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The scene last weekend: three cramped people trying to sleep in three bulkhead seats with those annoying immovable armrests and a whole lotta legroom in front. Why not curl up for a nap in all that wasted space?

Now some airlines (eg. Qantas) are quite strict about not allowing sleeping on the floor, while most quietly tolerate it, especially for kids and when the lights are turned down. But what's the rationale behind the ban, and is it universal? "Safety" was all I could get out the JAL flight attendant last weekend, but a quick Google search found only lots of idle speculation, not anything concrete like eg. FAA regulations.

Obviously there are no seatbelts etc on the floor, so it's not a great position to be in if there's turbulence. But you're allowed to walk around the plane after all, and I'm not aware of any airline that actually enforces wearing seatbelts when seated and the seatbelt sign is off.

Edit for clarity: Obviously you need to get up off the floor if the seatbelt sign goes off, during takeoff/landing, etc. But I'm still waiting for a non-speculative justification of why you can't lie on the floor when the plane is cruising along smoothly and passengers are allowed to wander about the rest of the plane.

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+1 Interesting question but there is some room between not being allowed to leave your seat and not having a seatbelt for extended period of times. Making sure people are seated most of the time and have a seatbelt at their disposal (even if wearing it is not actively enforced) could be a reasonable approach from a safety standpoint (and a trade-off between constraints and safety is unavoidable). – Relaxed Apr 22 '14 at 9:19
I am not sure I fully understand, but if you're in the corridor floor you are also in the way of other passengers if they need to go to the toilet or even just strecth their legs. – nsn Apr 22 '14 at 12:46
Not the corridor floor (you'd be run over by a cart in minutes!), but in the "leg" space in front of the seats, particularly in a bulkhead row where there are no seats in front. – jpatokal Apr 22 '14 at 12:47
When I'm on transatlantic flights at night the flight assistants usually ask me to buckle up if I'm going to sleep and have the seat belt in evidence on top of the blanket. (Aer Lingus, United Airlines) – Toni Toni Chopper Apr 22 '14 at 13:42
Qantas Flight 72. A malfunction caused a couple of unexpected pitch-downs at -0.8g and +0.2g. 115 people were injured. I prefer to keep my seatbelt on. :) – ntoskrnl Apr 22 '14 at 17:19

There is no clear explicit rule regarding sleeping next to bulkheads. Why are some airlines strict about it? the usual "safety" excuse is used here and I can assure you this time the safety excuse is legitimate. In addition to that, passengers are only allowed to sit in "passenger seats", they are not even allowed to sit on crew seats, so this can be used as a reason to prohibit people from sitting/sleeping in places that are not certified for passenger use, from FAR part 121.311:

  • (a) No person may operate an airplane unless there are available during the takeoff, en route flight, and landing --
    • (1) An approved seat or berth for each person on board the airplane who has reached his second birthday; and
    • (2) An approved safety belt for separate use by each person on board the airplane who has reached his second birthday...

In addition to the above, there are rules that prohibit storing luggage next to bulkheads, because things there will fly in case of severe turbulence due to the space. The same thing can happen to sleeping beauties there. If this were to happen it will not only harm the sleeping person, but also other passengers. Also, when you are laying on the floor there you are next to tons of metal objects (seat legs and so) they are not really sharp, but I can imagine a simple contact with these metal objects either by turbulence or by mistake will lead to injury.

Anyway, in the airlines I work for, this is tolerated. I guess why sleeping there is tolerated in some airlines and not in others is the culture of suing. In the US if something happened to a passenger he/she will surely sue the airline, while in other cultures things are not like that, hence why airlines tolerate or not regarding this and other things as well.

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+1 for culture of suing. In the manual for my microwave, no prohibition of drying cats there is mentioned ;) and +1 for safety. Why only the system allows only one upvote! :D – yo' Apr 22 '14 at 9:05
Otherwise +1, but I thought the main reason you're prohibited from storing things on the floor is because they'd be a hazard if you need to evacuate the airplane? – jpatokal Apr 22 '14 at 9:34
That's true as well, especially on evacuation routes such as next to emergency doors. Bulkheads are not always in these routes. – Heidel Ber Gensis Apr 22 '14 at 10:22
@jpatokal Even if the only reason was due to blocking the way during an evacuation, the same can be said of a person. That person needs to wake up, stand up, and be aware enough to either get out of the way or evacuate. In a chair, at least during that initial wake-up period they're out of the way. Still, safety would be the primary issue as you can be tossed around laying on the floor a lot more easily than sitting in a chair or even standing (where you can quickly brace yourself against a chair back or wall). – Doc Apr 22 '14 at 13:18
The rules say (a) airplanes must have an approved seat for each passenger, and (b) all passengers have to sit in those seats, with seatbelts fastened, during taxi/takeoff/landing. That's all. – jpatokal May 6 '14 at 5:00

I've had it specifically announced on a flight was that it was for safety reasons, including:

1) Blocking access to the bathrooms
2) Preventing drink carts from moving up and down
3) Safety risk in the event of turbulence

This was definitely on a flight in Asia, but I'm sure I've heard it on a Qantas one as well.

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I don't see how 1 and 2 would apply if the floor-sleeper stays out of the aisles. – jpatokal Apr 29 '14 at 3:37
Well 1) if you're blocking other people in your row and 2) all you need is your feet to accidentally stick out :/ But yeah, given they were just announcing no sleeping on the floor anywhere, that'd be why they were all included. Mainly it's for your safety. – Mark Mayo Apr 29 '14 at 4:11

I've done it, next to an emergency exit even. But my seat was such that half of it was blocked by the emergency slide, and after asking the cabin crew they said it was ok for me to sit on the floor instead except when the seatbelts sign was on. That seat was later removed from the seating plan btw, guess I wasn't the first or last to complain about it. In any other situation, I've never seen the need to not use a seat, except for a few minutes of stretching.

Safety is a concern, as said already. Obstructing the passage of other passengers is also a concern. If you're sitting on the floor, passengers need to climb over you to get to or through the aisle. And if in the aisle, you're hindering cabin crew trying to serve drinks and stuff too.

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"I've done it, next to an emergency exit even" what airline and in what decade was this? – Joe Blow Jun 7 '15 at 10:00
@JoeBlow that was KLM, ca. 2000. – jwenting Jun 8 '15 at 9:11
dude I fear it's a no go now, 15 yrs later. I mean in 2000 you could do things like, "check out late" from hotels and "get bumped by wearing a suit" you know :/ I mean you could drive as fast as you want in italy or france, and smoke, in 2000. the world's changed so much :/ – Joe Blow Jun 8 '15 at 9:32

It's a basic that in safety situations that you have to have order, and keep things ship-shape.

In life generally: "anything not explicitly forbidden is allowed". But that is very much NOT the case in safety situations:

In safety situations it's very much the case that "only things explicitly allowed, are allowed".

One could state any whacky suggestion of something that is "not explicitly ruled against" in flight (such as "I want to do a hand-stand!") - you can't do them.

In safety situations there's a blanket idea that "you can't do weird shit," as well there should be.

As a curiosity: some friends of mine let their kid sleep on the floor (in front of their seat as you describe) on a Swiss flight about 10? yrs ago. The staff were incredibly angry and it almost reached the point of alerting the authorities on arrival.

(I do not know if "sleeping on floor" is explicitly forbidden on Swiss. But why would it be, or why should it be? "Anything unusual" is forbidden in safety situations.)

So the simple answer to your question is "you must keep order" in such a dangerous situation as a flight.

Here's an interesting example: If you literally just move around an awful lot during a flight - constantly walking up and down each aisle - you'll be told to cease and sit down.

If I was on a flight where the cabin staff were allowing people to sleep on the floor between aisles, I'd get someone important and try to have the situation corrected.

If you literally want someone to list the dangers of sleeping on the floor as an exercise...

(*) Obviously you need to, generally, stay seated during the whole flight so that if you need to go to an emergency position, you're as close as possible to that situation.

(Note that this is precisely why they tell you ......... to stay seated during the whole flight!)

It would be madness if, when the captain declares seat-belts-on, or even an emergency, the staff had to run around and find everyone sleeping on the floor and have them get up and sit in their seats!

(*) In case of sudden turbulence, being seated properly (even with no belt) is spectacularly better than being laying down sleeping on the floor.

(*) Note that indeed, if you are laying down there, your face is inches from a whole lot of sharp steelwork, bolts etc.

Indeed, simply, laying on the floor between airlines seats (I mean, when the plane is parked at the aircraft factory) is just not sensible or safe - it's not somewhere body parts are meant to be.

(*) Further to point (i), if you had ten people asleep as you describe and there was an emergency, 8 of them would get tangled (clothes or body parts) on all the stuff down there in rushing to come awake and get back to a seat.

In general ..

(*) The reason they say "remain seated for the whole flight" is obvious! its the safest if sudden turbulence, and, the quickest to get to strapped-in if there's an emergency

(*) It's just an outright bad/rather crazy place to be (get scratched, caught, your hand flops out in the aisle while snoring, scalding liquids tipped on you, etc etc etc)

I hope this answers your fun hypothetical-like question!

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I've seen people standing at the rear of the plane for substantial parts of long-distance flights. Just because the question seems 'ridiculous' to you, doesn't mean the answer is obvious to everyone. – drat Jun 26 '15 at 1:58
Why would anyone downvote this excellent answer? +1, especially for you can't do weird shit,. – Owen Boyle Aug 31 '15 at 12:42
Hey Owen -- I tidied up the answer as it was poorly written, too many caps etc. – Joe Blow Feb 2 at 0:18

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