On a recent Budapest-Amsterdam flight on KLM, the flight crew announced that passengers must sit in their designated seats for weight and balance reasons. I have flown for many years worldwide and had never heard that request on a jet flight of a commercial airline.
KLM says it’s not a new policy. It’s done at the captain’s discretion during “special circumstances,” says Gerrie Brand, the airline’s spokeswoman.
“The captain calculates weight and balance for takeoff,” she explains. “If occupancy is low, passengers tend to want to change seats, but that could change the weight distribution and balance for takeoff. If that is the case, we ask people to stay in their seats.”
A single passenger switching seats is not a problem, Brand says. “But, if you allow a passenger to sit in another seat, and the passenger takes hand baggage, you cannot refuse other passengers. Hence, all passengers are asked to sit in their assigned seats. Once the plane is in the air, it is possible to sit in other seats.”
Brand says it’s also not a safety concern if a few passengers move from an aisle seat to a window seat or from one side to another in the aircraft cabin. It can be a concern, however, “if a lot of people move rows from the front to the back or the other way around,” she says.
Last month, according to the New York Post newspaper, a shift in weight and balance during deplaning at a gate at New York’s JFK Airport caused a JetBlue Airbus A321 aircraft to tip backward with its nose off the ground and its tail on the ground. No passengers on the flight from Bridgetown, Barbados, were injured, a JetBlue spokesman said.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration’s Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, compliance with an aircraft’s weight and balance limits is critical to flight safety.
“Operating above the maximum weight limitation compromises the structural integrity of an aircraft and adversely affects its performance,” the handbook says. “Operation with the center of gravity outside the approved limits results in control difficulty.”