Airlines With Strange Seatbelt Sign Policies…

Airlines With Strange Seatbelt Sign Policies…

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I just took a very long EVA Air flight (more on that shortly), which reminds me of how the Taiwanese Star Alliance carrier takes an odd approach to using the seatbelt sign. I figured this would be a fun topic to discuss more broadly, as I’m curious to hear what OMAAT readers think…

The seatbelt sign serves an important purpose

To state the obvious, the seatbelt sign is supposed to be there for everyone’s safety. In addition to passengers needing to be seated during critical phases of flight (like takeoff and landing), turbulence can be dangerous if you’re not buckled in, since you can easily get injured.

As passengers, we don’t really know what the ride conditions will be like. While pilots can’t predict with 100% accuracy what turbulence will be like, they know a lot more than we do. After all, they can see in the direction the plane is flying, they can monitor radars, they can get turbulence reports from other pilots, etc.

Admittedly pilots are in an unenviable position, and almost have an incentive to keep the seatbelt sign on. If there’s serious turbulence and passengers get injured, the pilots and airline could be blamed for it (we’ve seen passengers sue airlines due to injuries from turbulence when the seatbelt sign wasn’t on). At the same time, if you just constantly keep the seatbelt sign on, people will start ignoring it, and won’t take it seriously.

Pilots have a better sense of the weather than passengers

The different ways airlines approach the seatbelt sign

Airlines train their pilots to use the seatbelt sign in a certain way. Sure, individual pilots will have their own interpretation on those rules, but you’ll usually find pilots at a given airline are pretty consistent. On some level I’d say this is even cultural, by region.

I’m very much generalizing here, but here are my observations:

  • In the United States, I find that pilots usually err on the side of caution, probably reflecting how litigious our society is; they keep the sign on for a long time after takeoff and turn it on a long time before landing, and also turn it on if there are even mild bumps
  • In Asia, I often find that pilots turn the seatbelt sign off very quickly after takeoff (within a matter of minutes), but then they’ll turn it on really early before landing, which almost seems to be more about helping the crew prepare the cabin for landing than anything else; when there’s turbulence, they’re usually not quite as quick to turn on the sign as crews in the United States
  • In Europe, I find that pilots generally take a middle-ground approach, and the sign goes off pretty quickly after takeoff and only goes back on shortly before landing; then they’ll turn on the sign during the flight if there’s a significant amount of turbulence

Again, I’m totally generalizing here, as some airlines are outliers, but I think it’s more true than not.

That brings me to EVA Air, which I find to be one of the strangest airlines when it comes to using the seatbelt sign. On my previous long haul EVA Air flight several years, I specifically remember how the pilots never turned off the seatbelt sign, even though the flight was smooth.

Now I just flew EVA Air on a long haul flight again, and it was smooth almost the entire way. I’d say that collectively the seatbelt sign was off for an hour. Basically it was just randomly turned off at certain intervals, and then would be turned on again if there was a single bump, and stay on for many hours.

Does anyone know what EVA Air’s policy is? Does the airline just train pilots not to turn off the seatbelt sign? And if so, what’s the logic? That almost seems counterproductive in terms of ensuring passenger safety, since passengers won’t ever take the sign serious when it’s turned on.

Airlines take very different approaches to the seatbelt sign

Using the bathroom when the seatbelt sign is on

Having the seatbelt sign on is one thing, but what about crews actually enforcing the seatbelt sign when illuminated? Obviously EVA Air doesn’t enforce the seatbelt sign, since it’s on a vast majority of time.

While I do everything I can to reasonably obey the seatbelt sign when it’s illuminated, at the end of the day, using the bathroom is sometimes a necessity. In the United States, if you disobey the seatbelt signs, crews will generally remind you that the seatbelt sign is on.

That doesn’t mean “you’re going to be arrested if you don’t listen to me,” but rather it essentially seems to be a way to tell people that they’re leaving their seat at their own risk (the below Key & Peele skit comes to mind).

Now, you’re not going to want to use the lavatory while taxiing, taking off, or landing, since that could cause operational issues, and you could get in trouble. But unless the turbulence is very bad, disobeying the sign within reason shouldn’t be an issue.

Bottom line

Airlines around the globe taking very different approaches to how they use the seatbelt sign. I can appreciate the desire to err on the side of caution, though I also think it’s important to limit its use, so that passengers take the sign seriously when it is on.

While the approach pilots take to seatbelt signs vary by region and airline, there are some oddballs. EVA Air is in my experience one of the strangest airlines with the seatbelt sign, as pilots usually just keep the sign on for the entire flight. I’d sure be curious to understand what the logic is for that.

What patterns have you noticed with how airlines use the seatbelt sign?

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  1. Johann New Member

    I am wa-a-y out of date on this and not sure if it could have any relationship whatsoever to seat belt signs but...

    I was often in Taipei in the 1980s. At that time the major boulevards through the city had unusual traffic lights for vehicles. The intersections, including major boulevards / streets crossing each other had the usual red /green light traffic lights. However, both the red and green lights were both on continuously...

    I am wa-a-y out of date on this and not sure if it could have any relationship whatsoever to seat belt signs but...

    I was often in Taipei in the 1980s. At that time the major boulevards through the city had unusual traffic lights for vehicles. The intersections, including major boulevards / streets crossing each other had the usual red /green light traffic lights. However, both the red and green lights were both on continuously all four ways at the intersections! They literally never went off.

    I asked about this locally and was told that most people just considered the lights as the starting point for an argument if there was an accident.

    Is this still the case in Taipei? If not then when did it stop?

  2. Asap Guest

    I flew Air China for two long-hail segments and they just keep the light on the whole time, at that point the seatbelt sign is little more than decoration

  3. John Guest

    I've been finding it more and more ridiculous how often the seat belt sign is on with Southwest these days. On a recent flight I was sitting near the front and we hit a slight bump. I was illustrating to my companion how quick they are to turn it on and pointed right as it came on and I probably rolled my eyes and we laughed. The FA made it a point to come by...

    I've been finding it more and more ridiculous how often the seat belt sign is on with Southwest these days. On a recent flight I was sitting near the front and we hit a slight bump. I was illustrating to my companion how quick they are to turn it on and pointed right as it came on and I probably rolled my eyes and we laughed. The FA made it a point to come by and educate me that the sign is on for our safety. The continued their service. It didn't get turned off for quite some time.

    On another recent flight back from Hawaii I think it was on the entire time with the exception of about 20 minutes where the pilot said they found some "smooth air". Funny, I didn't think what we were in wasn't smooth. Then we hit another slight bump and it goes back on. I couldn't wait any longer and got up. It wasn't that bumpy, but it wasn't smooth as glass either. The FA didn't say a word.

    TLDR, if the planes a rockin', I don't go a knockin', but if I can walk to the lav without steadying myself, it's fair game regardless of what the sign says.

    I will also add that on another shorter flight the FA's were not the most cordial and I don't think they wanted to even bother with service. Shortly after takeoff the pilot informed us that because it was bumpy they wouldn't do a beverage or snack service. It was smooth as glass. The FA's remained seated the entire time. I think they just didn't wanna do a service.

  4. DKB Guest

    And then there's Ryanair, where they turn it on so the pilot can use the toilet!

  5. frrp Diamond

    US airlines seems more relaxed about moving around when the lights on, uk carriers hate ppl moving around at the best of times. Theyre all far more relaxed about it in F/J than Y tho.

  6. Robert Fahr Guest

    Agree with @Simon. Whether it is using the lav or getting into the overhead bins, premium cabin passengers rarely are commanded back to their seats.

  7. Samo Guest

    I'm sometimes surprised how LH Group pilots often don't turn on the sign even when it gets quite bumpy (e.g. over Alps). I even had it on Helvetic few days ago, pretty strong turbulence including few of those sudden drops, but the sign remained off.

    On Lufthansa itself, you're required to have seat belt on even when the sign is off, so the sign really just means "remain seated", but that's on the case on subsidiaries (OS, LX..).

  8. derekl Guest

    I flew on EVA Air earlier this year and it was fine. The seat belt light was turned off for hours on the flights to and from the U.S. For the connection within Asia, I don't remember because I was sleeping most of the time.

  9. Icarus Guest

    Personally whilst seated, my belt is always on. Strangely every time I fly there’s always turbulence as soon as the meal service commences. Last time I traveled from Italy there was moderate chop throughout the entire flight and the crew failed to mention anything, (and not even an apology after a four hour delay although I did get my EU comp promptly ).

  10. Matrix.RX1 Guest

    on SQ it varies wildly in terms of how the crew handles a new in-flight seat belt sign. The closer they must have been to their initial training, the more they will insist on you putting it on, even if in bed mode. Once I had a young steward who thought it was a good idea to wake everybody up in the middle of the night to put them on. I understand there is a legal responsability, but if I choose not to wear one at night and get injured, why should I sue SQ?

    1. Samo Guest

      Well, you may not sue them but if you, in case of a severe turbulence, land on some other passenger with your full weight, they may be the one suing. Seatbelt is not there just for your safety, but also for safety of people around you. This is why I hate crews that don't enforce rules. Wanna kill yourself? Be my guest but don't kill me by flying around the cabin.

  11. D3Kingg Guest

    If I’m on American once we climb to 10,000 I use the restroom to put my PJs on. They were straight up Nazis on BA ; sir get back in your seat. Who you callin’ sir ?

    1. Icarus Guest

      Do you actually know what Nazis are ? If alluding to staff who may be strict / firm shows the kind of clown you probably are. The crew didn’t do what the Nazis did or still do in your country seeing as your most likely American.

  12. Simon Guest

    In my experience, there seems to be more leeway for premium cabin passengers to disregard the seatbelt sign. In economy, I've been barked at by the FAs when trying to get up to use the restroom, not realizing the seatbelt sign was on. Meanwhile, I've had flight attendants open the restroom door for me traveling in F on Asian carriers.

  13. Longtime Reader Guest

    If you need to delete this I understand, but I just can't help myself...

    https://www.reddit.com/r/funny/comments/1c2xmj/the_translated_sign_from_the_movie_airplane/

    https://m.imdb.com/title/tt0080339/mediaviewer/rm4196182785/

  14. snic Diamond

    On the one hand, FAs (of US airlines) often get on the PA with an exasperated, "ladies and gentleman, the seatbelt sign is on" when they really need people to be in their seats and someone is disobeying. On the other hand, when the sign has clearly been on too long, they don't say anything when people get up. So the trick is to figure out when it's reasonable to get up. Basically, that is...

    On the one hand, FAs (of US airlines) often get on the PA with an exasperated, "ladies and gentleman, the seatbelt sign is on" when they really need people to be in their seats and someone is disobeying. On the other hand, when the sign has clearly been on too long, they don't say anything when people get up. So the trick is to figure out when it's reasonable to get up. Basically, that is after the plane has leveled off after its initial climb and before about 2/3 of the way through the descent to landing, IF there is no obvious turbulence. Inside this window, as long as it's calm, I disregard the seatbelt sign. The only exception is when severe turbulence is anticipated and the pilots ask the FAs to sit down. Then obviously I'm not going to get up, either.

    1. Mike Guest

      I agree that this is the conventional wisdom. I have been fortunate enough not to travel on UA for a number of years, but on my last flights from London, the sign was on for probably 70% of the time, with zero turbulence.
      By contrast, I was on a short 40 minute flight from Canberra to Sydney yesterday, and the sign was turned off about 3 minutes into the flight.
      I agree with...

      I agree that this is the conventional wisdom. I have been fortunate enough not to travel on UA for a number of years, but on my last flights from London, the sign was on for probably 70% of the time, with zero turbulence.
      By contrast, I was on a short 40 minute flight from Canberra to Sydney yesterday, and the sign was turned off about 3 minutes into the flight.
      I agree with Ben that ultimately it is defeating the purpose. People will not stay in their seats for 14 hours, with or without a sign. The sign is really the way for the crew to indicate the safer times to walk around, and if they don't do that, the extra cautiousness will backfire.

    2. Timtamtrak Member

      I believe it is QF’s policy that if the sign is on, the crew must be seated. To me that is common sense.

  15. Ethan Guest

    Yeah on US airlines I basically don’t listen to the seatbelt sign in the middle of a flight anymore- if it’s bad enough the pilots will ask the FAs to sit down. It drives me crazy when pilots leave it on forever on a long haul, but also I don’t want to be awakened by an automated announcement about seatbelts that some planes have either!

  16. Mantis Gold

    I have found that some Asian carriers, particularly JAL, ANA, and Vietnam Airlines, will leave the seatbelt sign on for an extremely long time after takeoff, but people seem to basically just ignore it, and the FAs do not enforce it at all.

  17. Joseph Guest

    They do whatever the hello kitty voices tell them to do.

  18. Robert D Guest

    Drives me crazy how the US carriers leave the seatbelt sign on for 90% of the flight. Even when the flight is smooth, and I just know the pilots do this for the convenience of the FA’s. I generally try to comply, but in the other hand I have a small bladder… I wish they’d be a bit more reasonable about it like the European and Asian carriers.

  19. Daniel Guest

    I actually have a slightly different experience of (East) Asian carriers than you, although only with a very limited number of airlines.
    On my many flights with Air China, China Airlines and EVA Air, my experience is:
    - Air China and China Airlines pretty consistently keep the seatbelt sign on during most or all of the flight.
    - EVA Air used to be the same, but in recent years changed a bit;...

    I actually have a slightly different experience of (East) Asian carriers than you, although only with a very limited number of airlines.
    On my many flights with Air China, China Airlines and EVA Air, my experience is:
    - Air China and China Airlines pretty consistently keep the seatbelt sign on during most or all of the flight.
    - EVA Air used to be the same, but in recent years changed a bit; they usually switch it off a while after departure. If there's the slightest bit of turbulence however, they immediately switch it on again and then often "forget" to switch it off afterwards (or just do it very very late).

    For me this is a serious safety issue. If the sign is kept on during the whole flight (or at least most of it), at one point you simply have to go to the bathroom and won't know if it's a bad time with turbulence ahead or not. On the other hand, if the sign is switched off in between, you can be sure that there won't be any expected turbulence during that time (of course unexpected turbulence can still happen anytime).
    In my opinion, any airline with this "always on" policy is an unsafe airline and any pilot doing that needs a safety refresher training.

  20. Scott Guest

    I flew EVA jfk-tpe and tpe-jfk in March. The would turn the seatbelt sign off after takeoff. We would then hit slight turbulence between hours 1-3, they'd turn it back on and leave it on for the rest of the flight(10-12hrs). So yeah. Nobody really obeyed it least of all the gorgeous cabin crew.

  21. Not Lucky Guest

    Just flew 15 hours each way on EK, and the seat belt sign was on for about 3 minutes at the start of each flight, 15 minutes at the end, and 5 minutes in the middle of the first flight while I was having a shower (doh!). None of the other bumps triggered a seat belt sign, even when my water sloshed out of the glass and all over the tablecloth. Go figure.

  22. Fergus Guest

    We had 4 sectors with EVA in September/October, and the seatbelt sign didn’t even seem to have a “bing” when it went on and off on the 787, and a tiny almost inaudible “bing” on the Airbus 330. But then, the PA volumes were all over the place on the 787, from totally inaudible to blasting. They played their dreadful boarding “jingle” at number 11 on the dial for way too long…it is very short...

    We had 4 sectors with EVA in September/October, and the seatbelt sign didn’t even seem to have a “bing” when it went on and off on the 787, and a tiny almost inaudible “bing” on the Airbus 330. But then, the PA volumes were all over the place on the 787, from totally inaudible to blasting. They played their dreadful boarding “jingle” at number 11 on the dial for way too long…it is very short and repetitive

    On a sector Taipei to Tokyo, the flight was completely smooth, but the seat belt stayed on most of the flight. About 20 minutes after take-off the crew shot out of their seats to prepare lunch, and people started to use the bathrooms - with the seatbelt sign on. On all 4 sectors the sign was generally ignored, and not announced (well, it might have been but their PAs were rubbish).

    The only time it seemed to be acknowledged was our arrival back home in Brisbane where everyone sat dutifully in their seats after the aircraft stopped, waiting for the sign to go out…which took what seemed like an eternity. I have never seen that before!

  23. GFL New Member

    I had a similar experience on my last few Ryanair flights. The crew did not switch off the seatbelt sign for the entire trip, even on longer flights. I don't understand the idea behind this policy since passengers just stopped obeying it after a while and it made it more difficult for the cabin crew to prepare the cabin for landing.

    1. simmonad Guest

      I find RYR is definitely an outlier here and keep the seatbelt sign on for much longer than other airlines. In the aftermath of Covid, their policy was to keep the sign on for the entire flight; needless to say it was ignored and not enforced by the crew.

  24. Bgriff Guest

    It has always been my impression that while in the US the seatbelt sign clearly does not apply to the crew (among other things, they get up and start their work before the sign ever goes off after takeoff), for airlines in some other countries it does seem to more or less apply to the crew, at least in an advisory fashion, and the FAs get up and start the service when the sign goes...

    It has always been my impression that while in the US the seatbelt sign clearly does not apply to the crew (among other things, they get up and start their work before the sign ever goes off after takeoff), for airlines in some other countries it does seem to more or less apply to the crew, at least in an advisory fashion, and the FAs get up and start the service when the sign goes off after takeoff, at a much earlier stage than it ever does on US airlines. It seems like those airlines keep the sign off a much greater share of the time (or presumably the FAs eventually get bored of sitting and call the pilots and remind them to turn it off?).

    1. Pete Guest

      I've been on several flights where cabin service continued while the seatbelt sign was on, until the pilots advised that the cabin crew should take their seats. By that stage the turbulence was moderately bad.

      There was a flight where the captain advised the FAs to suspend service and be seated as she'd been warned of severe turbulence ahead at our altitude, yet nothing came of it.

      Safety first.

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Mike Guest

I agree that this is the conventional wisdom. I have been fortunate enough not to travel on UA for a number of years, but on my last flights from London, the sign was on for probably 70% of the time, with zero turbulence. By contrast, I was on a short 40 minute flight from Canberra to Sydney yesterday, and the sign was turned off about 3 minutes into the flight. I agree with Ben that ultimately it is defeating the purpose. People will not stay in their seats for 14 hours, with or without a sign. The sign is really the way for the crew to indicate the safer times to walk around, and if they don't do that, the extra cautiousness will backfire.

2
Ethan Guest

Yeah on US airlines I basically don’t listen to the seatbelt sign in the middle of a flight anymore- if it’s bad enough the pilots will ask the FAs to sit down. It drives me crazy when pilots leave it on forever on a long haul, but also I don’t want to be awakened by an automated announcement about seatbelts that some planes have either!

2
Daniel Guest

I actually have a slightly different experience of (East) Asian carriers than you, although only with a very limited number of airlines. On my many flights with Air China, China Airlines and EVA Air, my experience is: - Air China and China Airlines pretty consistently keep the seatbelt sign on during most or all of the flight. - EVA Air used to be the same, but in recent years changed a bit; they usually switch it off a while after departure. If there's the slightest bit of turbulence however, they immediately switch it on again and then often "forget" to switch it off afterwards (or just do it very very late). For me this is a serious safety issue. If the sign is kept on during the whole flight (or at least most of it), at one point you simply have to go to the bathroom and won't know if it's a bad time with turbulence ahead or not. On the other hand, if the sign is switched off in between, you can be sure that there won't be any expected turbulence during that time (of course unexpected turbulence can still happen anytime). In my opinion, any airline with this "always on" policy is an unsafe airline and any pilot doing that needs a safety refresher training.

2
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