, or was the pretend FA in that clip having a Carrie moment lol (his head movement leads the turbulence).

  10. I think you’ll find no one gives a shit whether you hurt yourself or not. What they care about is who’s responsible for it.

    Sadly an American (who’d have guessed?) successfully sued an airline recently for getting injured during unexpected turbulence – the result is that the airline’s policy is to have the seatbelt sign on throughout American airspace.

    The seatbelt sign is notice of responsibility. So if the crew are being firm with you, simply state that you take full responsibility for your and others safety whilst unbuckled. That removes their obligation to look out for you.

  11. I find BA only tend to put it on when required, so expect it to be observed. With SQ I felt quite sorry for the flight crew as every times the sign when on or off they have to make a protracted announcement about bassinet seats – was glad I was using my tablet rather than repeatedly having IFE interrupted!

  12. From my experience:
    Air China is the worst offender in abusing the seat belt sign – they leave the sign on the entire flight, only turning it off after parking at the gate.

    Singapore Airlines is the strictest in enforcing the seat belt sign. Their FA’s order people back to their seats when they get up while the seatbelt sign is on, and make several announcements about the sign being on and “no one is allowed to use lavatories”.

  13. Agree the sign is over used. Rarely is it turned off before coach drink service is finished on AA after take off suggesting they’re trying to keep the aisle free for the trolley. In business I seem to see more people getting up against the sign, potentially as there’s less risk of people to people collision and the staff think they’re experienced enough fliers not to fall over during light turbulence but never had an issue unless plane is landing!

  14. Possibly illegal but idk.
    https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/14/121.311#b
    “Except as provided in this paragraph, each person on board an airplane operated under this part shall occupy an approved seat or berth with a separate safety belt properly secured about him or her during movement on the surface, takeoff, and landing…”

  15. I am a flight attendant and there most certainly is a FAA law that requires your seatbelt to be fastened while the light is on. However there has not been any arrests or fines in the last 5 years. The arrests and fines have been for not obeying crew member instructions to return to their seats and fasten belts.

    https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/14/121.317

  16. I am an airline captain. Really enjoyed the video on the subject, and I might even suggest we use it in training – for the comedic factor. But it makes a good point.

    Personally, I think that the general public behaves as if they believe the rules do not apply to them. I’m often amazed at how my kids behave better than they do. I understand when you have to get up and use the restroom, but blatant disregard of instructions, especially with no real reason, is wrong! Aborted takeoffs and overrun landings are very real scenarios. You’re in danger for yourself, and it puts those in front of you in danger too, albeit however small. Just behave!

    Thus discussion

  17. … This discussion did make me think about it though, and I am definitely more mindful of turning OFF the seat belt sign when I can. We honestly don’t want to “tie you to your seat and gag you,” but we do forget sometimes that it’s on. Just call a flight attendant and have them call us and ask. It’s that simple,especially in cruise flight. No one breaks any laws that way. But I promise to do better than I personally have already done regarding that switch. Now behave yourself back there!

  18. Actually, it is illegal to have your seatbelt unfastened while the fasten seatbelt sign is on, it is also illegal to disobey cabin crew.

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