The Real Reason You Have to Stow Your Tray Table Before Takeoff and Landing

Airplane seat food tray table
Photo: Jodi Jacobson/Getty Images

While it may not always seem that way, everything that happens on an airplane is done with safety in mind — even stowing your tray table before takeoff and landing.

For the same reason travelers are asked to put their seats in an upright position and open their window shades, secured tray tables may save your life in the event of an emergency.

“It’s actually an FAA regulation that all tray tables must be moved to the upright position before movement on the tarmac,” Morgan Johnston, JetBlue’s corporate communications manager, told Travel + Leisure.

This bylaw — officially known as Part 121 — is the same one that dictates that passenger food and beverage trays, serving carts, and (if applicable) movie screens, must be stowed and secured before takeoff.

“Basically, [tray tables are] to be up for takeoff and landing so that [they] won’t block you from evacuating in the event of an emergency,” former flight attendant Kelly Kincaid told T+L.

Takeoff and landing are the most critical phases of a flight. According to a 2014 study conducted by Boeing, more than 60 percent of all fatal accidents occur during the final approach and landing.

If you need to get off a plane — and fast — you don’t want to be impeded by a barrier of tray tables.

And because travelers have to stow or toss items when securing their tray tables, Kincaid added, there are fewer objects — like cellphones, laptops or food and drink — that could become dangerous projectiles.

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