When the away team prepares to beam down, they invariably assume the transporter formation: standing upright, usually with arms slack aside, all facing the camera. When they beam down, they reappear in the same formation and poses, as that's how the transporter works.

However, they do this even when it makes little sense, such as when beaming into uncertain, hostile environments (where they usually proceed to draw phasers and look around in a defensive circle. Sometimes it gets more silly - on a few occasions, they prep their phasers, holster them, beam down, and immediately draw phasers again.

We know that the transporter works with any formation or pose; people and objects have been beamed lying down, holding large objects, holding each other in emergencies. But routine transportation always involves everyone standing facing the same direction.

Why do they do this? Is it somehow related to how the transporter works? Or is it purely for out-of-universe reasons?

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    Just speculating but it may be because if they beam down to a planet with their arms drawn, they will immediately look like aggressors to anyone that they meet, which may cause conflict that they could have avoided.
    – Discant
    Commented Aug 26, 2014 at 8:48
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    Why do people face the same direction in an elevator?
    – Damon
    Commented Aug 26, 2014 at 13:25
  • 64
    @damon because that is the direction they will walk out of the elevator when it arrives at their floor. When you are beaming onto the surface of a planet, there is no such concern. Commented Aug 26, 2014 at 13:32
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    Out of universe. They are actors. They even have a term---upstaged---for being forced to turn your back to the to the audience/camera and that is bad. Commented Aug 26, 2014 at 17:27
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    @BolucPapuccuoglu Damon has a point. When standing on the transporter platform (or in a turbolift), why would you choose to face a blank wall?
    – chharvey
    Commented Aug 27, 2014 at 1:46

13 Answers 13


The short answer is that it seems to be standard policy for Starfleet personnel to transport with both hands free, facing the front of the transporter. There are a few instances in Enterprise, Voyager and TNG where the crew beam into hostile situations with their phasers drawn or standing in a circle (or both) but these are very much the exception rather than the rule.

                      TNG : Legacy                                             TOS: Day of the Dove
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As to why they keep their weapons drawn (and their hands inside the circle), the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - Technical Manual seems to suggest that it's a question of transport efficiency for a person to keep their whole self directly above the transport pad.

... transport platform. Performance is somewhat degraded if the unit must target the subject off-platform, especially in widely separated areas of the station. The most efficient transports occur between platforms of like design, and even between platforms of dissimilar design, as in a beam-out from the ops platform to one aboard the Defiant. Since all transports involving living entities are zero fault-tolerant, degraded system performance is related only to a decreased amount of mass delivered per unit time. Transports employing lower resolution scans of nonbiologics may tolerate nanometer-scale voids and 0.001 percent molecular recombination errors.


Out of universe, having made a few basic films, I would imagine that the neutral pose would have allowed for them to make the transition from one location to the other more convincing and believable to the viewer. I also think they probably reused transporter effects, so having a similar pose each time would have allowed them to save money.

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    Very good, as far as out-of-universe answers go. Hands at their sides will certainly be easier to match up at the destination than person A lifting their right arm 7 degrees above the horizontal plane... if they were doing poses on the platforms I believe it would not have been 5 minutes after the episode aired that nitpickers would post if Riker's arm dropped by three-quarters of an inch during transport, which couldn't happen.... and then others would counterargue that due to the slightly higher gravity that drop happened after arrival yet too fast for the viewer to see it, but was natural.
    – BMWurm
    Commented Aug 26, 2014 at 12:32
  • Like when Worf was on the Borg vessel trying to rescue Picard in Best of Both Worlds part 1 - he was hurt, reeling from a blast from a force field, but stood up straight and tall before being beamed back. Why risk exposing himself further?
    – corsiKa
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 23:38

I can't remember ever hearing an "official" explanation, but I could imagine several possibilities in-universe:

  1. Maybe a "standard pose" made it easier on the system, sort of like reading stock phrases to help a voice-to-text system today. More complex poses might have led to longer transporter "render" times, higher chance of transport error, or some other problem. (This could also be a holdover from the early days of transporter use, rather than still being a problem.)

  2. It allows the transported people to arrive in a non-threatening manner, to avoid seeming aggressive to anyone who might see them appear.

  3. It's the position that keeps their "options open" the best. If you're transporting into a hostile environment, will you want to be holding your weapon or will you need your hands free? Will you be able to use your equipment openly, or will you need to hide it? Will you be on unstable ground? Will you be facing the right way? Best not to commit to any one thing; just arrive with your hand on your holster and your feet planted solidly, ready to react to whatever you find.

Obviously those are just conjecture, but they do match up pretty well with the way things have played out in various episodes at different times.

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    I like the "holdover" possibility. You have no idea how many things even in our own time are "holdovers" from earlier times. For option 3, I would think standing in a (semi)circle would be best, if possible, as everyone would be facing a different way, ready to react to anything, but I suppose facing the same way may be less threatening, for example.
    – trysis
    Commented Aug 26, 2014 at 13:57
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    Sounds right. Since you're randomly appearing somewhere, being in a standard "we just used a transporter" pose is the analog of knocking on a door to announce peaceable arrival instead of blowing a horn on someone's porch.
    – djechlin
    Commented Aug 26, 2014 at 21:11
  • (I know this is old...) "Will you be facing the right way?" It's entirely possible that the entire away party could be facing a wall upon arrival. If everyone is facing out, at least someone will be facing the "right" way. Seems to be more logical.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Oct 6, 2020 at 16:03

This probably has more to do with the limitations of the primitive special effects used in the original series more than anything else. I'm sure having the actors stand as still as possible with their arms tightly pressed against their bodies was preferred stance for post processing. This probably continued on even as the technology improved because it was just what everyone was used to doing. I found some evidence to support this below:

"To create the effect, Anderson set up a slow motion camera, inverted on its axis, and pointed at a dark production stage. He then back lit the focal plane and sifted aluminum powder down through the frame creating a sort of sparkling snow effect. This footage was then later, using an analog masking and post processing technique, layered over the outline of the actors.

If you’ve ever wondered why the transporter seems to freeze the people in place before beaming them down, it’s because composting (sic, compositing) the image over a moving actor was simply too time consuming. Freeze framing them allowed the film crew to use only a single mask in order to create the effect."
HowtoGeek Website

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    It's an error in your source, but obviously "compositing" is intended instead of "composting". Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 23:42

I think the most logical reason is that's the direction where you're looking at the operator and other people in the room before you leave, to receive last-minute instructions and intelligence, and to give the "energize" order.

As far as why they check their phasers only to immediately holster them, I don't have a reference, but I seem to remember it being mentioned as a safety regulation. Having a phaser accidentally discharge mid-transport would be bad. It's not worth the risk unless you know you are likely to come immediately under fire.

  • 1
    Indeed. I seem to recall an episode where they beamed into a hot zone, weapons out, facing out in a ring formation. Commented Aug 26, 2014 at 18:35
  • @BrianKnoblauch - See my answer above. Possibly you're thinking of TNG: Legacy
    – Valorum
    Commented Aug 26, 2014 at 18:39
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    This is by far the simplest and most logical explanation. I mean - picture yourself doing it: you stand up on the transporter deck and ... what... face the wall? No, you face the person who has your destiny in their hands... Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 9:25

I would guess that there is a politeness factor. You want to look at the dude operating the transporter and not show the guy your butt. Also, it's probably an unspoken social convention, like always facing forward in an elevator.

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    Does "always facing forward in an elevator" actually happen all that often in real life? I know it almost exclusively from movies, and it doesn't seem to reflect what mostly happens in real elevators. Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 8:41
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    @O.R.Mapper I've seen a TV documentary recently, where they planted an elevator with two people assuming unusual positions (facing the "wrong" direction) and then people entering after them mostly tended to face the same direction; sometimes you could even see in their faces how weird they thought this was - but they did it anyway. This behaviour should be more or less "genetic", but it may also be a culture thing. Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 11:59
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    @HagenvonEitzen: I agree this may be very strongly influenced by the respective culture. Here in North-Western Europe, I find it quite an alien thought that people would invariably look towards the door in elevators, everyone algining themselves to the walls seems much more natural and space-efficient to me and also seems to occur more frequently in my personal impression, somewhat like the images I linked to in my comments on the question. Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 12:18

In addition to the good answers here about assuming 'the position' for transport, there's also the annular confinement beam to consider.

It doesn't come up very often, but the annular confinement beam is basically the thing that keeps the matter in the matter stream going to the right place at the right time. It's also implied that it sort of 'holds' an object within the transporter beam, so that they don't just hurp-durp off the transporter pad during the beaming process. While there have certainly been larger objects beamed off the pad, it's often implied that the ACB is roughly the size of a transporter pad. We can probably safely say that it is adaptive to the size of the objects in transport, but that they operate on the assumption that the object is going to hold. very. still.

When Roga Danar shoves the blue transporter fairies out of the way during The Hunted, the ka-blooey is the result of the annular confinement beam malfunctioning. When the transporter malfunctions and turns two folks into screaming psychedelic special effects during Star Trek: The Motion Picture, that's the annular confinement beam not doing what it's supposed to do.

So it's kind of one of those things that, even though transporter technology is hands-down the safest way to travel in Star Trek, it's really fine with everyone if you just maybe don't test it. I like to think that one of Yeoman Rand's original job duties was to coach people on where to stand during the beaming process. "Please keep your arms and legs inside the matter stream at all times. Thanks for beaming with us today. Buh-bye. Buh-bye. Buh-bye now."

  • How exactly does this relate to the direction people face? Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 9:33
  • Because the ACB is one of those things you don't want to dink around with even though theoretically it should be safe - so everyone 'follows procedure' and faces forward.
    – Stick
    Commented Sep 2, 2014 at 13:09
  • Yes, sorry for nitpicking this point but ... the ACB is round. Why does it make it safer to face any particular direction? Commented Sep 2, 2014 at 22:19

If you could imagine yourself in the place of a transporter traveller, I should think you'd turn to face out toward the operator, or at least face toward the center of the room. I think that's what I would do, not because I've seen it countless times in Trek episodes/movies, but because it's what we as humans would do instinctively. Of course there is out-of-universe justification - assuming a pose and orientation most easily reproduced on the destination set, but I think there is a valid in-universe explanation rooted as much in human behaviour as practicality (giving attention to the transporter operator).

It's been played with to mild comic effect within the show, as when Lwaxana materializes on the Enterprise-D's transporter pad facing the chamber wall, with her back to everyone in the room (and the camera). Presumably, this is a result of inexperience with transporter travel.

The "weapons drawn, defensive circle" scenario seems pretty obvious. The weapons checked/set but holstered could be justified by the often repeated statement: they are armed for defensive purposes only. Materializing somewhere with weapons drawn would seem to be an overtly hostile stance, not consistent with Federation values and Starfleet policies (unless they know they are beaming into a hazardous/hostile/tactical situation).


When the crew is being beamed down, there are many unknowns about what the conditions are on the planet where they are being transported to. They probably wouldn't be able to know which direction to face as they are being beamed down, let alone know whether or not to have a Tricorder, Phaser, etc. in their hands unless they know exactly what is going on at the time.

The transporter operator and/or the ship's computer would most likely be able to tell which direction is optimal and translate their rotation in relation to their surroundings. Since the computer is dematerializing them and rematerializing them in a far away place, then why couldn't it figure out which way the crew should be facing since it is also advanced enough to make sure they aren't being beamed into the side of a mountain, underwater, in lava, etc.?

If the computer/operator was the one which controlled the exact position of the crew, then the direction they were facing in the ship would be irrelevant. Therefore, there would be no reason why they wouldn't be facing forward when they are being transported off-world.


In or out of universe, it would be awkward and weird to step on the pad facing the back of the room, and then look over your shoulder to ask the operator to please energize.

Beaming up facing away is likewise awkward, and could also be momentarily alarming if you're unfamiliar with being beamed: you would at first glance appear to be in a very confined space.

Instead, starfleet would want visitors' first view of the ship to be a nice open room with a (hopefully) pleasant face to greet you. Presumably, the system can rotate you to face the right away. When Lwaxana was beamed up facing backwards, the system may have been confused by the fact that she chose to kneel for that one.


The transporter is filmed from the controller's position. If people didn't face it, You would get lots of scenes with Dazzling Disappearing Derrieres.


There is one possible answer missing:

I think it's better for the operator to see if something might go wrong with the persons he is going to beam. So he'd be able to interrupt the beam process.

This is easier/better to observe when seeing them face-to-face.


I agree that facing forward was more effective. It allowed them to show readiness and also see what was going on on the planet's surface...though I've always thought that 4 plus travelwrs should look different ways so as to guard from any direction. I have noticed though that the shoes seem to dematerialize after the rest of the body. I wonder how and why that is.

  • 2
    Not an actual answer; this is more of an "I agree" comment, with additional questions raised.
    – Möoz
    Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 21:17

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