JetBlue Is Being Sued Because Pilots Didn’t Turn On Seatbelt Sign

Earlier I published my review of Air China’s first class, and in the report I noted how the pilots never turned off the seatbelt sign. Instead they just left it on the entire flight, and when there was actually turbulence they’d simply “flick” the button again, and the crew would advise everyone to be seated.

As I said at the time, this doesn’t seem like a policy that does much to promote actual safety. Of course it’s always a good idea to keep your seatbelt fastened while seated (as pilots almost always announce at the beginning of the flight), regardless of whether or not the sign is on. However, while turbulence can happen at any time and often isn’t anticipated, always keeping the seatbelt sign on doesn’t do much to help passengers get a sense of the risk of turbulence.

All of that brings me to a story from a few days ago, which I guess might explain why some airlines like to be overly cautious with the seatbelt sign.

The story dates back to August 11, 2016, when JetBlue 429 from Boston to Sacramento hit severe turbulence that caused it to have to divert to Rapid City, South Dakota. The incident sent 24 passengers and three crew members to a hospital.

Now there are two lawsuits against JetBlue for the incident, the most recent of which was filed this past Wednesday. It alleges that the crew “disregarded the threat of a major thunderstorm.” Per The Sacramento Bee:

“JetBlue then flew Flight 429 directly into that thunderstorm,” the lawsuit claims. “During this time, JetBlue chose not to advise its Flight 429 passengers to stay seated with seatbelts fastened.

“As a consequence, the thunderstorm’s sudden and severe turbulence threw passengers repeatedly about the cabin and into the ceiling. Many passengers and crew were unrestrained.”

Michelle Hill was one of those, the lawsuit says. Hill was returning from the restroom and had sat down but not yet strapped on her seat belt when the plane hit turbulence and “she flew up and hit her head on the ceiling,” the lawsuit says.

Ariel Pollack had her seatbelt on and was sleeping at the time, but when the turbulence hit “she flew out of her seat and slammed back down with a great force.”

“Only after the aircraft had flown into the severe weather did flight attendants announce to the passengers to be seated and fasten seat belts,” the lawsuit says.

JetBlue counters this by arguing that they were adhering to FAA safety guidelines and that the “alleged injuries” were caused by “the comparative fault of the plaintiffs,” which is an interesting defense. According to the NTSB, the flight encountered turbulence while maneuvering to avoid convective weather.

This is of course an unfortunate situation, though I also feel bad for JetBlue here. No matter how much effort goes into avoiding it, severe turbulence will happen occasionally. It’s rare, but it happens. I appreciate those pilots who turn the seatbelt sign off for a good amount of the flight, to make it easier to move about the cabin.

So I guess if going forward if we see more airlines take an Air China approach to the seatbelt sign, we know why…

What do you make of this situation? To what extent should airlines be held responsible for flying through turbulence, and/or not using the seatbelt sign?

(Tip of the hat to View from the Wing)

Comments

  1. How hard for certain passengers just keep their damn seatbelts fastened even the sign is off!

  2. We need to do a study. Per capita are white people more litigious than people of other races?

    Maybe white people do their violence on society in a different way.

  3. “Comparative fault” refers to the legal concept of comparative negligence, where a plaintiff who may have some amount of blame for the injury can recover if they can show that they were less than 50% responsible.

  4. And conversely, if the defense can show that the plaintiff was more than 50% at fault, they cannot recover. For example, the crew may have recommended to everyone in the safety briefing to keep seatbelt fastened even while the sign is off, and perhaps the plaintiffs did not.

  5. There is a preflight safety briefing which states customers should wear their belt when seated
    Did they not pay attention?!
    Sudden turbulence cannot be predicted and one cannot wear a belt whilst walking between the toilet and seat and vice versa
    The issue is, how long was the period between the time she sat down and the turbulence

  6. Lucky, I flew Air China on an internal flight from Beijing last month and agree, they kept the seat belt signs on most of the flight – but that’s because they flew a straight line between cities right through whatever weather faced them. My local colleagues said that most pilots are former Air Force / fighter pilots and generally plough through rather than avoid bumpy weather. We arrived bang on time btw!

  7. I routinely see people get out of their seats after an announcement has been made to be seated with belts fastened and conversely been on flights where the captain has never turned off the seatbelt sign and at some point have needed to get up and use the lavatory. And I’ve been on flights where the seatbelt sign never went off for the first two hours and then the drink carts come out and you are trapped for another hour and a half. All these situations are a problem. Conditions permitting the sign should go off during the flight and stay off if warranted and crews should make sure passengers have an opportunity to get to a lavatory without having to sit for hours.

    As for the lawsuit, I’m hoping it settles quietly as to not cause an overreaction forcing future passengers to stay seated without a lavatory break for hours on end.

  8. Just flew Austrian from Vienna to Amsterdam, the crew told us we were required to keep our seatbelts fastened even when the seatbelt sign was off.

  9. This suit seems unlikely to succeed. Presumably Jet Blue, like every other airline, announces at the beginning of the flight that you should keep your seat belt fastened at all times while seated, even if the seat belt sign is off, since unexpected turbulence could occur.

    Assuming that announcement was made (and that Jet Blue can prove that it was), there’s little chance the court ultimately would rule for this plaintiff. She disregarded that warning at her own peril. Maybe if she had been walking about the cabin and got injured, she’d have a case. But having disregarded Jet Blue’s safety announcement by sitting at her seat unfastened, it’s fairly easy to conclude that she is at fault for her injuries.

    That said, these things tend to drag on and it will cost Jet Blue legal fees to defend against this. So these kinds of things are indeed what make airlines unreasonably cautious — and turns all the flight attandants into monsters. Very unfortunate.

  10. If these cry-babies win, or even go to trial, I can tell you the result right now.

    Jet Blue and other airlines will just leave the seatbelt sign on even more.

    “Just in case”
    “Better safe than sorry”

    Damn people.

  11. I am not sure this passenger will recover a dime but announcements do help. Wife and I recently flew Delta to MIA. Arrival was hectic, it was an rather hard flight on pax and crew. The usual reminder to look around and remember belongings was not made. We both left sweaters onboard. After deplaning we realized it and returned to the gate while aircraft was being cleaned but everything was gone.
    It was our fault for forgetting but the normal announcement really would have helped but it was skipped this time. Not filing suit, however.

  12. All boils down to someone trying to get something for nothing. Ripple consequences be damn. It’s the ME first attitude of people. They are probably also the first to complain about insurance rates (for any industry) being too high and why are there so many rules and regulations. Come on people, be part of the solution not part of the greedy problem. Sacrificing your integrity for a few thousand dollars is pathetic. Airlines will get ticked off if they have to shell out money for this and you know what will happen? The next time you get out of your seat when the seat belt sign is on the flight attendants are going to duct tape you down for your own good.

  13. Reply to Debit regarding ethnicity of litigious people.
    As a health professional the data i was taught was contrary to your assumption. It was broken down by age and ethnicity (probably not PC today) and it did not agree with your assumption.
    You do realize that you would have to measure the relative percentages of passengers in different ethnic groups before meaking any assumption.

  14. If trump can get a lot for nothing why shouldn’t others try the same?

    Alternate reality at its best…

  15. You are told to keep your seat belt on a all times, even while on the ground,

    Someone is sue crazy..

  16. On a recent overnight flight with Etihad, there were several pockets of very light turbulence throughout the flight. There were announcements during most of these, requesting that passengers return to their seatts and fasten their seatbelts, but the turbulence always seemed to end literally nanoseconds after the announcements concluded. This seemed to make passengers agitated because they had been woken from their sleep so many times for seemingly nothing. I believe that QF, JQ and NZ also tell passengers to keep their seatbelts fastened for the duration of the flight.

  17. I always find it interesting in the US that signs stay on but people get up to use the lavatories. In the UK (and Europe generally) that just doesn’t happen – people stay in their seats. Even if the plane has landed and stopped at the gate most people here (including regular fliers) wait until the sign goes off before standing up – and anyone who doesn’t risks being shouted at and told to sit down.

  18. The risk of being shouted at … sounds scary. I keep my seatbelt on whenever I am seated on a plane … not because I am frightened of being yelled at, but because I know if I don’t put it right back on when I sit down, I will forget about it and fall asleep and end up getting banged around in turbulence. If I have to urinate during the flight, I get up and go whether the seatbelt sign is on or not, so long as we aren’t in active turbulence. I only ever got yelled at once for getting up to go to the lavatory and the flight attendant gave me hell. I looked at her and told her it was either hit the head or piss all over their nice seats. She stood down and got out of my way.

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