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Ask the Captain: Ignoring the seat belt sign

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 25/04/2017 John Cox

No smoking and fasten seatbelt sign © Shutterstock No smoking and fasten seatbelt sign Q: Sometimes when the seat belt sign is on and the flight feels turbulence-free, I'll see passengers who still get up to use the restroom, stretch, etc. I have heard flight attendants get on the speaker and remind us the seat belt sign is still on and return to our seats, but those gentle reminders rarely happen. Is it a case of flight attendants picking their battles? Or does it happen so often that they feel a reminder will fall on deaf ears?     

A: It happens so often that, sadly, it falls on deaf ears.

The flight attendants try to provide a reminder that the seat belt sign is on. The captain will have it on when there is a possibility of turbulence. Turbulence is unpredictable and often will not occur. This causes people to believe there is no risk. This is a false belief.

If the seat belt sign is illuminated, passengers should remain in their seats. If physiological reasons make a visit to the lavatory imperative, the passenger must assume the risk. 

Q: Do the restrooms have seat belts?

A: In some airplanes, they do, but most do not.

Q: I fly quite often, and there have been a number of times when the pilots don't turn off the seat belt sign even though we've reached altitude and the air is smooth.  Is it possible for the pilots to occasionally forget to do that? Is there some indicator that reminds them?

A: Most airplanes do not have a seat belt on reminder. Many pilots will look at the switch when they are doing the cruise PA announcement. It is possible that a pilot could forget to switch the seat belt sign off during cruise, but it is more likely that there were reports of intermittent turbulence in the area and he or she left it on to be conservative. 

If the seat belt sign is illuminated, passengers should remain in their seat. © Getty Images/iStockphoto If the seat belt sign is illuminated, passengers should remain in their seat. Q: When the president travels on Air Force One, is he required to wear a seat belt? Is there a safety demonstration prior to takeoff?

A:  Yes, there are seat belts on Air Force One, and all of the other Special Air Mission aircraft. As I understand it from people who have ridden on Air Force One, there is not a traditional safety briefing. This practice is common for business aircraft.

I would hope the president uses a seat belt whenever he is seated.  One of the most powerful people in the world should not be injured by a turbulence encounter.

Q: Why do we still have to be shown how to fasten a seat belt?        

A: Believe it or not, there are people who have never flown and are unfamiliar with the operation of aircraft seat belts. I met one last year.

John Cox is a retired airline captain with US Airways and runs his own aviation safety consulting company, Safety Operating Systems.


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