Home Travel Why Airlines Seats Must Be Upright During Takeoff & Landing

Why Airlines Seats Must Be Upright During Takeoff & Landing

by SharonKurheg

You’re boarded your plane and gotten yourself settled. Your carry on bag is in the overhead. Your handbag is under the seat in front of you. You’ve Purelled EVERYTHING. You’re ready to go.


You’ve been on the plane for hours. You’ve enjoyed your Stroopwaffels. You drank your whole can of Diet Coke and subsequently used the lavatory (hopefully it wasn’t this one – what a view?!?!) If you’re on a Delta flight, you’ve maybe meditated with Peloton (did you hear about THAT?). You’re just ready to be DONE and OFF THE PLANE.

Either way, you suddenly hear this part of the flight attendant’s announcement:

“…Please place seat backs and tray tables in their full upright position…

The tray tables would make sense…everything on them could become projectiles in the event of an emergency. When they’re down, they also make it virtually impossible to leave your seat (also needed for an emergency evacuation situation).

But what’s up with keeping the seat back all the way up? Turns out there are a couple of reasons:

Easier evacuation

Even though you’re only allowed to “lay back” a couple of inches in any seat except the mondo expensive ones, you’re still going into the space of the person behind you (whether they like it or not. Remember this lady? LOLOL!). During an emergency situation where you have to leave your seat, anything encroaching that space, even just by a couple of inches, will make it that much more difficult. If the plane is crashing, no one wants to slow down an evacuation to navigate around a reclined seat.

Upright = locked

When your seat is up, it’s locked. When your seat is reclined, it’s not locked. In the event of an emergency, an unlocked seat would have more force during impact, and the thrusting forward of the seat could cause passenger injury.

It’s sort of like a catapult – the further back your seat is reclined, the larger distance your head would wind up traveling during an impact (and thus more force generated). Even if it’s only a couple of inches, it’d be enough to potentially cause whiplash.

Better visibility

We’ve said it a bajillion times; a flight attendant’s main job is to keep their passengers safe and to do what needs to be done in the event of an emergency. Sometimes that emergency requires seeing outside the plane – is the wing on fire? Is the engine intact? If everyone’s seat is upright, it’s easier for the FAs to see out the window.

And that’s why. 🙂

Feature Photo: Hippopx

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary



kadels February 15, 2022 - 1:14 pm

I’m considering printing this and handing it to the people in the row in front of me for all future flights. Just wish you would add that the requirement for upright seats lasts until the plane reaches 10,000 feet. It’s frustrating when someone reclines the moment the plane takes off.

Chris Henderson February 18, 2022 - 6:23 am

Actually, the legal restriction for seats to be up is only for the takeoff and landing. For FAR (FEDERAL AVIATION REGULATIONS) purposes, that’s from the surface to 1500′ AGL (above ground level) for most flights. That equates to the first and last 2 minutes of flight. Unfortunately, most flight attendants don’t know that.

SharonKurheg February 19, 2022 - 1:58 pm

I think it’s quite possible that they do – and the airlines definitely do – but they probably have their reasons for waiting beyond that amount of time/height to give the all clear.

Flywith me February 17, 2022 - 10:54 pm

Actually it’s fine to recline one the wheels go up, since you won’t be evacuating the plane in the air. The evacuation would occur between the gate and take off. Or upon landing and to the gate. Surface movement is among the most dangerous points of flying. 70%+ of all airline incidents are when the plane is moving on the ground, not above it.


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