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The other day, I was on a KLM Boeing 737. I had just sat down in my seat, and the captain was making announcement. He said something along the lines of,

As we are refuelling at this moment, please take your seat quickly, leaving your seat belt open, and follow any instructions by the cabin crew immediately

This suggests to me that refuelling whilst boarding is not normal, as I've never heard this before, and it sounds like they want us to be ready to evacuate if something goes wrong with the refuelling.

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Refueling with passengers onboard is quite normal and is done according to the recommendations of regulatory bodies/manufacturers and operators. Refueling with some fuel types are not permitted, while others are. From Airbus Flight Operations Briefing notes:

Refueling with wide cut gasoline type fuel (JET B, JP4 or equivalent) or when a mixture with these types of fuel might occur, is not permitted with passengers boarding, on board or disembarking.

Refueling with Kerosene (JET A, JET A1 JP8, TS1, RT, TH or equivalent, as approved by the approved Aircraft Flight Manual), is allowed when passengers are boarding, on board, or disembarking.

Some precautions are required to be followed in case refueling is done with passengers on board. The announcement you heard is simply following that. From Appendix 1 to JAR-OPS 1.305 Refuelling/defuelling with passengers embarking, on board or disembarking:

(a) An operator must establish operational procedures for e/defuelling with passengers embarking, on board or disembarking o ensure the following precautions are taken:

(1) One qualified person must remain at a specified location during fuelling operations with passengers n board. This qualified person must be capable of handling emergency procedures concerning fire protection and fire-fighting, handling communications and initiating and directing an evacuation;

(2) A two-way communication shall be established and shall remain available by the aeroplane’s inter-communication system or other suitable means between the ground crew supervising the refuelling and the qualified personnel on board the aeroplane;

(3) Crew, staff and passengers must be warned that re/defuelling will take place;

(4) Fasten eat Belts’ signs must be off;

(5) ‘NO SMOKING’ signs must be on, together with interior lighting to enable emergency exits to be identified;

(6) Passengers must be instructed to unfasten their seat belts and refrain from smoking;

(7) Sufficient qualified personnel must e on board and be prepared for an immediate emergency evacuation;

(8) If the presence of fuel vapour is detected inside the aeroplane, or any other hazard arises during re/defuelling, fuelling must be stopped immediately;

(9) The ground area beneath the exits intended or emergency evacuation and slide deployment areas must be kept clear; and

(10) Provision is made for a safe and rapid evacuation.

You're right about the announcement and leaving seat belt open- it is to help in quick evacuation. The flight crew is just following the procedure.

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    $\begingroup$ Some airlines also require passengers to keep their shoes on. $\endgroup$ – Miša Peić Sep 2 '16 at 18:03
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    $\begingroup$ It's very common on Ryanair flights. Any time the plane spends on the ground is a cost, and anything that reduces this will reduce the airlines costs. $\endgroup$ – Michael Shaw Sep 4 '16 at 22:05
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Typical terminal operations prefer fueling to start once passengers are off the plane, and to be finished before the boarding of the new passengers.

However if time constraints forced your situation, there are procedures to follow:


The ramp agent must ensure that:

  • The flight crew, cabin crew and engineer are at their stations
  • The area beneath exits intended for emergency evacuation is kept clear
  • The fire service is alerted
  • Passenger boarding / disembarkation is achieved in a controlled manner.

The flight crew must:

  • Establish communication with the ground engineer
  • Inform the cabin crew of the beginning and ending of refueling
  • Listen for fire warning from the engineer
  • Be prepared to initiate passenger evacuation if necessary.

The ground engineer must:

  • Establish communications with the flight crew
  • Inform the flight crew of the beginning and ending of refueling
  • Notify flight crew, if a fire occurs
  • If an emergency evacuation is required, indicate (to the flight crew) the exits that are clear of obstruction. The flight crew must then inform the cabin crew
  • Stop refueling upon flight crew request.

The cabin crew must:

  • Establish communication with the flight crew
  • Inform passengers not to smoke (the "NO SMOKING" sign must be on)
  • Inform passengers to unfasten their seat belts (THE "FASTEN SEAT BELT" sign must be off)
  • Ensure that emergency exits remain clear of obstruction
  • Ensure that the "EXIT" sign is on
  • Ensure that ground servicing (e.g. catering or cleaning) cannot create a hazard, or delay an emergency evacuation.

Souce: Refueling with Passengers On Board

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    $\begingroup$ For clarity, the NO SMOKING and FASTEN SEAT BELTS signs are controlled by the flight crew. The cabin crew enforces it. $\endgroup$ – Quentin H Sep 27 '18 at 10:27
  • $\begingroup$ ...there are times when the NO SMOKING signs aren't on? $\endgroup$ – Sean Sep 21 at 0:28
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    $\begingroup$ @Sean Depends on the country. In most countries nowadays, no, there is no time where smoking is allowed. Indeed, many newer aircraft cabin interiors have replaced the no smoking lighted signs with fixed placards. $\endgroup$ – reirab Nov 13 at 17:08

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