I was on a recent flight with a fuel emergency, during which the passengers were required to take precautionary measures. Under what circumstances are the precautionary measures mentioned below required?

The plane was diverted to a small regional airport apparently unequipped to service the Airbus we were flying in. Though the fuel truck had arrived at the plane and cones had been placed around the aircraft, we waited quite some time for the fire brigade to arrive before the fuel could be pumped. During this time and during the refueling operation, all the doors were opened (in the rain) and the passengers were required to be in our seats with no electronic equipment. Additionally, seatbelts were required to be unbelted.

The fuel emergency occurred while we were circled the Atlantic for 45 minutes waiting for the weather to clear up at Miami International Airport. When the alternate airport shut down as well (Fort Lauderdale International Airport) we were diverted to a small airport in West Palm Beach. From what I was told by a crew member after we had landed, we did not have enough fuel reserve to safely make it to Orlando.

Myself and other pasengers were under the impression that the in-the-seats-with-no-belts restriction is standard for refueling with passengers on board, but in the comments of another question I discovered that this is not the case. What are some likely reasons that these precautions were taken?

The incident occurred on 2014-05-15 on Iberia 6123 leaving Madrid at 11:50 with a scheduled arrival at Miami at 15:20. I'm pretty sure the plane was an A330 but it might have been an A320.

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    $\begingroup$ found the flight on flight aware: flightradar24.com/data/flights/ib6123/#35633f6 $\endgroup$ – ratchet freak Jul 7 '14 at 9:08
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you! I see that the WPB airport that we landed at is listed as "International", surely they would be equipped to handle an A330? Note also that there was an additional flight from WPB to MIA that I don't see mentioned there. $\endgroup$ – dotancohen Jul 7 '14 at 9:22
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    $\begingroup$ I'm the one who originally commented that these requirements seemed odd. From the answer below and poking around Google, it does seem that this is at least a not-unheard-of requirement. However, I could swear that I've been on board several airliners and witnessed pressure refueling in progress out the window and didn't have any special instructions or precautions taken by the cabin crew. Weird! $\endgroup$ – TypeIA Jul 7 '14 at 20:02
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    $\begingroup$ @dotancohen, A320 is a narrow-body with a MTOW about 200t, A330 is a wide-body with a MTOW about 500t.... not very similar. $\endgroup$ – David Jul 9 '14 at 5:28
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    $\begingroup$ It was in fact an A330. There is something telling about my priorities when the cockpit was more memorable than the seating arrangement! $\endgroup$ – dotancohen Sep 11 '17 at 12:04

Doc 965, CAT.OP.MPA.195(b), regarding Refuelling/defuelling with passengers embarking, on board or disembarking, says:

For all other types of fuel, necessary precautions shall be taken and the aircraft shall be properly manned by qualified personnel ready to initiate and direct an evacuation of the aircraft by the most practical and expeditious means available.

So no-belts restriction is one of the elements that ensures "expeditious evacuation". The same goes for keeping the doors open and keeping the passengers in their seats.

Although the legal requirement is not that specific, probably the detailed procedure (with all the elements you described and others that were not visible for the passengers) can be found in the company Operations' Manual.

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    $\begingroup$ The seat belts undone make sense, but I don't see it for the door. Unless all of them had stairs, closed and armed so the slides would deploy on opening them sound better to me. Or does A330 allow easy deploying of the slides from open door? $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Jul 14 '14 at 21:06
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    $\begingroup$ I can't say for sure if the doors have stairs during such a procedure but that would seem to be the easiest way to ensure evacuation. The only time I saw this happening I was a passenger, and we were boarding a 777 during refuelling, so the stairs were obviously there :). I will find out more from people actually flying commercial planes and return here with the information $\endgroup$ – Emil Jul 15 '14 at 5:33
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    $\begingroup$ All door? I would expect one open door with airstairs and the remaining door closed with slides armed. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Jul 15 '14 at 6:23
  • $\begingroup$ (A320 has 4 doors and A330 seems to have 8) $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Jul 15 '14 at 6:33
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    $\begingroup$ @JanHudec: You were right. Not only it doesn't make sense to keep all doors open, it might actually be against the procedures. In most companies the doors on the refuelling side should be closed. On the other side any combination of open with stairs/closed and slides armed is ok (again, depending on the company) $\endgroup$ – Emil Jul 15 '14 at 16:04

Every operator has their own procedures, precautions, and "the way they do things." Sometimes these may differ based on who is doing the refueling -- the airline's own personnel or contractors, as opposed to somebody who is less of a "known quantity".

What is described above sounds very different from what generally happens when US airlines refuel. To the extent that you want to have emergency evacuation capability in case something goes wrong during the fueling, keeping doors that aren't connected to a jetbridge or airstairs open is UTTERLY counterintuitive. The door OPEN means you can't deploy the slide quickly. Closed with the slide armed is generally preferred, IF you don't have a jetway/airstairs connected to facilitate evacuation. With routine refueling between flights, US carriers typically consider the jetbridge by itself adequate, and the doors aren't armed. (This is to avert the risk of a catering truck pulling up to an armed door -- opening a door & getting a face full of evacuation slide is a bad day for everybody involved!)

The "seatbelts off" instruction seems pretty gratuitous as well -- the time it takes to release a seatbelt is inconsequential compared to the time it takes a bunch of people to exit an airplane -- even with great urgency.

But, every operator has "the way they do things."

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you Ralph. It did not even occur to me that the slide could not be activated without reclosing the door and then arming it. Perhaps the doors were open for ventilation, with the engines shut down? $\endgroup$ – dotancohen Mar 19 '15 at 7:40

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