Plane Answers: Seatbelt sign compliance and a question about packing for long trips

Welcome to Gadling’s feature, Plane Answers, where our resident airline pilot, Kent Wien, answers your questions about everything from takeoff to touchdown and beyond. Have a question of your own? Ask away!

Shane asks:

What are the official FAA regulations regarding passengers being up with the seatbelt sign on? On every flight, prior to the sign being turned off, passengers get up to use the washroom and rarely to do the flight attendants ask them to return to their seats. Is there discretion allowed here? Thanks so much for the knowledge and please keep it coming.

Hi Shane,

I answer a lot of these questions while on my crew rest break in the back of the airplane since it’s impossible to sleep on the first break during the meal service.

I mention this because both times I read through your question the flight attendant came on with a reminder over the PA that the seatbelt sign was on and that she would appreciate it if the passengers who were up and about could please return to their seats. The irony gave me a chuckle.

She handled this in the way the FAA requires. If people are up with the sign on, flight attendants are required to make the passenger aware that the sign is on and that they should be seated with their seatbelts fastened.

But if you’ve really got to go, it may be necessary to ignore the sign. I didn’t give you permission, and neither did she, but if you have to go, you have to go. Smile and say “I’ll be careful. It’s an emergency.”

She’s not required to force you into your seat, but she may continue to warn you of the sign. Just don’t let it get to a point where you’re ignoring a direct request from a flight attendant. There are specific rules against that.
Johannes asks:

Hey Kent,

I love reading your blog, it gave the final push for me to write an application to the German airline Lufthansa to study to become a pilot. It’s been my dream for my whole life through – I even tried to get my PPL-C, but had to quit, since it took so much time that I couldn’t afford it (I have to work on weekends, and the training is only on weekends).

I think Germany is the only country in the world where the airlines pay the whole education (you only have to pay 60k€ back after finishing the training and only when Lufthansa offers you a job within 5 years after finishing the whole license.)

So my question:

I’ve been wondering how much clothing you have to carry around with you. And who does the laundry during long trips?

You’ve written about a 14-day tour with only one day off in Paris. When I do the laundry, washing, drying and iron my clothes takes about 4 hours. I can’t imagine that you carry enough clothing for 14 days with you, but the fact that you have written about breaks and layovers shows me, that there is not much time to wash your stuff.

So, how do you manage that ?

Hi Johannes,

I hope I didn’t leave you with the impression that we’re on the road for the entire 14 days. In my case last year, those Paris trips were made up of three-day back-to-back trips. So I’d fly to Paris one day, layover for 24 hours there and then fly home on the third day.

Once at home, I’d have another 24 hours until heading back to the airport again to do it all over. So there’s plenty of time for laundry and a little time left over to see the family.

That 14-days of flying was very unusual though. We had a mechanical problem that caused our three-day trip to turn into a 5-day trip, which did present a slight laundry problem. I usually pack a few spares of everything on my trip.

I understand there are some airlines, such as FedEx and other international carriers that do fly some pretty long trips. I suspect Lufthansa has a number of three-day trips though.

Good luck with the application process at Lufthansa. I know it’s extremely competitive but it’s a great deal if you can get it.

Do you have a question about something related to the pointy end of an airplane? Ask Kent and maybe he’ll use it for the next Plane Answers. Check out his other blog, Cockpit Chronicles and travel along with him at work.