The dos and don’ts of the coveted exit row seat

Sunday September 10 2017

Seats at the exit row have more legroom since

Seats at the exit row have more legroom since the seats in front of them cannot be reclined. Passengers on these seats receive special briefings on emergency regulations. FOTOSEARCH 

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For the fourth time in the past couple of months, I have been politely and voluntarily asked by a cabin crew to take an exit row seat. Does it have anything to do with height, body build or IQ? Maybe an upgrade of some sort?”

This is a question from Ray, an avid reader of this column and a frequent flyer.

His reaction was amusing to say the least. He enjoyed the attention from the cabin crew, and of course the leg room was a plus.

The attention also excited him and he thought being moved to the exit row seat was an upgrade of sorts. In his conclusion, his frequency of flying could have led to the continuous “upgrade” — not that he needed it —  but he was certainly excited at the attention.

My source of amusement was not with his question in general, nor with his stature as he is just above five feet tall, of lean build (I am not competent to comment on his IQ) – but it was with his assumption that an exit row seat “upgrade” had to do entirely with physiological factors.

In any aircraft layout, the exit row may be aligned to or close to the emergency exit, which is either over-wing or a full door exit, hence the reference emergency exit row.

The perception held by many passengers, and rightfully so, is that seats on this row offer an elevated level of comfort for the economy class traveller owing to increased legroom. They forget the responsibility bit.

The fact that there is no annoying reclining seat in front “eating into your personal space” is another plus for many passengers who would usually seek a seat on the emergency row either at booking or check-in.

The attention accorded to the exit row seats in amplified by several airlines that pre-assign these seats to their frequent flyers during the booking process.

For other airlines, these seats are sold at a premium price owing to the extra legroom available.

Hence when travellers like Ray assume that they have been “upgraded” when asked to occupy an emergency exit row seat, they are not far off in their suppositions.

But as if giving with one hand and taking away with the other, seldom do the emergency exit row seats recline, a fact that passengers on long haul flights may not find very attractive.

The reality, however, is that the occupation of a seat on the emergency exit rows is determined by very strict guidelines and safety provisions above all else.

You will be forgiven to have assumed that the little tête-à-tête the cabin crew have with passengers occupying exit row seats just before takeoff is a discussion around what meals will be served during the flight.

Usually after boarding and during the final preparation before take-off, cabin crew can be seen speaking to passengers on the emergency exit; a process used to “recruit” the passenger to be a “safety officer” in the event of an emergency.

Briefing during this process will include things the passenger must be in a position to do in case the cabin crew is incapacitated during an emergency.

According to most airlines’ standard regulations for exits row seats, a passenger occupying this seat must:

- Be 15 years of age or older.

- Have the capacity to perform the applicable functions without the assistance of an adult companion, parent, or other relative.

- Have the ability to read and understand instructions related to emergency evacuation provided by the airline in printed or graphic form.

- Have the ability to understand oral crew commands.

- Have sufficient visual capacity to perform applicable functions without the assistance of visual aids beyond contact lenses or eyeglasses.

- Have sufficient aural capacity to hear and understand instructions shouted by crew without assistance beyond a hearing aid.

- Have the ability to adequately impart information orally in English or any other and recommended language to other passengers.

A passenger seated in an exit seat must not:

- Have preboarded.
- Use a portable oxygen concentrator.

- Require a seat belt extension to fasten his or her seat belt.

- Have a condition or responsibilities, such as caring for small children or pets, that might prevent them from performing the applicable functions.

- Have a condition that could cause the person harm if he or she performs one or more of the applicable functions.

Michael Otieno an aviation consultant based in Nairobi. Twitter: @mosafariz
E-mail: [email protected]