When Joe and I were flying from JFK to MCO not long ago, we couldn’t help but hear the conversation in the row directly in front of us.
We had hit a pocket of turbulence so the “fasten seat belts” sign was on. But one of our fellow passengers apparently “had to go,” so she asked the flight attendant if she was allowed to get up to use the toilet.
The FA said she wasn’t allowed to give her permission but if she (the passenger) were to get up to go to the lavatory, she wouldn’t stop her.
It reminded me of a photo I saw on the internet a long time back that I always thought was adorable…I don’t know the details behind the note, but I assume it was a similar situation.
So what IS the deal?
If you had coffee with your breakfast and travel constipation hasn’t set in yet (or maybe you’re just getting over it. Or maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who doesn’t have to deal with it), or if you made sure to thoroughly hydrate before you got on the plane and now it’s time to get rid of that excess fluid, and the “fasten seat belt” sign is on, ARE you allowed to get up and go to the bathroom?
According to the law numbered as 14 CFR § 121.317(Passenger information requirements, smoking prohibitions, and additional seat belt requirements):
(f) Each passenger required by § 121.311(b) to occupy a seat or berth shall fasten his or her safety belt about him or her and keep it fastened while the “Fasten Seat Belt” sign is lighted.
But you know as well I do that bowels and bladders can’t read laws.
And that’s where things go into a gray area of sorts.
Technically, a flight attendant can’t give you permission to go to the lavatory when the “fasten seat belt” is on. But if you do get up to go, they only may or may not try really hard to stop you (especially if you explain your dire situation), because they’re just as human as you are and understand that sometimes you gotta go when you gotta go.
That being said, there are times when you definitely shouldn’t ignore the “fasten seat belt” sign. Don’t get up if there’s active turbulence or if a pilot has instructed flight attendants to take a seat and prepare for a bumpy ride, take-off or landing. If your plane is taxiing, taking off, or landing, those are never good times to remove your seat belt or attempt to go to the bathroom (most airline accidents happen during those phases of the flight, and your actions could endanger everyone’s safety and cause the take-off or approach to be aborted).
If getting up is truly dangerous for you (and anyone you could potentially fall over) because you’re standing/walking/in the lavatory while the sign is on, the flight attendant may well ask you to stay seated after all. If they do, by all means do what they say; the last thing you want is to disobey a flight attendant’s instructions.
So, CAN you?
But depending on the situation, the flight attendant may or may not stop you, especially if you explain the situation.
That being said, it’s generally not recommended that you get up when the “fasten seat belt” sign is on.
If nothing else, make sure you “go” before you get on the plane 😉
Feature Photo: Martin Abegglen / flickr
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary