Avoid being on the wrong side of the law.
If someone is caught on the road without their seatbelt fastened, it’s safe to say that in most US states, they’ll likely be slapped with a ticket. Does the same apply in the air, though? The ‘fasten seatbelt’ signs are often turned on and off throughout a flight. So, what happens if you’re asleep and miss seeing it turn on, or if you decide to ignore the alert?
When are ‘fasten seatbelt’ signs turned on?
As most people who have traveled on a plane would’ve noticed, the ‘fasten seatbelt’ signs are typically turned on during phases of the flight when accidents are more prone to occur: takeoff, landing, and when turbulence is expected or encountered.
These signs are an essential part of air travel safety as they help to prevent injuries and accidents by keeping passengers in their seats during turbulent conditions or in the event of an emergency. Ignoring these signs can pose a risk to your safety and the safety of those around you.
Passengers are recommended to have their seatbelts fastened at all times, even if the sign is not lit up. If you plan to get some shuteye, it’s best to buckle up before falling asleep so that if there is turbulence while you’re sleeping, you are safely secured in your seat.
However, there are certain circumstances where ignoring the ‘fasten seatbelt’ signs could be justified – such as if a passenger needs to use the restroom urgently due to a medical condition. In such cases, always inform the flight crew and seek their permission before getting up from your seat.
What happens if you ignore the sign?
You might be surprised to learn that, in the United States, it is a violation of federal law to ignore the ‘fasten seatbelt’ sign. While it is not a criminal offense, it is considered a civil violation and, thus, warrants a civil penalty of up to $10,000 if passengers disobey the regulations prescribed by the Federal Aviation Administration under 49 USC § 46301(a)(5)(A).
That said, strict enforcement is extremely uncommon. The FAA does not have a record of aggressively penalizing seatbelt offenses – instead, it tends to issue warnings. On the other hand, ignoring instructions from flight attendants can lead to more severe consequences than turning a blind eye to the seatbelt sign. If you plan to sneak to the lavatory while the seatbelt sign is on, and a cabin crew member tells you not to, it’s best to comply.
In the 2016 case of Wallaesa v. Federal Aviation Administration, a passenger ignored the ‘fasten seatbelt’ sign and refused to return to his seat despite being repeatedly instructed to do so by flight attendants. In court, his seatbelt violation and non-compliance to cabin crew instructions were both brought up. Ultimately, he was charged – not for the former, but rather for not following the flight attendants’ instructions.
Therefore, while some travelers may find it uncomfortable to have seatbelts on for long durations, it’s essential to prioritize safety during air travel and, most importantly, follow all instructions given by the cabin crew to ensure a safe and enjoyable journey – on the right side of the law.
Sources: Cornell Law School, North Carolina Criminal Law