Aviation: Passengers sitting on the floor

January 16, 2019

The UK national press recently got rather excitable over three passengers who apparently were required to sit on the floor of an aircraft because the seats they were allocated on a flight were not installed.  The story in the Daily Mail goes like this:

 

A family arrived early at Mahon Airport for a flight to Birmingham and were allocated seats 41D, 41E and 41F in the last row of a Boeing 757.   Upon boarding they found the seats were missing and instead there was an empty space against the rear bulkhead.  As an alternative to offloading the passengers, the crew offered the last remaining seat in the cabin to the family’s 10 year old child while the two adults were accommodated on fold-down jumpseats often used by cabin crew as the 757 has more jumpseats than are needed by the staff.  After takeoff the area around the jumpseats was needed for the trolleys used for inflight food and beverage service, so the passengers were asked to move. They sat on the floor along with their child.  Prior to landing, the travellers reoccupied the jumpseats.

 

Operational necessity

There are reasons why situations like this arise very occasionally.  Usually they result from a set of three seats being damaged or being faulty.  If there are no spares at the airport, the need to keep flights running dictates the aircraft departs with fewer seats than normal.   Furthermore, some airlines operate similar aircraft with varying seat capacities to cater to different markets, but may have to juggle their fleet when breakdowns occur.  When operational changes are necessary an airline will do its best to ensure disruption affects as few customers as possible and only very rarely does the removal of three seats cause a problem for passengers.   And when it does, an airline will usually do its upmost to ensure customers are accommodated in the the least disruptive manner possible: often that involves swapping them to another flight and offering delay compensation. 

 

TUI Airways Boeing 757s typically have 221 seats.  (Tony Hisgett)

 

In this case it seems that TUI Airways staff elected to offer three passengers the one empty passenger seat and two jump seats - probably as a means of getting them home expeditiously.  The alternatively would likely have involved rebooking and accommodating the family in a hotel in the interim period.  Its possible the airline gave its customers a choice.  It's likely to have been done with the best intentions - staff would believe they were doing the passengers a favour by enabling them to return home as planned.

 

Legalities

The rules covering commercial aviation are laid down by the European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA) and every airline in the EU has to comply with them.  Many firms also apply more stringent guidelines in their operations manuals, which also have to be complied with once approved by the authorities.  Reviewing the EASA regulations, it is apparent that TUI Airways complied with the law and that claims the airline fell short of its legal obligations are a little misguided. 

  • Everyone on board an aircraft has to be seated whenever the seatbelts signs are illuminated.
    EASA regulation: Before take-off land landing, and during taxiing, and whenever deemed necessary in the interests of safety, the commander shall be satisfied that each passenger on board occupies a seat or a berth with his/her safety restraint properly secured.
    The crew jumpseats meet this requirement.

     

  • Everyone on board has to be seated during an emergency.
    EASA regulation: The operator shall establish procedures to ensure that passengers are seated where, in the event that an emergency evacuation is required, they are able to assist and not hinder the evacuation.
    Just like passengers occupying seats adjacent to overwing exits, those occupying crew jumpseats meet this requirement.

     

  • Everyone on board an aircraft has to have access to supplementary oxygen while seated.
    EASA regulation: Pressurised aeroplanes operated at pressure altitudes above 25,00ft shall be equipped with... an oxygen dispensing unit connected to oxygen supply terminals immediately available to each cabin crew member, additional crew member and occupants of passengers seats, whenever seated.
    Again the crew jumpsets meet this requirement.

     

  • There is no requirement for passengers to remain seated for the entire duration of a flight.  There is no prohibition of passengers sitting on the floor of an aircraft  - except when they are required to be in seats (as above) - although few airlines are overly keen on it as it usually obstructs crew and passengers moving in the cabin to access the galleys and the toilets.
     

  • Had there been a necessity for passengers to use seatbelts during the cruise the cabin service would have ceased, the trolleys blocking the jumpseats would have been stowed, and passengers who elected to use the floor would have been able to return to sit down and strap in.
     

  • Although the passengers elected to sit together on the floor for part of the flight, there are other spare jumpseats on TUI Airways Boeing 757s that would not be obstructed by trolleys that the passengers could have occupied for the cruise portion of the flight. 
     

  • Aircrew jumpseats in the cabin are never sold to revenue passengers to increase the number of travellers that can be accommodated.  Most airlines permit off- and on-duty staff to occupy jumpseats, whether travelling for business or leisure.  Some - but not all - airlines' safety manuals do not allow revenue passengers to occupy jumpseats in any circumstances. 

Some carriers allow fold down jumpseats (left) 

to be used by to passengers when operational
issues dictate. 
Christopher Doyle) 

 

Badly handled

 

As a former airline employee, The Aviation Oracle has travelled on crew jumpseats on many occasions, both as an occupational necessity and as a means of getting home from a holiday on a full flight.  Jumpseats are not particularly comfortable, nor are they really designed for long periods of sitting.  They are usually in dingy service areas near exits.  However, they are entirely safe.

 

 

 

 

 

A TUI Airways Boeing 757 lands at the end of another holiday flight.  (Alan Wilson)  

Revenue passengers have a right to expect a certain level of service, comfort and convenience.  They should never be required to sit in a jumpseat, and indeed no airline sells them to customers.  Very occasionally though, operational necessity dictates jumpseats might be offered to regular passengers despite them not being ideal.

 

Beyond trying to get their customers away on time though, TUI appears to have handled the situation rather badly.  As well as being flown home, those passengers should have been offered a full refund immediately as recompense for the inconvenience and discomfort they were subjected to.  It seems this didn't happen and following a complaint, £30 per head was initially forthcoming.  Further stonewalling followed and only when a BBC television program got involved did the customers receive a full refund on the cost of their holiday and free flights in the future.

 

No one's safety was risked.  Jumpseats have been used for years.  Nevertheless the staff involved are likely to be called to answer for their actions.  Travel on jumpseats might be banned in future.  And next time someone is depending being allocated one to get home, non might be available.

 

Text © The Aviation Oracle

 

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