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The Importance of Keeping Airplane Seats Upright for Takeoff and Landing

The Importance of Keeping Airplane Seats Upright for Takeoff and Landing

Reclining etiquette debates may not be the most critical concern when taking your seat on an airplane. What truly matters during those crucial moments of takeoff and landing is keeping your seat upright. Here's why this request is made. The limited space occupied by a reclined airplane seat is among the most valuable real estate globally, with conflicts and efforts for resolution ongoing. However, regardless of your stance on the recline debate, there are two universal stages of each flight when we're all asked to keep our seats "in the upright and locked position."

While the few inches of recline may appear insignificant, they play a crucial role in ensuring safety during takeoff and landing. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other global aviation authorities mandate passengers to have their seats in the "upright and locked" position during these critical phases. Although being scolded by a flight attendant over a slight recline might seem trivial, like most safety protocols in aviation, there's a good reason behind it. Unfortunately, this reason is often inadequately explained, leading people to believe it's inconsequential.

Here's why adhering to these instructions is paramount for safe air travel, especially in the rare event of a real emergency.

  1. Unlocked seats can cause injuries to you or the passenger behind you: Airplane seats are designed to provide robust structural support when fully locked in an upright position. This becomes evident if you've ever encountered a malfunctioning seat that reclines when it should be upright. In the case of high acceleration or sudden braking, properly locked seats are engineered to withstand these forces. However, when even slightly reclined, seats can move forcefully, potentially causing injuries not only to the occupant but also to those seated behind. In such situations, seat belts alone are insufficient, as they only secure your waist, leaving your torso and head vulnerable to dangerous jerking movements.
  2. Reclined seats obstruct aisle access: Another crucial reason for requiring seats to be fully upright and locked is to allow passengers in the row behind you swift access to the aisle in case of an emergency. Sudden recline or seat malfunctions, preventing seats from returning to their upright position, could obstruct the exit of passengers in the row behind. Around exit rows, aircraft designers take no chances, and that's why seats directly in front of exit rows cannot recline at all. This measure is vital for ensuring efficient evacuation during emergencies, even if only half of the emergency exits are operational. Swift evacuations have been instrumental in saving lives during real crises, such as the 2005 Air France Airbus A340 runway incident in Toronto.

This same rationale applies to tray tables needing to be closed and carry-on bags stored fully under the seat in front of you; every second counts in emergency situations.

  1. What about flat-bed seats? The same safety rule applies to passengers in all cabin classes: seats must be in the upright position for takeoff and landing. In 2022, Finnair addressed this issue by redesigning some of its business-class seats, making them non-reclining. These seats are either fully upright or in a lie-flat sleeping position, with no in-between (reviewers have found them comfortable nonetheless).

Now that you understand the reasoning behind it, please cooperate when flight attendants request you to return your seat to its "fully upright and locked position." Knowing the safety considerations behind this request is vital for everyone's well-being during air travel.