I have a question regarding the fasten seat belt sign. I had to go to the bathroom really bad and the seat belt sign was on. When I couldn’t wait any longer I headed to the back to use the lav. As I pushed the door open the flight attendant said, “the seat belt sign is on.” I explained it was an emergency and asked if I could go. She just repeated what she had just said. We just stared at each other for seemed like a long time. Why did she just keep saying the same thing over and over and not answer my question? I felt like I was in the twilight zone! I finally just went because I had to go. What are you supposed to do if you really have to go and the sign is on?

Sincerely, lost in translation

Dear lost in translation,

This is actually a very good question and you’re not alone. You may even hear some flight attendants say in that awkward moment of silence, ” just be careful.” But, here’s the deal, flight attendants are not supposed to say that. Lets say you get hurt….the flight attendant gave you permission to go to the lav by telling you to be careful. Flight attendants are informers and per FAA regulations part of our job is to inform passengers when the seat belt sign is illuminated. No more, no less. Once the captain puts the sign on either the flight deck or the flight attendants will make an announcement, the flight attendants will do a walk through the cabin (if conditions allow) to make sure passengers are in compliance and then should anyone get up flight attendants will inform the passenger that the sign is on. As an adult it is up to you decide if you need to use the lav. I’m not condoning being up when the seat belt sign is on, it’s on for a reason and it can be dangerous to be up. However, I know that sometimes people have to go the bathroom so I do my job and inform. The rest is up to you. Make sense?

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  1. That’s a great answer! As a Systems Engineer, I have to consider the crew and training-the human element-as part of the total system. We strive to maximize safety, but in the end, it comes down to personal choices. On a humorous note, my employer, a teeny-tiny engineering start-up was nominated for Boeing Supplier of the Year. For my contribution, I got a gift certificate for schwag. One of the items was that little seatbelt the FAs use in the safety demo- positioned as a fashion accessory to hold up your pants!

  2. Trick is to use the bathroom when you can not when you have to! If the plane hits some real turbulence while the passenger is en-route to the loo they might well get injured and evacuate in the passage. That is potentially life threatening and could be very embarrassing!

  3. I’m also a flight attendant and have to empathize with ‘lost in translation.’ I have sat next to people on the jumpseat who are literally screaming at the passenger “THE SEAT BELT SIGN IS ON” when there is no turbulence. Some flight attendants are absolutely rude about it and others are robotic like this one apparently was. There are ways to do our duty without completely weirding out or humiliating the customer. I wish more cabin crew would realize that.

  4. As a former flight attendant this one of the worst situations! You do have to inform. I usually would remind that the sign was on and in that blank stare and awkward moment I would just add in, it’s my job to tell you the fasten seatbelt sign is on, however, it is at your own discretion. I say it firmly, but always politely add that if there is that obvious awkward moment if someone REALLY does have to use the loo! Most of us do get that sometimes you just gotta go, and I could never relate to the crazy, rude FAs screaming at passengers, or worse parents with kids when it was obviously an urgent situation!

  5. I know that I have not seen the other side, but, sometimes, flight attendants are a wee bit rigid about the protocols. I know that this is their KRA and things like seat belts are non-negotiable but they can be a little cool about it. The loo thing has happened to me more than once.

  6. @sharad – I disagree that FAs are too rigid. If the FAA was onboard & saw that a passenger went to the lav while the seatbelt sign was on & noticed that the flight attendant didn’t say a word to the passenger – the flight attendant gets a huge fine from the FAA. Not the airline, the flight attendant. Keep in mind that we don’t get our kicks by telling you to turn off your phone, etc. it’s a Federally mandated, required part of our job.

  7. As a Crohn’s disease sufferer, if I am having a flare up, despite my medication, my stomach does not always let me have full control. I had the self same experience when I flew home from Malta a few years ago. The flight attendant dutifully stated that the seatbelt sign was on and due to Health and Safety, I had to return to my seat. When I told her about the Crohn’s and that there was every chance I would have to move seats if I didn’t use the bathroom, she said “be very careful” and radioed to the cockpit for permission. I didn’t realise that she could even do that! lol. After a rather nasty session which included being very sick in the sink, I exited the WC to find the steward waiting for me. She gave me an empty row of seats, some sick bags a cool cloth and a very cosy blanket to help settle me. I must admit, Malta Airways were extremely helpful and the woman had her colleagues check on me every half hour until we landed.

    As we disembarked, I gave her my grateful appreciation of how they took care of me and she said that the Captain suffered from Crohn’s and had been the one to make sure I was okay! I felt really embarrassed, but really special at the same time! lol.

  8. This is always a tricky one. I, like another person who commented here, always go to the loo as soon as I see that there is little or no queue. However I can really see the issue if you have a medical condition and have to get to the loo quickly without warning. Perhaps if this is the case it’s worth saying something to the chief steward/stewardess at the start of the flight to warn them? Just a thought.

  9. As a FA i must say it is embarresing to be working with a crew and have an attendant being rude to passengers. it is all about how you say and for goodness sakes you do NOT tell people what to do you ask them nicely and then if it still is an issue tell them why you are asking it 99.9% of the time i never have issues with passengers. most are nice and want to do the right thing. with that being said they do not go through our training and are not forced to watch videos we do and don’t understand some of the things we ask them to do for safety reasons. As far as being laxed with the regulations I have seen a FA be personally fined and fired for not making sure a single ipad was off she was fined 1000$ and the passenger was fined 2000$ and treated to a few hours in a special room being questioned. while the jury is still out about do electronics really interfere with the navigational equipment i do know that i have had a pilot call me and say hey i am getting some screetching in my headset make sure all electronics are off or at least in airplane mode. we don’t want our pilots distracted and i certianly don’t want to be fined and fired over a rule i myself find a bit harsh however we have a job to do and never know when someone from FAA or a big wig will be onboard. 90% of complaints on crew are in regards to fed regs and at the end of the day we have to follow them and inform our passengers of them if we don’t then the outcome could be not great especially if someone is flying for a living and not just cause they love to fly. Most people fly for the love of it, but a few have made a career of it and would be financially devistated if they were caught not enforcing the regulations. I just wish the airlines would inform the passengers a bit better about WHY they are asking them to do certian things then maybe there woudln’t be such a hatred of FA’s among the traveling public. I also am a nurse and own my own business on the side, but not all FA’s have anything to fall back on. However there is a way to inform people without being rude and if they give you problems simply explain where your coming from if you get caught letting them “slide” maybe that helps? it does for me! i love my job even when i overhear someone saying how dumb FA’s are or how we are uneducated (even though most have degrees and speak multiple languages) the general idea sadly is that we are just sky drink servers and nothing more so noone wants to listen to us. Other than the PED deal all of the regs are for your safety even if you don’t understand it. I have seen heads busted, people tossed down the aisle when standing before the seatbelt sign is off, finger cut off, knee cap cracked, and so much more all because of ignoring what a FA asked them to do. I have also seen someone sitting around someone not listening to the attendants get hurt due to the action of the other passenger. I wish we could all just help out one another and get rid of the us(passengers) against them (FA’s) menatlity out there and that goes BOTH ways for FA’s and passengers. We are in it together in a metal tube with nowhere to go let’s help each other out!
    Also, please keep in mind, that if you encounter a rude FA call them out on it and ask them why they are treating you that way! When I encounter a passenger doing it to me for no reason I ask and that usually stops it, but again 99.9% of the time i have no issues with people as i always try to say please and thank you or do you mind doing this and they usually don’t mind at all.
    Irate passengers are usually irate before getting on the plane and so put yourself in that persons shoes, listen to what has upset them, let them vent and see if you can’t make their flight a little more enjoyable and maybe their anger will not be directed at crew. Other than weather, which i cannot control, most people have reason to be mad at airlines and letting them vent helps. If i have been on duty for 15 hours and am only getting paid for a 1/4 of that time (since we are only paid when that door is closed) i still see no excuse to be rude to a passenger. I try to give people three times before i feel like i need to address them back, otherwise they usually calm down themselves regarding weather delays. I have even pulled my phone out and brought up my radar app and showed people were the aircraft came from and explained that even thought there is no weather were we are going we are late because of were we came from since aircraft make multiple flights a day not just one! I am going to stop since i am rambling and please excuse my mispelled words I promise i am not an idiot just a fast typer and didn’t spell check!
    Fly safe

  10. I have also experianced the trouble of desperately needing to use the restroom whilst the seat bely sign was on and I experienced the worst flight ever. As I have only the one kidney and often need to use the restroom with little or no warning I was left in a position do I sit and obey the sign or soil myself on the plane. Before boarding the aircraft I used the bathroom, but after being seated I felt the urge to urinate I waited several minutes assuming the flight would soon take off but as all passengers were seated and the door was still open I asked the male flight attendent to use the restroom. I was informed I had to wait until we were airborne and the seat belt sign was off. Another 15 minutes had passed and I then asked the female flight attendent who was walking through the aircraft my urgent need to use the bathroom. She also stressed I had to wait until the seat belt sign was off and was told your an adult just HOLD IT. I then explained I had a medical condition which she totally ignored and walked off. I waited a further what felt like hours but was probably 10 to 15 minutes before the plane had taken off and was in the air. I was desperate by this stage and when the plane was well in the air and through tHe clouds I approached the toilet cubicle the same female flight attendent ordered be back to my seat. The flight attendent was seated right next to the restroom I explained again I am going to soil myself. With no compassion whatsoever I was ordered back to my seat, after arriving back at my seat I looked up and the seat belt sign was off. I proceeded to the restroom avoiding a very embarrassing situation not just for me but all the other passengers. On leaving the aircraft I was escorted to the terminal by a Qantas employee to meet with two police officers from Tamworth police station who wished to ask me some questions, I was read my rights and asked if i wanted any legal reresentation, it was at this time i felt i was in the twilightzone. i answerered the officers questions and he interveiwed the female flight attendent but did not take a statement from her as she had to return to Sydney for the return flight,The officer then asked would I mined if he interviewed the passenger who was seated directly beside me, to obviously corroborate my statement to the police. I said I had no objections to this and explained he was a buisness associate of mine. Needless to say the female flight attendent when contacted by the police officer after the incident declined to give statement which leads me to believe her only motivation for contacting the police was to embarrass and humiliate me not the safety of the passengers. I have contacted customer service at Qantas and they stand by how this attendent handle the situation. To say I am disappointed with the response from Qantas would be an understatement but I won’t let one bad experianced with one flight attendent stop me from flying on what I personally believe is a good airline.

  11. Bill Salopek @ 2013-10-15 13:16

    I am a retired Air Traffic Controller and a private pilot, so I definitely understand turbulence, the risks, etc.

    I also understand having to go to the bathroom when it seems like the seat belt sign has been on forever and there has been little if any any turbulence for the last several minutes.

    The Captain is torn between keeping folks safe and avoiding law suits (“I got hurt walking down the aisle because you didn’t have the seat belt sign on!), and allowing folks to get to the bathroom before they become too uncomfortable.

    All that said, I don’t think I would care much if the person getting up while the seat belt sign is on would only hurt themselves…but…they can very well become a flying projectile in turbulence AND HURT SOMEONE ELSE…maybe even multiple people.

    99% of the time a person is getting up out of simple convenience…to reach for something in the overhead bin (however not a good idea to open THAT during turbulence!), or because they only kinda sorta have to get to the lav. And for those folks, MORE REMINDERS to put their seat belt on would keep them in their seats and work very well to insure the safety of all concerned.

    Since the people getting up with the seat belt sign on are taking risks WITH OTHER FOLKS WELFARE, my strong suggestions are:

    1) It should be MANDATORY for folks to stay seated with the seat belt sign on.

    Or at least..

    2) The person needs to be reminded in no uncertain terms that they are risking the safety of themselves AND THEIR FELLOW PASSENGERS by getting up.

    In 99% of the cases, the person will sit back down with a gentle reminder. And we can all keep flying without unnecessary risk of injury.

    And even for that other 1%…where a person just HAS to go…well…what is worse…peeing in your pants? Or seriously injuring yourself or another passenger.

    Hey…I know this is not an easy situation, and there is no perfect answer…and my heart goes out to the hard working flight attendants who have to deal with this…but I just see far too many people getting up and walking around the cabin with the seat belt sign on…and THAT can definitely, and easily, be improved upon with gentle reminders given more often.

  12. mcitizen @ 2013-10-17 13:01

    Good reasons to go to the washroom:

    1) The seat belt sign has been on for 30 minutes and you have been waiting for it to go off, but now you can’t wait anymore.

    2) You ate something that made you sick, and now you have to go or you have to go frequently.

    3) You have a medical condition that flares up at random times.

    4) Urgency caused by anxiety

    5) Too many people lined up when the seat belt sign was off, and now you can’t wait any longer.

    I’ve suffered from all the above problems, and I spend a ridiculous amount of effort trying to avoid using the washroom when I’m not supposed to. To date I’ve always avoided it, but it causes me a lot of stress and probably has a health impact on me the more I fly.