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Why do Airplane Seats Have to be Upright for Takeoff and Landing?

Amy Pollick
Updated May 23, 2024
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Most airline regulations have a safety purpose behind them. Safety is the reason airplane seats must be upright for takeoff and landing.

A primary purpose for upright airplane seats is ease of egress, or exiting, from the plane. In a non-emergency situation, deplaning would be a much longer and more inconvenient process if passengers had to nearly climb over seat backs in order to get to the aisles of the aircraft. The economy classes in most aircraft have an average seat pitch (the space between seats in a row) of about 31 inches (78.7 centimeters). This is a tight fit with upright seats. It is easy to imagine how small the space becomes when a seat back intrudes into the already narrow area.

In emergency situations, clear access to the aircraft aisles is imperative. Passengers must be able to reach the emergency exits as quickly as possible. Since most aircraft emergencies occur during takeoff or landing, having the airplane seats up at this time is crucial. It also allows passengers to assume the "crash position" if necessary.

Another reason for upright airplane seats is that the seats can become weapons in a crash, or even in a hard landing. A reclined seat back could kill or seriously injure the passenger behind, if it should come unbolted, or if the passenger behind it is thrown forward. So, upright airplane seats are necessary.

Most aircraft are airborne in just a few seconds after beginning the takeoff roll. Final approach usually takes only a few minutes. It is not a great inconvenience to have one's seat upright for those few minutes of the flight. When passengers consider safety of the other passengers first, and their own comfort second, they will not complain about the upright airplane seats rule. They will understand it helps contribute to the safety of all on board the aircraft.

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Amy Pollick
By Amy Pollick , Former Writer
Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at WiseTour. With experience in various roles and numerous articles under her belt, she crafts compelling content that informs and engages readers across various platforms on topics of all levels of complexity.

Discussion Comments

By anon1000774 — On Dec 24, 2018

We flew across the Atlantic in Delta comfort class on a 767. There are 2 seats on the outside, two aisles, and 3 seats in the middle. The last row in the middle is in front of a structure that has a couple in flight toilets - there is no one seated behind them. When a flight attendant asked a customer in this row to put his seat back up, I wondered why this was necessary. Your explanation indicates it is not necessary. In fact it would probably be easier for people in that row to assume a crash position with their seat back reclined.

By Pippinwhite — On Feb 13, 2014

@Rotergirl: Prostate surgery? Do people have no sense of propriety anymore? Good grief.

You know, I don't even really care why they need the seats upright. I don't fly a plane so I don't understand all the whys and wherefores. I figure it's not just to make me uncomfortable or to inconvenience me, that there must be something sensible behind it, and I think this article explains pretty well what those reasons are. Not like it takes that long to get off the ground or to land. It’s just people acting like spoiled brats.

They just need to grow up and act like adults for a change.

By Rotergirl — On Feb 13, 2014

@Pippinwhite: They act like that because apparently, they were never told "no" as children. That's the only conclusion I've been able to reach.

Same thing with cell phones. I was on a flight from Dallas and this guy had been yakking in the terminal about this friend's prostate surgery -- in full detail -- and you could hear him all over the seating area.

When he got on the plane, he was still running his yap and the flight attendant told him probably four times to get off the phone. She finally said, "Sir, I cannot close the door until you end your call."

He sighed and said, "Well, they're *making* me get off the phone now!" Everybody around him started clapping. It was hilarious.

By Pippinwhite — On Feb 12, 2014

I don't think anyone considers anybody anymore when they fly. Last time I flew, a passenger had a nasty confrontation with the flight attendant about putting his seat up for landing. If we hadn't already been airborne, she would probably have kicked him off the flight. He said he was comfortable and didn't "feel" like putting his seat up.

She was patient, I'll give her that. She told him that was the law and he had to do it. He called her a Nazi and she said she would report him to the air marshal at the airport. She also told him the pilot would circle in a holding pattern until he did it.

Finally, he put his seat up, whining like a three year old as he did. I don't know why adults insist on acting like the rules don't apply to them, or that they are somehow above the rules. Jeez.

Amy Pollick

Amy Pollick

Former Writer

Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at WiseTour. With...
Learn more
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