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.

Galley Gossip: There’s more to Miami than La Carreta

“There’s more to Miami than La Carreta,” said the well dressed passenger seated in 9D, the seat directly in front of my jump seat, as we slowly climbed to our cruising altitude.

“Oh I don’t know about that!” I laughed, as I loosened my seat belt so I could lean into the aisle and see why the woman three rows back kept waving her hands at me.

“The seat belt sign is on,” I told the woman as I pointed to the ceiling, at the illuminated seat belt sign, after she had asked if she could go to the restroom. “I’ll let you know when it’s safe to get up.”

NOTE: If the flight attendant is still sitting in the jump seat, you should certainly be seated in your seat. It’s not safe to get up yet.

The passenger wearing the nice suit seated directly in front of me just shook his head. Then he looked at the handsome guy with the longish hair from Chile sitting beside him and said, “tell Heather there’s more to Miami than La Carreta!”

The Chilean just smiled at me sweetly, so I smiled back. I don’t think he even knew what we were talking about. But the father and son team from the Dominican Republic wearing matching New York Yankee ball caps across the aisle from the Chilean knew exactly what the stylish one and I were talking about, because in unison they cried, “there’s more to Miami!”

Now this conversation began right after the passenger, the well dressed one, had asked “Do you fly to Miami often?”

“No. Not really,” I said. “Not if I can help it. I can’t even remember the last time I had a layover in Miami.” Then I went on to explain why I’m not a fan of the New York – Miami trips, which had more to do with the Miami International Airport than Miami itself.

“I think you need to give Miami another shot. It’s a fantastic city!” he interrupted.

I’m sure it is. But how would I know? Long gone are the days when I can actually do something on my layover other than shower, eat, and sleep. You see my Miami is not his Miami – the sexy exciting international Miami. Oh no. My Miami is a four hour sit at the airport between flights. My Miami is wearing a navy blue polyester dress and sweating my you know what off as my hair begins to frizz because of the heat and humidity inside the airport terminal. My Miami is swarms of passengers carrying too much heavy luggage wrapped in plastic. My Miami is a plane full of scantily dressed passengers who get angry as soon as they realize we don’t have blankets on board. My Miami originates from New York. Enough said?

I explained this to the well dressed passenger after the flight attendant working in first class made the announcement that it was safe to use electronic devices. Of course the woman three rows back who had waved her hands at me earlier began waving the hands again.

“Not yet. Soon,” I told her as I pointed to the seat belt sign again.

The woman began to crawl over her seatmate anyway.

I shook my head and yanked on my own harness straps for emphasis. “I’ll come get you when it’s safe.”

She sat back down.

Turning my attention back to the well dressed one, I added that even though the New York – Miami route isn’t my favorite trip, I do get excited, probably a little too excited, about one thing – La Caretta.

La Caretta is a popular Cuban restaurant located in concourse D outside of security. Apparently, according to the well dressed one, La Carreta has several locations in the city of Miami, but, as you know, I only have time to go to the one located at the airport. Trust me, it’s worth leaving the secured area for the food at La Caretta, no matter how long the lines.

White rice and black beans with a sprinkling of onions and cilantro and a side of beef picadillo and plantains, that’s what I order each and every time I pass through town. The best part about La Carreta, besides the good food, are the reasonable prices. The large portions aren’t bad, either. Don’t you know I can eat it all – it’s that good!

Of course, after La Carreta it’s off to Versailles for a cafe con leche.

La Carreta is as close to the city of Miami as I get these days. And I imagine it will be a very long time before flight crews see long layovers again. So when someone tells me there’s more to Miami than La Carreta, I am forced to disagree. For me, and other flight attendants, La Carreta is the light at the end of the tunnel, especially when you’re working the New York – Miami route.