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Thursday, March 02, 2006

Fly the Over-Lawyered Skies

I was on an airplane yesterday from Manchester, New Hampshire to Chicago and it was quite bumpy the whole way. The captain left the seat belt on the entire time. The plane was packed and most of the patrons drank a can of soda or something similar. Here's a bit of a conversation I overheard after a couple hours in the air:
Passenger: I know the seat belt sign is on, but can I use the lavatory?

Flight Attendant: Federal law prohibits that I answer your question with yes, though the cabin crew will not physically try to stop you. However, I must warn you that if you get up out of your seat you will put yourself and the other passengers in grave danger.
I'm not sure, but I'm thinkin' that the flight attendant's response was not spontaneous and was carefully crafted by United's lawyers and carefully rehearsed by their flight attendants. I'm also wondering just how "grave" the danger could be given that the cabin crew was wandering around collecting trash.

Nonetheless, the passenger chose to remain in his seat.


Oroborous said...

Well, people have been killed and injured by being flung around the cabin by turbulence...

I would have gotten up, if none of the flight attendants were strapped in.
However, I always have my seatbelt fastened if I'm in my seat, regardless of whether the sign's on or not - turbulence isn't fully predictable.

Bret said...

How frequently does that occur (dead from being flung around by turbulence)?

I'm not questioning the safety really, it was just the way she put it that caught my attention.

Oroborous said...


Obviously, very rarely.

Yeah, "I cannot reply yes, but we won't stop you" seems a very threading-the-needle response.

Hey Skipper said...

Pardon me while I inject some first hand knowledge here.

People getting flung around and injured from turbulence isn't common, but it does happen, mostly to flight attendants.

Doppler radars have greatly aided the ability to predict serious turbulence, making it possible to avoid by re-routing, or changing altitudes. Also, pilot reports provide a lot of additional information.

If the pilots expect, whether from forecasts or pireps, significant turbulence, they will instruct the flight attendants to stow the service equipment and strap in. I have done that on occasion, mostly on climbout or descent when there are significant surface level winds in the area.

Like Oroborous said, if the FAs are up and around, there really isn't much cause for concern.

Also, don't ask me how many times I have turned on the seat belt light for turbulence, then completely forgot about it until the descent when, passing through 20,000 feet, I try to turn on something long since illuminated.

Bret said...

Hey Skipper,
I have a related question for you. Occasionally, I've been on cross country, several hour flights, where the whole thing has been pretty bumpy and the pilot did leave the fasten seat belt on for several hours. It seems to me in that case, if the pilot sees a stretch that's gonna be slightly less choppy than the rest, he should announce something like "I'm not going to turn off the seat belt sign, it will continue to be choppy, and FAA law requires that you stay in your seat, but the next 15 minutes will be the least choppy part of the trip we've seen." Then I would get the hint that if I'm about to exploded, this is the time to hit the head. Do you ever do something like that?

Hey Skipper said...



In the sort of situation you are talking about, the seat belt sign is left on primarily to keep people from standing around in the aisle.

Unless the Capt sits the FAs down -- and the announcement from the flight deck will be very specific in that regard -- the seat belt sign really is intended only to keep people in their seats unless they want to make a trip to the loo (during cruise flight, that is; climbout and descent are different).