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Normally on commercial flights, passengers are expected to bring their seats to an upright position for take off and landing. There are a few valid reasons for this.

A little while ago, on a couple flights in Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic the pre-flight announcement stated that their seats are certified for take off and landing in any state of recline. I didn't think of it much at the time (other than, "oh, ok then"), but now thinking back I don't think I've ever encountered this on any other airline.

So my question is two-fold. First, what kind of certification was the announcement referring to? And, second, are there any other airlines that have this "feature"?

Update on response to a comment. The seat belt in that case was a standard lap belt. The seats themselves were positioned somewhat diagonally facing partially forward and were almost like bucket seats in the upright position.

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    $\begingroup$ Would it still not be safer to have the seats upright? Surely the lap belt cannot work as well if the seat is not upright? $\endgroup$ – quiet flyer Jun 28 at 15:39
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    $\begingroup$ A three-point shoulder harness allows this, see: Why did my business class seat have a three point shoulder harness? $\endgroup$ – ymb1 Jun 28 at 15:40
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    $\begingroup$ @quietflyer Absolutely, totally agree with you. I'm just curious as to what they were referring to. $\endgroup$ – Aleks G Jun 28 at 15:42
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    $\begingroup$ @ymb1 Good point indeed. $\endgroup$ – Aleks G Jun 28 at 15:42
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    $\begingroup$ Seat pitch also factors into it. With the ever shrinking seat pitch in economy, a reclined seat back is a hazard to the person behind. With the pitch in some business class seats, it's not an issue. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Jun 28 at 15:53
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In normal cabin seats, the reason not to recline them for takeoff & landing is so the reclined seat won't impede egress for passengers in the row behind yours. If the seats in question on VA wouldn't do that (ample space between rows, perhaps), then the usual driver for requiring seats to be fully upright is gone.

Presumably whatever "certification" they referred to considered the ability to get out of one's own seat in case of an evacuation.

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    $\begingroup$ Usually international business class seats (not just on VA, but on nearly all airlines) don't recline into the space of the seat behind them these days. $\endgroup$ – reirab Jun 28 at 18:51
  • $\begingroup$ @reirab Yeah, which then raises the question why everybody else doesn't make the same allowance as VA. Other than different seats & certifications, the answer there may be that it's preferred to say "all seats upright..." than to spell out who can & who can't. Keeping the announcements simple, and such. $\endgroup$ – Ralph J Jun 28 at 18:57
  • $\begingroup$ For U.S. carriers, the reason is that regs don't allow it (see 121.311(e) in my answer). I suspect the reason it's not allowed in a lot of cases is what I describe at the end of my answer. $\endgroup$ – reirab Jun 28 at 18:58
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For the first part of the question, the answer will vary by jurisdiction. Generally, the carrier's flag country's regulations will be the ones that apply.

In the case of U.S. carriers, there is no certification that would allow this on a scheduled passenger airline, per 14 CFR 121.311(e):

Except as provided in paragraphs (e)(1) through (e)(3) of this section, no certificate holder may take off or land an airplane unless each passenger seat back is in the upright position. Each passenger shall comply with instructions given by a crewmember in compliance with this paragraph.

(e)(1) - (e)(3) don't exclude business-class (or any class) seating from this requirement.

Presumably, EASA and/or the UK's CAA have regulations that allow seats to be certified to take off and/or land with seat positions other than upright if such position would not impede evacuation in the event of an emergency.


For the second part of the question, Air New Zealand is another example where this is allowed in business class. With the 1-2-1 seat configuration, a reclined seat in business class is not impeding the evacuation of any other passenger. For example, in this Air New Zealand 777 pre-flight safety video, they say:

We ask that you place your tray table back, your leg rest down, and ensure your seat back is upright, unless you're in Business Premier, where you choose your own seat back position.

As for my personal opinion, if I were writing the regs, I wouldn't allow this. Lying down is simply not a good position to be in if the plane were to skid off the runway or something else happened where you needed to evacuate quickly. And most business class seats (at least all of the ones I've ridden in) are reclined by electric motors, which would not be able to reliably bring them back to the upright position in the event of an emergency, which would make it a bit more difficult for the passenger to evacuate. Most reasonably healthy people could still get out, but would be a bit slower in doing so. Less healthy people, especially the elderly and/or disabled might not be able to get out at all from the reclined position without help.

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