Who’s ready for another fun-filled Ask Cranky adventure? This time, it’s about a note that came in a long time ago. I was reminded about it, however, on my flight with Delta from Maui back home.
Have you ever looked into seatbelt light overuse? I think it could make for a great article.
Seatbelt light use is really irritating Delta and Alaska Air compared to British Airways and Iceland Air.
BA and Iceland Air turn off the seatbelt light soon after takeoff, while the plane is still climbing at a noticeable angle, and leave it off unless there’s pretty serious turbulence.
Alaska and Delta wait all the way until the plane is level and turn the light back on at the slightest vibration. They leave it on for about 20 min each time. It’s like a car alarm that goes off when a loud truck drives by. Totally pointless.
You can just ignore the light on Alaska and Delta and use the toilet anyway. You wouldn’t want to do that in a seatbelt situation on Iceland Air or BA.
I feel like overuse of the seatbelt light makes for a potentially more dangerous situation.
It would be neat if the FAA or airline groups could get together and fix this one.
Thanks for your great blog,
Thanks for this, Erik. I agree with you completely. In general, I find that US carriers use the seatbelt sign far more often than others. So what gives? I can actually think of two reasons.
1) It’s a liability issue.
I think it’s safe to say we live in a litigious society here in the US. If people get hurt in turbulence, they’re bound to sue for a lot of money. Because of people like that, I’m guessing that airlines in the US are more inclined to encourage pilots to leave the sign on for longer.
I’ll never forget a few flights I took with Varig back in 1998. On one, we were on a 747-300 from Sao Paulo to Manaus and the second the wheels were off the ground, that seatbelt sign came off. On our flight back in to Sao Paulo, I was lucky enough to ride in the cockpit on landing. The Captain was busy telling me all about his career when it got a little bumpy. He said, “it’s just a little windshear.” Then, just as we were getting close to land, he dropped the wheels and then made the move to turn on the seatbelt sign. That is NOT what we’d ever see here in the US.
For the most part, pilots in the US will leave the seatbelt sign on from takeoff until you reach cruising altitude. Then on the descent, it’ll come on somewhere north of 10,000 feet. If there are any bumps, it’ll stay on much longer.
2) Pilots forget.
If you have to go to the bathroom, there is nothing more important on earth than getting that seatbelt sign to turn off. But if you’re a pilot, it’s not at the top of your list. If there is turbulence, pilots will be quick to flip that sign on. But when the turbulence subsides, it’s not uncommon for pilots to forget to turn it back off. On my Delta flight from Maui, that was the response from the flight attendant. She shrugged and said that they probably just forgot up front. I went to the bathroom anyway and she didn’t care.
Regardless of the reason, is this really a problem? Pilots and training departments probably figure that it’s better safe than sorry. If the sign is on, you can’t go wrong. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. If the sign is on for too long, then people just ignore it. And that means you lose the one tool you have to keep people safe when you hit rough air.
An airline that uses the seatbelt sign sparingly is going to get prompt and uniform reaction when the sign does go on (or at least have the best shot at it). That means it’s not time to mess around. But an airline that leaves it on too long will be ignored, even if it’s serious enough that it shouldn’t be.
I’m with Erik in that I think this is a real safety issue. If the feds weren’t so busy trying to regulate stupid issues, they could focus on more safety-related issues like these. I wish the airlines themselves would pay attention as well, because it does seem to be an unsafe situation.