Airlines which allocate seats often make announcements prior to landing to request passengers return to their allocated seats. What is the motivation for this requirement, especially since I have never seen the requirement rigorously enforced by the crew (by requesting sight of the boarding pass).
The requirement is not simply a polite way of requesting standing passengers return to their seats – for two reasons:
- Crews are typically explicit in their language when giving directions, such as requiring standing passengers be seated. It is clear from the phraseology and emphasis given in the announcements that returning to the allocated seat is a critical component of the request.
- On a recent long-haul flight, a couple seated in my row were offered to relocate to vacant seats in an exit row for the duration of the flight, provided they returned to the allocated seats for landing. (They were not, at the time, standing.) Furthermore, in the event, only one member of the couple returned; the other remained in the non-allocated seats (an example of non-enforcement).
Some possible motivating factors I have considered:
- Weight distribution – ensuring the flight envelope of the aircraft is not exceeded during critical phases of flight. However, I have encountered this situation on wide-body jets on long-haul flights (e.g. A346, A388), where a handful of passengers, of nominal mass, being situated elsewhere in the plane does not seem cause for concern.
Collection of personal effects – if passengers relocate after takeoff, they may leave personal belongings at their original seat, unwittingly or not. A requirement to return to the original seat may:
- trigger passengers to locate & take with them items left/forgotten at their original seat, reducing the cost of the airline returning these to passengers later.
improve the efficiency of disembarking by avoiding passengers who need to move against the flow to collect belongings elsewhere in the aircraft.
However, I have encountered this after long-haul flights with tens of hours of turnaround time on the ground, so eliminating a few minutes from the disembarking time of some passengers does not seem a high priority (and, in any event, the effect of reducing the overall exit time would be in the noise and difficult to quantify).
- Limitation of privilege (hence, revenue protection) – passengers in a higher cabin tier may benefit from certain privileges upon landing, such as the possibility to disembark the aircraft more quickly. However, crew are normally hot on ensuring passengers do not self-upgrade to a higher cabin, so this would not seem to apply.
- Emergency preparedness – for example, ensuring there is a sufficient cabin crew to passenger ratio in all areas of the aircraft to meet emergency / evacuation requirements. Such ratios may be upset in the event passengers relocate far from their original seat. (If so, why is this not an issue when in the cruise?)
- Passenger identification – air crash investigators often use seating manifests to identify remains of deceased passengers, so this requirement could be to ease any future investigation in the event of an incident on landing. (Similarly, what about the rare likelihood of an emergency which rapidly develops while in the cruise, without opportunity for passengers to relocate?)
None of these reasons seem to entirely justify the requirement for this routine request or its existence across all manner of aircraft types.
- What benefit do airlines or the wider industry gain from this requirement?
- Why is it not rigorously enforced by crews?
- How do airlines which do not allocate seats to passengers satisfy the same requirement when there is no published seating manifest in advance of passengers entering the aircraft, or why are they exempt from such requirements?