Passengers Suing JetBlue For Failing to Turn on Seat Belt Sign Before Turbulence Struck

Turbulence is dangerous and it can come out of nowhere taking passengers and crew by surprise. That’s why airlines tell you — and it’s a good idea — to keep your seat belt fastened even when the seat belt sign is off. And the instruction is to keep it fastened low and tight across your lap.

Here’s Aeroflot flight SU270 from Moscow to Bangkok three months ago:

And here’s Singapore Airlines SQ308 from Singapore – London in mid-2013 where 11 passengers were injured and the plane’s ceiling was covered in coffee.

Three passengers are suing jetBlue arguing that it was negligent of the airline’s pilots to fly into turbulence, and that they failed to turn on the seat belt sign before turbulence struck. For real.

On August 11, 2016 JetBlue Airways B6 429 from Boston to Sacramento hit significant turbulence and the flight made an emergency landing in Rapid City, South Dakota. Twenty four passengers and three crew went to the hospital.

There are two lawsuits against JetBlue resulting from the incident. The latest was just filed by two passengers and alleges that the airline “disregarded the threat of a major thunderstorm over South Dakota” and that crew “chose not to advise its Flight 429 passengers to stay seated with seatbelts fastened” before turbulence struck.

“Only after the aircraft had flown into the severe weather did flight attendants announce to the passengers to be seated and fasten seat belts,” the lawsuit says.

The other lawsuit was filed by a single passenger who had gotten up to go to the lavatory and complains that the seat belt sign wasn’t on.

Contra the claims in the lawsuit that the airline was negligent in flying into the storm, the NTSB concluded that the plane encountered turbulence “while maneuvering to avoid convective weather.”

Wear your seat belt at all times while seated, even when the seat belt sign is off.

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. Great. Now AA will never ever turn off the seatbelt light. Thanks JetBlue ambulance chasers.

  2. US pilots turn on the seat belt sign the moment they see a cloud. It’s ridiculous. I never realized how bad it is until I traveled to Asia. Pilots there will turn off the seatbelt sign a few minutes into the initial climb if it’s clear outside!

    Hope this dude loses his bogus lawsuit.

  3. This is ridiculous. As a connoisseur of NTSB reports it comes as NO surprise that you should keep your seat belt fastened at all times. I assume these idiots would also sue over clear air turbulence? Every year dozens of FA ankles, arms and legs are broken – you never know when turbulence will strike!
    As yes, as someone else pointed out the end result will be even more conservative use of the seatbelt sign. I wouldn’t be surprised if some day you have to sign an indemnification agreement to leave your seat!

  4. It’s bad enough on some AA aircraft nowadays, where you can never leave your seat because the seatbelt sign remains lit for all 6 hours of the flight. I always wondered, if someone got injured on one of these flights, whether they could sue AA on the ground that the seatbelt sign was always on, and therefore they never knew when it was safe to get up and go to the bathroom.

  5. This is absurd. They say leave the seat belt on even when the sign is not on. Unless the pilots fly directly into a storm that should have been avoided I do not see an argument here. Next time this passenger should drive if they can’t handle air travel.

  6. I’ll avoid comment on the case and merits, but, the beauty here for those suing, is the NTSB findings cannot be used as evidence in court (this was from the 70s, essentially to allow ntsb to remain fully independent and without concern about how findings would be used. They make recommendations to appropriate agencies, and otherwise, make some determinations under extremely specific circumstances, such as medial appeals for pilot certification.)

  7. @James: Looks like you haven’t flown Air China. On every Air China flight I have taken, the seatbelt sign stayed on the entire flight.

  8. Good passengers, bet when they did get off the plane they went to McDonalds for coffee and put it between their legs. Can not teach people how to be stupid, they are just that way. Darwinism is right. These people should not fly

  9. I hope these customers remember to leave their seatbelts on when riding in a car, or do they think the airbags will save them?
    But let’s put ourselves in the pilots position for a moment. You see clouds in the distance. Should your train of thought be “let’s notify passengers and crew with a lightbulb” or should it be “what are my options for safely flying the plane” which may require talking with copilot, ATC, and/or weather dept, reviewing plane status, double checking instruments that may be misleading in strange weather, etc. This could happen on a clear day, or during a winter storm. My vote is for passengers to remain buckled while seated, and leave the pilot out of the debate of when passengers can use the restroom.

  10. I am a flight attendant and I appreciate that these passengers were hurt but we always advise passengers that the seatbelt sign is on when they get up to use the restroom and there are placards on all seats that your seatbelt should be fastened At all times. The pilots are not gods and cannot control the weather

  11. Most passengers believe that the seatbelt sign means you should stay seated and buckled up, because the cockpit has knowledge that the skies may be turbulent ahead.

    Lawsuits like this encourage airline pilots to use not as an indicator of air conditions, but as a magic indemnity talisman. Light’s on? Can’t sue the airline.

    Imagine you had a little switch in your car that prevented other people from suing you in case of an accident. Can you think of any reason you would ever turn the switch off?

  12. I am a flight attendant. We are required by the FAA to advise customers to keep their seat belts fastened even though the seatbelt sign is off. To be honest, even when the seatbelt sign is on and it is turbulent, and while flight attendants are buckled up, customers often ignore the seatbelt sign and get up to use the bathroom We are required by the FAA to remind customers the seatbelt sign is on. Only a few customers ever go back to their seat. Most times a customer will say, “It’s an emergency” or “I have to go to the bathroom.” Customers take their children and even to change infants while the seatWhile I understand the seatbelt sign may not have been illuminated, I would be willing to bet even if it was the customer would have gotten up. This sounds like it was sudden turbulence. Pilots do not deliberately fly into storms and they are not negligent about safety.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *