By US federal law (or maybe regulation? not sure which) it is not allowed to use the bathroom or get out your seat while the seatbelt sign is lit.

Thank god, it has never happened to me, but what if there is a diarrhea emergency when the seatbelt sign is lit? Assume that the flight attendant tells me to "get back in my seat" if I rise to try to use the bathroom. In that situation should I just crap in the seat? My guess is that the neighboring passengers will not like flying for the next 6 hours smelling my diarrhea, and I certainly will not like sitting in my own diarrhea for 6 hours.

Note that this can be a concern especially when the plane is stuck on the taxiway. Sometimes, while waiting to takeoff, the plane can be stuck on the taxiway for 30 minutes or more.

The problem may also affect parents who are traveling with children.

  • First of all, no passenger is to move around in the cabin when the seatbelt sign is on. Second of all, if the gate manager notices that you are unwell, he/she will not let you board the plane without a 'fit to fly certificate'.
    – user59683
    Apr 27, 2017 at 19:55
  • It will not be 6 hours without cleaning up, although you might not be able to clean better than with toilet paper (but do keep clothing in your hand luggage if you may expect trouble.) The flight attendants will try to clean your seat as best as can be done with the cleaning materials on board.
    – Willeke
    Apr 27, 2017 at 20:16
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    Practical advice--if the flight attendants are strapped in getting up is probably a bad idea. Apr 27, 2017 at 21:04

5 Answers 5


From my personal experience - not diarrhoea, but a 2-year old child that got violently sick while the seatbelt sign was on. This was on a Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul to London.

As I said, my 2-year old son, sitting in a seat next to me, buckled up as required, became violently sick suddenly (turned out, he inhaled a sugar powder from a sweet that was part of the airline meal). It happened extremely quickly and covered everything, including all of him, all of me, all of the seat cushions (not leather seats, regular cloth), in-seat entertainment, floor under the seats, etc.

There was some turbulence and the seatbelt signs were on. Within seconds, two flight attendants were near me, they helped me get my son to the bathroom where I cleaned up as best I could - both him and myself, including changing the clothes (I am used to travelling with small children, always have change of clothes for them and myself) - and they cleaned up the seats, the floor, the in-seat entertainment system and everything else they needed; they even swapped/replaced the cushions on the seats. All the while, the seat belt signs were on and after we cleaned up and changed the clothes, we were simply standing in the aisle while the two flight attendants cleaned up. All in all, excellent customer service. As a side note, after the flight, I sent a thank-you to the airline, mentioning the two flight attendants by names.

But, to the point, nobody really minded that the seat belt sign was on and the plane was shaking rather more than usual.

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    You don't even need to have already made a mess. I headed for the bathroom with the sign on when morning sickness hit me had on an early morning flight. An attendant partly stood as though to stop me, then looking at my face, visibly changed her mind. I did my vomiting and cleaning up, then went back to my seat. No issues. Apr 27, 2017 at 23:04
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    I would take Kate's approach. If the crew doesn't "visibly change her mind" I would make it clear that the won't like the results of making me expel whatever in the main cabin.
    – WGroleau
    Apr 28, 2017 at 0:47
  • @WGroleau Absolutely. Although I would probably put it more mildly by simply saying what the issue is. Afterall, the crew's job among other things includes ensuring safe and comfortable travel for the passengers. The results of the emergency in the cabin are very likely to make the travel rather less than comfortable (and possible less than safe) for the passengers.
    – Aleks G
    Apr 28, 2017 at 9:48

I actually did ask a flight attendant about it. In general, if the turbulence is not too bad, they will just let it go, especially if you let them know you are in distress. Passengers are adults that, to some extent, can take their own risks.

Next is a verbal reminder that starts mild and can be quite forceful, which is gauged by the potential risk to the passengers or others. I've seen a guy jumping out of his seat and opening the overhead bin right after touch down while we were still barreling down the runway. The FA literally wrestled the guy back into his seat.

Technically it's also not allowed to congregate near the bathrooms, but they don't even try to enforce that. Given the sparsity of bathrooms and seat-belt free time slots, you have to line up on most flights.

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    The rule against congregating is, to my knowledge, exclusively an American one.
    – Calchas
    Apr 27, 2017 at 22:20
  • I thought the rule about congregating near bathrooms was just because there might not be enough oxygen masks in that area for more than a certain number of people.
    – user253751
    Apr 28, 2017 at 1:12
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    @immibis the rule was instituted in the US after September 2001. It's an antiterrorist measure. European airlines I've flown with preface the announcement with "US law requires us to make this announcement" and then they proceed not to enforce the rule.
    – phoog
    Apr 28, 2017 at 2:04
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    @phoog Figures. I've never flown to or in the US, but I have been on flights where they cautioned against it due to the lack of oxygen masks.
    – user253751
    Apr 28, 2017 at 4:13
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    I deleted the claim of travelling at 350mph on the runway: take-off and landing speeds are around 150mph. Apr 28, 2017 at 8:05

Going to the bathroom while the plane is taxiing or about to land can be a problem. The crew is generally required to ensure that the cabin is secure, and passengers out of their seats could significantly delay the flight. For example, a passenger on Delta was just removed from a flight after his bathroom trip caused the plane to miss its takeoff slot. If there's a serious emergency and it really can't wait, at least tell a flight attendant what is happening, and be aware that it's possible that you might not be flying today as a result.

Going during the cruise portion of flight while the seatbelt sign is on is less of an issue, and is really quite common. You are assuming a potentially greater risk of injury in case the aircraft experiences more significant turbulence. One thing to watch for is whether the cabin crew has been instructed to take their seats too; that's a good sign that potentially more dangerous bumps are on the way and you should stay seated.

If your running down the aisle could be interpreted as a security threat, heading to the rear of the airplane instead of toward the cockpit might avoid a misunderstanding.

I realize such situations are not always controllable, especially with chronic medical conditions, but if you think you might find yourself having this problem, you might want to secure suitable stomach medication before your flight; many airports have a drug store or sell over-the-counter drugs elsewhere. This could help avoid the need for an emergency right around takeoff or landing, when there is the greatest risk of a problem, or at least let you put it off for a few minutes until it's safer for you to get up.

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    On the other hand even without medical conditions some of these treatments need to be used with care; with medical conditions they could be a really bad idea. If you think an ongoing medical condition mught be relevant, ask your expert. Apr 28, 2017 at 8:13

In my experience in many cases of US travel, flight attendants have reasonable flexibility when it comes to obeying the seat belt sign. That said, they will try to avoid this situation by keeping you informed about expected turbulence and relief, putting the sign on in advance when possible (so their flexibility about you getting up isn't a big deal, as you'd deal with your issue and then be seated ASAP before you really need to be in your seat and buckled in), and not forcing you to be seated during delays on the taxiway.

Related to user59683's note: if you are not well then you should let the flight attendants know and take proper preparations/precautions, which I imagine could mean not flying at that time in some cases.

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    take proper preparations/precautions, which I imagine could mean not flying at that time in some cases. What if the diarrhoea started after or is caused by something you ate while onboard?
    – Aleks G
    Apr 27, 2017 at 20:35
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    Communicating is key something like this happened to me and even while we were waiting for taxi and everyone was told obviously to sit and buckle up they let me because they knew we will not be taxiing for a while. They wouldn't have let me if I didn't tell the FA immediately upon boarding what's up.
    – chx
    Apr 27, 2017 at 22:42

This absolutely happened to me on a JetBlue flight in 2015 while sitting on the tarmac waiting for a gate. I had to go pretty bad and held it as long as I could. I got up, the flight attendants were visibly distressed telling me to get back in my seat. I just flat out told them that, hey, I can't wait, and didn't bother arguing and just went into the bathroom.

Turns out I waited too long and actually suffered some slight bladder damage, but other than that I wasn't reprimanded by the crew.

I think the actual answer is it depends on the circumstances and the crew.

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