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On commercial flights, we're frequently told that all passengers are

"required to comply with lighted signs and placards, and all crew member instructions".

But when it comes to the CFRs, the closest I can find is 14 CFR 121.571

(a) Each certificate holder operating a passenger-carrying airplane shall insure that all passengers are orally briefed by the appropriate crewmember as follows:
  (1) Before each takeoff, on each of the following:
    (i)Smoking. Each passenger shall be briefed [...] This briefing shall include a statement that the Federal Aviation Regulations require passenger compliance with the lighted passenger information signs, posted placards, areas designated for safety purposes as no smoking areas, and crewmember instructions with regard to these items.
    (iii) The use of safety belts, [...] This briefing shall include a statement that the Federal Aviation Regulations require passenger compliance with lighted passenger information signs and crewmember instructions concerning the use of safety belts.

These rules seem to say passengers only have to follow instructions regarding Smoking, and Seatbelts.

Is there some specific, Federal Rule1, other than catch-all 91.3, that requires general compliance with all instructions?

What if I want to leave my tray table down? Or keep my electronics on? Or put my feet in the aisle?


1Not a contract of carriage with the airline

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    $\begingroup$ If you want to avoid being removed from the aircraft, yes, you need to do what they’re telling you to do. The FAA & the airport police can sort out what you’ll be charged with (“interfering with flight crew” is usefully broad), but no Captain I know would hesitate to return to the gate to deplane a passenger who wasn’t following the FA’s instructions. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Mar 16, 2018 at 21:33
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    $\begingroup$ I think the answers for the old question do not sufficiently answer both, so I would prefer to keep the question open. $\endgroup$ Mar 16, 2018 at 22:52
  • $\begingroup$ You may or may mot be told that on commercial flights, but there is no requirement to include that in the oral breifing. $\endgroup$
    – J W
    Mar 17, 2018 at 20:51
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    $\begingroup$ The Southwest standard safety briefing says "Federal Aviation Regulations require Passenger compliance with the lighted Passenger information signs, posted placards, and Crew member instructions including information on seat belts and smoking" which seems like a nod to these regulations. quizlet.com/36754761/pas-for-swa-flash-cards $\endgroup$ Mar 18, 2018 at 4:32
  • $\begingroup$ There are also rules under §121.589 Carry-on baggage which includes (e) Each passenger must comply with instructions given by crewmembers regarding compliance with paragraphs (a), (b), (c), (d), and (g) of this section. Airlines also have OpSpecs that they are required to comply with. If you refuse to do or stop doing something that prevents the crew from complying with the OpSpec that could be construed as interference under §121.580 Prohibition on interference with crewmembers. $\endgroup$
    – Gerry
    Dec 13, 2019 at 17:34

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I found an overview from a lawyer on what "interfering" actually means. The short version is that there's no regulation or law that says "you must obey all instructions". Instead, they say "you must not interfere" and that's interpreted very broadly.

She based the article on one regulation and one law:

14 CFR 121.580 (see also 91.11 and 135.120)

No person may assault, threaten, intimidate, or interfere with a crewmember in the performance of the crewmember's duties aboard an aircraft being operated under this part.

49 USC 46504

An individual on an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States who, by assaulting or intimidating a flight crew member or flight attendant of the aircraft, interferes with the performance of the duties of the member or attendant or lessens the ability of the member or attendant to perform those duties, or attempts or conspires to do such an act, shall be fined under title 18, imprisoned for not more than 20 years, or both. However, if a dangerous weapon is used in assaulting or intimidating the member or attendant, the individual shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life.

The lawyer's analysis is that not following an instruction would be a violation of the regulations (civil penalty). If you go further and physically interfere with a crewmember that would be assault (criminal penalty).

When it comes to instructions specifically, she says that "interference" can be interpreted very broadly (emphasis mine):

Almost any offensive or disruptive behavior that distracts the crew can be considered interference, such as:

[...]

  • disobeying repeated requests to sit down, return to your seat, or turn off an electronic device

Her basic advice is to follow all instructions if possible and never touch a crewmember:

Any time you disobey a crewmember’s instructions, you run the risk of violating federal law. But civil penalties and criminal prosecutions usually result only when passengers repeatedly ignore, argue with, or disobey flight attendants; or when they act out in a way that is dangerous.

You can see the FAA's enforcement statistics on this, by the way. Interestingly, it seems that the number of cases fell sharply in 2005 and trended down since then until 2020 (with some above-average years), but has since sharply increased, likely due to violations of mask mandates.

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For U.S. Air Carriers FAR Part 121 requires passenger compliance with specific instructions as specified in subparagraph (k) shown in the excerpt below: (here is a link to the entire regulation shown below)

§121.317 Passenger information requirements, smoking prohibitions, and additional seat belt requirements.

(emphasis is mine)

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ I think this repeats what I said, but from a different section. (k) requires compliance with (f)(seatbelts), (g)(h)(i)(smoking). But doesn't say anything about general compliance with all crew member instructions. $\endgroup$
    – abelenky
    Mar 16, 2018 at 21:29
  • $\begingroup$ @abelenky - note that it's not "(i)" it's "(l)" $\endgroup$
    – user22445
    Mar 16, 2018 at 21:33
  • $\begingroup$ Okay, its L. But L is still about seatbelts. $\endgroup$
    – abelenky
    Mar 16, 2018 at 21:39
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    $\begingroup$ @abelenky - no argument there. It may see like a nuance, but the actual rule compelling passengers to "comply" with certain crewmember instructions is shown in 121.317. 121.571 compels the Air Carrier to "brief" passengers on the requirements to follow crewmember instructions. So, should a passenger not comply, then 121.317 (the appropriate subparagraph) would be violated (by the passenger). $\endgroup$
    – user22445
    Mar 16, 2018 at 21:46
  • $\begingroup$ §121.571 referenced in the question merely requires crew to brief passengers, but provides no regulations directly applying to passengers. §121.317 is that regulation that applies directly to passengers, and to which §121.571 refers. While this answer doesn't provide a complete answer, it does provide the most specific information available. $\endgroup$
    – J W
    Mar 17, 2018 at 20:50
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According to FAR/CFR

§ 121.577 Stowage of food, beverage, and passenger service equipment during airplane movement on the surface, takeoff, and landing.

(a) No certificate holder may move an airplane on the surface, take off, or land when any food, beverage, or tableware furnished by the certificate holder is located at any passenger seat.

(b) No certificate holder may move an airplane on the surface, take off, or land unless each food and beverage tray and seat back tray table is secured in its stowed position.

(c) No certificate holder may permit an airplane to move on the surface, take off, or land unless each passenger serving cart is secured in its stowed position.

(d) No certificate holder may permit an airplane to move on the surface, take off, or land unless each movie screen that extends into an aisle is stowed.

(e) Each passenger shall comply with instructions given by a crewmember with regard to compliance with this section.

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Title 49 U.S. Code Section 46504 states that interference with the duties of flight crew members and attendants can result in a fine and up to 20 years in prison. This means anything that interferes, including refusal to stow a carry on, non compliance with safety briefing instructions, refusal to be seated when the seat belt sign is on, any disruptive behavior. Nothing like this is tolerated and Will result in removal from the aircraft by the crew, customer service or armed airport security.

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    $\begingroup$ Hi and welcome. The text says "by assaulting or intimidating", not say, politely refusing. $\endgroup$
    – user14897
    Dec 13, 2019 at 16:34
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To inject a little bit of realism here - sure, if a flight attendant tells you to stop wearing the color brown, you're absolutely in the right to politely refuse (although you might want to be sure of their reason for telling you that before you do). However, when a flight attendant gives you an instruction, it's almost always going to be safety-related; for example, stowing the tray tables for takeoff and landing is required to facilitate an evacuation if one is required. Keeping your seatbelt fastened during taxi not only keeps you safe, but keeps you from turning into a human projectile if the pilot has to stop suddenly (at low speeds, aircraft brakes are able to bring the aircraft to a stop almost instantaneously). So as a practical matter, you should comply simply because it's in your best interest. As a legal matter, FAR 91.11 also applies in almost every instance. The FAA requires an air carrier to follow certain rules (for example, tray tables up for takeoff and landing.) The flight attendant's duty in this situation is to ensure tray tables are up. If you're refusing, then you're interfering with their performance of that duty. I think the problem in interpretation arises from people simply not knowing why a crewmember is asking them to do something. In typical American fashion, it doesn't matter if a passenger knows nothing about aviation, if the answer isn't completely apparent, then it must be a conspiracy.

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    $\begingroup$ Further to this, 91.107(3) requires the passenger wear of seatbelts throughout surface movement, takeoff, and landing. So the flight attendant is reminding you to do something you are legally required to do. $\endgroup$
    – Max R
    Aug 19, 2022 at 15:00

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