It’s (Usually) Ok to Use the Lavatory While the Seat Belt Sign is On

Comedy Central’s Key & Peele take on using the lavatory while the seat belt sign is on. (HT: Dylan O.)

Basically, to a 98% approximation, flight attendants don’t actually care if you use the lavatory while the seat belt sign is on. They have to tell you that the seat belt sign is on. They cannot tell you it is ok for you to use the lavatory.

I watch passengers, over and over, asking permission. The flight attendant cannot give you permission. Because what if something bad happened? That’s on them and the airline. But if they advise you that the seat belt sign is on and you go anyway it’s pretty much on you.

Now, of course, you must follow flight attendant instructions. So if they actually tell you to sit down, you’d best do it. At some point it becomes a tradeoff — immediate relief and the legal consequences of failure to follow crew member instructions. But I have never actually seen this.

If you can wait until the seat belt sign is off, that’s better, right? But if you can’t, and sometimes you just have to go, go. Try to avoid doing so right after takeoff, right before landing (as in the first and last 5 minutes!). And once you’re in the lavatory, do your very best to avoid this happening.

Note in advance that some of the language is ‘NSFW’.

A totally different question of course is whether it’s ok for coach passengers to use the first class lavatory. And please always wear shoes into the lavatory.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. […] I need an aisle seat. Not just so that I can get to the toilet easily (which incentivises me to drink more water, which is good) but it also means that I can go for a walk to stretch my legs (also good). BTW it’s usually fine to use the toilet when the seatbelt sign is on. […]


  1. My advice is two-fold: first, never get up when the FAs are wearing their seat belts. Second, always wear your seat belt. As someone who has spent more time than I should reading NTSB reports, you can absolutely break bones in turbulence, and the turbulence can be with or without the seat belt sign illuminated. Obviously it’s mostly crew members who are injured, but passengers have been injured while ignoring the sign. Pretty rare, though. Far more likely is being injured because you are in your seat without your seat belt on.

  2. I have been flying forever. When I see the light on I stay seated virtually all the time. I have been on many flights where they forget to turn the light off. I have seen this on a 5 hour flight coast to coast. I have also seen people get up when we have some chop walking to the bathroom. Especially seniors walking around when they should be seated. Many years ago (PRE 9/11) I had to make a run for the bathroom as we just took off and not at cruising. The FA said to me is it an emergency. I said yes and it was ok. I had food poisoning. That was a rough flight as my brother had it as well and we kept going to the lav

  3. I really had to go once after many drinks in the club and one of those hour long tarmac waits at JFK. I waited for the takeoff roll, waited a few more minutes and made a dash. The FA made an announcement to stay seated, but they didn’t stop me. What are they going to do, turn the plane around and kick you off? If it is an emergency, just do it. When you are done, if the FA gives you grief, just apologize and tell them it was an emergency.
    On the ground, I would be wary of doing this since they might delay takeoff while they wait for you to finish.

  4. As Gary wrote at the end, please put your shoes on when you need to use the lav. I see people go into there with just socks and I’m grossed out.

  5. On a related note – US airlines seem to leave the fasten seat belt sign on forever after take-off – often half hour or longer even when there’s no turbulence. Some foreign airlines do it when you can still seem the runway you just took off from. Surely there’s a happy medium somewhere.

  6. This is an item where I’ve noticed a lot of “class warfare” on domestic flights. The FAs will often bark at Y pax to sit down, but I’ve never seen one say a word to an F/J pax.

    And absolutely agree with 02nz. On domestic flights, you’re on a transcon and it’s like “Well, folks, I’ve found a little bit of smooth air here over Topeka, so I’m gonna go ahead and turn the…wait, nope, saw a cloud, everybody down.” Whereas on foreign carriers they generally are much more reasonable.

  7. Nobody should soil themselves over this.


    Had an FA tell me the same thing.

    “You want to go to the bathroom? I’m only going to say that you SHOULD be seated. Make your own evaluation of that information.”

  8. I find that sometimes the light stays on for too long. I guess that it can happen that a pilot knows there could be some sudden turbulence along a certain part of the flight, but sometimes I feel like they just forgot to turn the seat belt sign off. When it has been calm without any chop for 20 minutes, if I need to get up, I usually don’t mind getting up. Especially if I see that other people are moving around and are not asked by the FAs to sit down.

  9. It may not be illegal to go to the lav, but isn’t it illegal to argue with a FA? LOL!

    They could have turned the plane around for that. Also, who the heck is flying that thing?

  10. Gary,
    What if someone who has a very very diarrhea after eaten a burritos from the airport restaurant simply board the plane and occuppying a lavatory then in the middle of”………….”
    The plane is about to pushback,what do you think they would do with the PAX in the lavatory?

  11. I still remember being on a flight and the FA refused to let this lady go to the bathroom, when the seat belt sign was on. The plane was cruising for a while and the FA would not let her pass. Finally the captain turned off the seat belt sign and I saw her standing in line waiting. Sadly there was a wet horseshoe down the back of her jeans. I could only imagine how humiliating that must have been.

  12. I was flying from Abu Dhabi to Dublin and when we landed they announced that the gate is not ready as something is broken and it is not as easy to just switch gates. We were seated for at least 2 hours with seat belt sign on (as I assume plane could move any minute) and people were not allowed to use toilet. I was lucky because I didn’t need to but there were 400 people! And when somebody got up to go, they started to run after them that they had to be seated with announcments on PI that seat belt sign is on like every 15 minutes remaining people not to move. I will never fly Etihad again .. it was just unhuman (but they are Arabs so for them it’s probably ok)

  13. China Eastern is notorious for keeping the seatbelt sign on for virtually the whole flight on domestics, even when there is no prospect of CAT. Why, you ask? The crew simply want to keep everyone in their seats at all times for their own convenience, i.e. when the single aisle is being used for drinks and meal carts. Otherwise they would have a hundred people strolling about being a nusience to everyone, not to mention trashing up the toilets.

  14. @cutejoshflyingjr~ If the a/c hadn’t commenced pushback a FA would ask the passenger if he/she was unwell and unable to return to his/her seat right away for take off. If he/she could not easily manage this and was not well enough to complete the flight the pax would be deboarded by airport medivac staff. Of course it may mean finding hold luggage to be taken off too.

  15. I had surgery and the doctor told me not to hold any urine as it might rip the stiches. I told the FA this while the Seat Belt light remained on, but she kept repeating I couldnt’ get up. An off duty pilot seated a few rows away told me to go if I had to but not expect the FA’s to say anything other than what they’re told to say. I still wonder if I could have been prosecuted?

  16. I find FAs in J a lot better about allowing it, the most I’ve had said before is “at your own risk”.

    Just one reason I fly up front when I can afford it. And I often can’t, so in these situations I stop drinking 2-3h before I fly and restrict my fluid intake, and deal with the headache and mass fluid recovery when I land.

    Been on too many long haul flights where airlines are really bad about leaving it on. And some airlines seem worse than others.

Comments are closed.