Why Do People Unbuckle Their Seat Belt Before the Plane Comes to a Complete Stop?

Here’s something I didn’t understand during the pandemic, that makes even less sense now. It would be really great if passengers stayed as orderly as the few traveling in April were – not getting up out of their seats and into the aisle until it was their turn, in order to maintain social distancing during deplaning.

People still seem anxious to crowd into the aisle now, even when they’re asked not to. And even though we’ve always been told after ar flight lands to keep your seat belt buckled until the pilot parks at the gate and turns off the seat belt sign.

Once the plane stops (you might still not be at the gate, and will move again) passengers start to take off their seat belts, gather their belongings and sometimes even make their way into the aisle. How come? What’s the benefit of doing this?

Unbuckle early, get into the aisle early, you’re still just spending more time in the aisle – you aren’t off the plane any faster. And you’re likely to crowd into other people. And while it’s not super common, planes do clip each other while they’re on an active taxiway. Baggage trucks and catering trucks run into aircraft. Pilots hit the brakes.

Passengers are supposed to remain belted for a reason, but they don’t, you’d expect there to be some upside to the behavior right?

  • For a passenger in the aisle seat there’s at least the argument that the aisle might get crowded or blocked, you’ve been sitting a long time and want to ensure an opportunity to stretch your legs.

  • What explains the passenger in the middle or window seat, though? They’re at best half standing, hunched over because of the placement of the overhead bin (at least on a narrowbody aircraft).

Is it just that we want off the aircraft so badly, and getting up gives us the illusion of progress?

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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 »

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Comments

  1. When I’ve been in a car, whether driving or as a passenger for an extended amount of time I’m able to unbuckle and get right out. On a plane, yes even in my window seat, all I want to do is stand up and not be confined to this tiny space I’ve been in for the last 5 hours. I get your point and I understand why some stay seated, but I want out and I want my space back. Plus since I probably didn’t get up during the flight to make things easier for everyone, chances are good I need a restroom. I generally fly red eye’s or the last flight of the night.

  2. Some passengers believe the benefit of unbuckling early while on approach to an airport terminal is to give them a head start in running to an emergency exit when their aircraft starts burning intensely after crashing into a baggage or catering truck.

  3. Not a lot of protection from wearing a seat belt when pulling into your garage either.
    In case of a fire I’d rather have no seat belt.
    The mass of the plane is so large that a 3-5 mph crash would destroy the jetway and terminal wall and feel like a cigar butt on the tarmac to those in the plane.

  4. I think there are several things at play:
    1. I’ve been flying since 1989 and have never had a situation where there has been sudden movement on the ground such that not wearing a seatbelt would produce injury. I can see the point of clear air turbulence in the sky but I can’t picture slamming on the brakes or slamming in to something on the ground such that people would go flying especially once clear of the runway;
    2. Particularly if you are in the aisle seat, and you are ready to jump the second that sign goes off, you can get in front of other people and get off the plane faster. If you only begun the preparation procedures once the sign was turned off, you could be stuck queuing behind other rows. If you move up the aisle literally immediately once that sign goes out, you can bypass several rows of passengers that are just beginning the process of getting ready.

  5. I’ve asked myself why I do this and come to a few conclusions:

    1) I have a subconscious mental checklist of things I need to do to get off. Unbuckle, get overhead bags, remember my phone, locate next gate or car rental shuttle, check in on email/texts, etc. Silly as it sounds taking off the seatbelt and making progress towards the other things trims the list (I usually yank my bag out of the overhead, throw my laptop bag on it, turn it the right way, and get back in front of my seat to wait).

    2) It encourages others to get off their butts. “Hey I’m up, this guy is up, she’s up – we’re all up, you (people right in front of us) need to get ready because we’re all taking care of our business and ready to get straight off this plane.” And if they’re not ready (still sitting and chatting to the person next to them when it’s their turn), not only am I ready to move on but I don’t feel bad about it because it’s clear to all involved what’s been going on and assumed the person who is making themselves a potential holdup realized they people behind them were not just ready to go but eager to go. Additionally, the person behind me knows I’m ready to go because they’ve stood there and watched me standing at the ready from the beginning. It sounds selfish but the goal isn’t to take from someone or force anything on anybody, it’s non-verbally communicating and ok my opinion only a problem if I were to get pushy about it

    Those in addition to wanting to get out of those awful chairs as soon as possible, stretch legs, and the other things you mentioned. But I thought the first 2 were perspective that’s might be additive to the equation.

  6. Boston and Jeff are 100% correct. I always unbuckle as soon as we are off the active runway as I want to be in the aisle by the time the light comes off. Not only is it more comfortable to stand but it means I am positioned to grab my bags from the overhead and be on my way as soon as aisle clears in front of me.

    I’m not flying now but if I was I might not jump into aisle if it was safer to remain in my seat. That would depend on the load factor and whether people were distancing in the aisle.

  7. Perhaps this is the reason Aeroflot (and others?) always say “parking position” once the plane is fully stopped.

  8. Nice JetBlue photo, this is what I love about JetBlue they always get it right, new interiors look amazing.

  9. This always comes up as such a contentious issue. Let me clarify why you should stand up: it saves time. Yes, you are not going anywhere, but by standing up, and also by distributing bags to proper owners, you are positioning yourself, and others, to exit the aircraft in a much more streamlined and efficient manner once you have the ability to go somewhere.

    Thanks.

  10. This question reminds me of the time I was sitting way back, over the wing. After half the passengers had de-planed, it was my turn to walk past the captain, and I said “Nice flight. The seatbelt sign is still on.”

  11. In addition to good points made by Boston and Jeff,

    1. My backpack is in two parts, a main pack (which goes in the overhead compartment) and a detachable smaller pack (which goes under the seat in front of me). By jumping up right away I can get the two reattached before it’s time to walk off.

    2. Every second of delay could contribute to my missing whatever bus or train I’m taking at the exit.

    Therefore I appreciate those who take the initiative to get things moving quickly, and I try to contribute to that flow.

    Seth

  12. Mr. Leff, how can you NOT see the benefit of doing this? (Pre-covid of course). You are un-arguably faster getting off the plane if you are already unbuckled, standing in the aisle, and, if you are really efficient, already removed your items from overhead before “your turn”, to the benefit of EVERYONE behind you. Are you one of those slow people who hold everyone up because your legs are too weak to support your weight for a moment or two before its technically “your turn” to stand up? Evidently so. Weak, usually old or overweight passengers who do this infuriate me. Let me ask you an unrelated question: in a grocery line do you also wait until the customer in front of you vacates the register before unloading your cart, because after all, according to you its just as fast to wait until the all clear?

    You have a wonderful website but this post enrages me. I have stood behind far too many people deboarding who think everyone on the plane has as much time as they evidently do. I have things to do, I can manage multiple tasks at once and my legs can support my body weight. If you any of those dont apply to you stay home. Covid has provided the only instance where its ok to wait. Before and after, no excuse.

  13. @texasoilfields – the grocery store analogy makes no sense.

    If a few extra seconds of deboarding, to accommodate folks with mobility issues or whatnot – thus, you know, demonstrating some humanity – is too much for you to spare, you need to be flying private. If you don’t have the resources to fly private, then you do not have sufficient station in life to complain about the people who have every right to take a reasonable amount of time deboarding, which includes waiting until the SEAT BELT LIGHT IS SWITCHED OFF as technically unbuckling prior to that VIOLATES FEDERAL LAW.

    No passenger ought to violate federal law for your ENTITLED SELF who has likely nothing to hurry to except an affair with your wife. Probably both your wife and mistress are ugly as sin.

    As for “before and after” Covid, who decides when Covid is “done”?

    You need to take some of the oil from your oil fields and go refuel your private plane, buddy.

  14. @Seth and others, the fact you may have a tight connection or what have you, does NOT obligate anybody else to BREAK LAWS or even to EXPEDITE THEIR EGRESS to accommodate you.

    You have the right not to be OBSTRUCTED but you being in a hurry is NO EMERGENCY for anybody else.

    Oh by the way if you were all in good physical shape, you could easily make up time lost by simply running when you get into the terminal. It’s not the public library where an old woman will yell at you for running indoors.

  15. The answer is very simple, Gary. Seatbelt signs are like masks, they’re just another tool of oppression and control. Big Aviation and the FAA want to keep us docile and obedient because they see us as cattle rather than as human beings with RIGHTS.

    If you’re a true patriot you’d walk into the aisle during final approach.

  16. So reading the comments, I have never and will never understand people who unbuckle their seat belts whilst the aircraft is taxiing. When I was operating a CRJ pre covid, a man had unbuckled his belt and stood up as the nose wheel touched down, had either the captain or I pressed the brakes a little too hard, as can happen as the CRJ lands fast, this passenger will go flying and not only get severely injured themselves but potentially injure other passengers and the crew as their body becomes a projectile. We still had a ten minute taxi… We had no clue that anyone was standing as our assumption (stupidly I guess) is that whilst we are still landing people will be strapped in yet. Ultimately, most times when someone is not strapped in whilst the plane is moving will be uneventful but there will be things that happen on rare occasions that cause injury even if it is braking too heavily in the taxi or as we come to a full stop and you can bet there would be outrage that someone got injured… So why not stay strapped in until the plane is stationary? We do on the flight deck, don’t even take off the shoulder straps until we are stopped.

    Taxi accidents do happen on occasion and planes have been flipped around by larger ones clipping their tails, so please just keep your seatbelt done up until we are stopped and it is safe to remove. Unclipping your belt at that point really won’t delay you getting off the aircraft, even if you stand up right as the sign comes off as the doors still need to be opened etc.

  17. Boston, Jeff, and Boraxo – AGREE. I jump up the minute I hear the “bing” to grab my luggage out of the overhead and claim my “aisle footprint.” Any delay, even in First means you might lose your footprint real estate and be delayed getting off. People are not polite to let you out. Unless you claim your aisle real estate, you could be doomed to be last – even if you were in an aisle seat.

  18. @Jason — Certainly, I don’t expect anyone to break laws (and I don’t myself — I’m just ready to unbuckle the moment permission is granted), and I have respect for those with mobility challenges. But it is frustrating when so few people take the initiative to get ready when there is space in the aisle. Don’t people want to get off the plane?

    Also, I do run in the terminal already, if I know a bus is coming or if I am approaching an immigration queue.

  19. I get that people want to get off the plane quickly and on their way but then people also line up early to get into the plane. While I understand those who are in 1st class or need overhead bins but even those without large carry ons, they still want to go in early and sit in a cramped seat. Don’t you rather relax in the terminal as long as possible instead of in a metal tube?

  20. I’ve learned to wait as much as I can but I do feel terrible that the other passengers have to wait for me to get my items from the overhead bin. Usually, I have a couple of things I have to get down but in a covid world, I will happily just sit in my seat.

  21. @Jason – my analogy makes perfect sense to anyone with a brain cell to spare . . . but I’ll help you out, it has to do with completing tasks that need doing before being “on deck” so to speak, so as to not hold up others behind you.
    Regarding rights, and people’s right to take their slow and sweet time getting off the plane . . . sure they do, as I have the right to eat smelly food, take up both armrests and hold loud conversations about my neice’s finger paintings. But it’s inconsiderate so I don’t. I shudder to think of what living with you is like.

    Finally dear Jason, my ugly wife and mistress? What on earth is going on in your mind? Are you projecting or simply mad as a hatter? Seek help Jason, that was weird one.

  22. Selfishness. If it takes more than 2 seconds to remove your seatbelt, you should have been on early assisted boarding. It’s sad as hell but people just don’t care about other people. It’s the same thing when you have an emergency evacuation and people stop to grab their stuff because it’s more valuable than somebody else’s life.

  23. I have never been on a flight where I sitting more than 5 rows back from the front when I didn’t have plenty of time *after the door opened* to get up, get my bag, and join the line. Usually, I would have to wait for a moment.

  24. I have not flown in a year or two, since I retired, but I always did this. My ass and back were always killing me sitting in those crappy airplane seats, so I could not get out of them soon enough. Doesn’t matter if you are in forward cabin or the back of the bus, the seats suck!

  25. Here are your priorities, in order:

    1. The plane is a line, or queue. The rows in front of you clear before you clear, front to back, in order. Your ability to (neurotically, rudely) jump up 2-3 rows forward (MAX) is unbecoming and ill mannered.

    2. ALL women and children in your row have priority over you. Including those closer to the wings than you. You help with bags and step back a half step and let them clear first.

    3. Elderly next – same story.

    It’s unbelievable, but I *regularly* see able-bodied men push their way past women dealing with a heavy bag, sometimes with children, with not even an attempt to be helpful. Decent people don’t behave like this. People with manners don’t behave like this.

  26. Why do I do this? Because I usually fly in an aisle seat and I want to stand up ASAP so I don’t have someone’s rear end in my face. There was a gassing incident 20+ years ago that I never quite got over. If the people around me don’t also stand up, as long as the person next to me hasn’t already crawled into my seat, I sit back down.

  27. For those sitting in aisle seats it’s the race to get into the aisle before the guy on the other side of the aisle gets out there. Obviously you’re more entitled and deserving than the other guy to get to stretch out first, And the thirty seconds it would cost if other guy got there first is a very big deal.

    Just admit it, It’s more comfortable standing and you are obviously the special one, so the pesky little requests don’t matter. And others don’t mind your rear end in their face. It’s only you.

  28. For all the Type A people who just HAVE to get off in a hurry, book (and pay for) an aisle seat at the front of the plane.

    When my partner and I travel we DO NOT have carry-on baggage other than a small bag which goes under the seat. We are ready to go as soon as the light goes off with no digging in the overhead. Half the time our baggage beats us to the carousel.

    If airlines wanted people off (and on) in a hurry, they would make checked baggage free and charge for carry-on. By charging for checked baggage they created a big carry-on baggage problem for themselves which can delay departures or turn-arounds.

  29. Count me in the unbuckle population once you’re clearly off the active runway and moving at taxi speed … and I’m rarely in a hurry to get off, often not even joining the scrum in the aisle.

    But unbuckling is just a small personal control thing, after being barked at with redundant instructions for hours and hours. Sometimes I think the sub-airline (AA-Eagle, etc) crews must think they get paid by the word, as they in particular seem never to shut up.

    I did get into it with an FA on USAir when I unbuckled – she somehow picked up on it and jumped on the PA and yelled at me – then when I ignored her, came down the aisle and started to berate me – to the extent that others seated nearby jumped in an pointed out she was now the one standing in the aisle in a moving plane making an unnecessary fuss.

  30. I don’t know why she swallowed the fly…. LOL

    I was one a flight a long time ago where we were pulling up to the gate. A few idiots (IMO) unbuckled their belts and stood up and were starting to get their stuff out of the overhead bins when the pilot had to slam on the brakes and they went flying. Don’t think anyone was seriously hurt, but they deserved what they got, IMO. Pilot then came on the intercom and had to remind folks that they had not yet turned off the seatbelt signs. So I do not unbuckle until that’s done.

  31. I’m quite surprised nobody has mentioned gut overhang. From what I’ve felt and seen, gut overhang and related discomfort wearing seatbelts means they get unclicked as soon as possible.

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