Home Travel Less Familiar Reasons Why You May Be Ineligible For An Exit Row

Less Familiar Reasons Why You May Be Ineligible For An Exit Row

by SharonKurheg

For most people, if you’re not sitting in first or business class, seats in the exit rows can be some of the most desirable ones on the plane. You don’t have to worry about pitch (the person in front of you can’t recline their seat) and you have legroom for days. Airlines became savvy to this several years ago and now charge a premium for sitting in one of those seats.

Of course, sitting in an exit row is more than just legroom; you also have an important job to do. If you’ve ever sat in the exit row, you’ve gotten the spiel from the flight attendant; they’re from the FAA. You probably know a lot of them by heart. You have to be at least 15 years old, able to lift and move the (upwards of 50 pound) emergency door, be able to see, hear, understand and speak English, have sufficient mobility, strength and dexterity in both arms, hands and legs to assist in an evacuation, etc. (with all that responsibility, it sounds like THEY should pay US to sit there, huh?)

But there are a few qualifications the flight attendants don’t necessarily mention, and they’re situations that are everyday, normal things.

  • A condition (such as a mental health issue) or responsibilities (such as caring for small children – maybe they’re in a different row, with your partner), that might prevent you from performing one or more of the applicable functions
  • If you’re pregnant, you may not be able to sit in an exit row (some sites say it’s an FAA rule [I don’t see it in their regs], some say it’s because of the lifting qualifications)
  • If you need a seatbelt extender, you can’t sit in the exit row

Now, that last one is interesting. One of the members in our Facebook group sent me what she recently experienced on an Iberia flight to the metropolitan New York area:

I was in the exit row and asked for a seat belt extender. I can totally use the standard belt but since this was going to be a long international flight, I wanted the comfort. I was given one and then the flight attendant returned and told me that I wasn’t able to sit in the exit row if I needed one. I guess because I’m a bit heavier I can’t do the job? She offered me another seat, but I said “I paid extra for this seat,” and said nicely that I intended to stay in my seat. When she insisted that I couldn’t sit there with the extender, I handed it back to her and clicked my regular seat belt. “Problem” solved. Did I weigh any less? No. I just was a bit uncomfortable but now all of a sudden faith in my emergency landing skills was restored? Please.

Our reader initially took the incident as “fat-shaming.” But since she was allowed to sit there without the seatbelt extender, I suspected the reasoning was more than just her size. So I did some research.

It turns out if you have a seatbelt extender, the concern is that the extra 12″ to 25″ of seatbelt (here are the airlines’ current regulations for passengers of size, seatbelt extenders, etc.) will be a potential tripping/entanglement hazard in the event of an emergency. Which yeah, makes sense.

The airlines, of course, mention the rules ahead of time. When you make a reservation and request an exit row, this is an example (in this case, it’s Delta) of what you have to agree to before buying that add-on:

Screen Shot 2020-02-26 at 4.15.23 PM.png

However, there are a couple of unfortunate issues about this:

  • If you don’t fly often, or have never flown that particular airline/plane/class before, how do you know if you’re going to need a seat belt extender?
  • Of course, you should always read all of the fine print but when the first 4 or 5 qualifications are the ones the flight attendants always go over, you might gloss over the end. In the above case, I would say the bottom 3 should actually be at the top of the list.
  • Once you’ve bought your ticket with your exit row upgrade, you never receive any other documentation/reminder about the qualifications to sit in the exit row. So if you buy your ticket 11 months ahead of time and wind up gaining 100 pounds in that time frame, or you get pregnant, you might be in for an unpleasant surprise when you get onto the plane.

So yeah – if you want to upgrade to an exit row, just make sure you note, meet – and continue to note and meet – all of the qualifications.

*** Many thanks to our reader for sharing her story with us
*** Feature photo (cropped): Andrew Currie/flickr

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boilers February 29, 2020 - 6:48 am

In my opinion, the first one should be being able to lift 31+ lbs easily and quickly. I highly doubt many individuals sitting in exit rows can.

DaninMCI October 23, 2021 - 9:08 pm

I’ve always felt that non-rev airline flight crew employees should be placed in those seats on purpose as they should be the most qualified to open the exit door in an emergency.

askmrlee (@askmrlee) October 23, 2021 - 9:51 pm

But non-revs are probably the last to qualify for those seats since they are NON-REV and the airline wants REV for those seats.

Pmv October 23, 2021 - 9:36 pm

Having removed more than one over wing hatch I cam attest to the weight and bulk. And hope that everyone who asks for an exit row takes the responsibility seriously and isn’t JUST looking for the legroom.

Jeff brock October 23, 2021 - 10:11 pm

I’ve seen people insist on exit row seating and get it, while on crutches. On the other hand, I was once booted from the exit row because the FA noticed my children were in the row behind me. I asked why and was told that, in an emergency, I would prioritize them over the other passengers and that wouldn’t be “fair”.

askmrlee (@askmrlee) October 24, 2021 - 6:44 pm

I couldn’t find this story in the FB group. On Iberia do you need to understand Spanish or is English OK to sit in the emergency exit row? Copa Air requires that you understand Spanish.

SharonKurheg October 24, 2021 - 6:47 pm

I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to that. I’m sure if you called Iberia’s customer service number, they would be able to help you. Good luck!


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