Airline Emergency Exit Row Seats: What You Need to Know

Air transportation
Sarun Laowong / Getty Images

With airlines reducing seat pitch, seat size, and the ability to recline in economy, trying to get comfortable on a long-haul flight seems nearly impossible.

Exit row seats can provide you with much-needed relief thanks to the (usually) much more generous legroom, particularly on long-range aircraft. Smaller turboprops and regional jets tend to have a bit more room.

In exchange for the added comfort, there are a few rules you have to follow. First, you must listen to a flight attendant as he or she explains how to operate the exit door in case of an emergency; this instructional procedure will take place right before takeoff. Since the odds of a plane actually crashing are low, you will likely enjoy the benefits of all that legroom without the added responsibilities. You also must be physically capable, willing to perform emergency actions when seated in emergency or exit rows, and you must be 15 years old.

Keep in mind that when you book an exit row seat, there is always the slight possibility that you will not have extra legroom. On larger narrow-body and wide-body jets, your seat might not recline, especially if there is a second exit row behind yours. It is also likely that you will be located near the lavatory, with limited window views. All that to say, you might get extra room, but you may be no more comfortable than if you were sitting a few rows back. If you have long legs or like to stretch out, though, the promise of extra space might be worth the risk.

How to Book an Exit Row Seat

When airlines started charging fees for everything from baggage to ticket changes (and added economy-plus seats at the front of the plane, right behind business class), many saw the chance to earn some extra cash for that highly-craved legroom. So it goes without saying that you can expect to pay more when you book an exit row seat.

When you book with Delta Air Line, for example, you will need to purchase a Delta Comfort+ or Preferred Seating fare in order to reserve an exit row seat. With JetBlue, you can reserve an Even More Space seat in the exit row for an additional fee, which is tacked onto the price of any ticket.

If you have elite status, you're in luck, as most airlines allow elite flyers to reserve an exit row seat at no additional cost. Delta gives elite flyers a complimentary upgrade to Delta Comfort+ and Preferred seating. Flying American Airlines? AAdvantage Platinum, Platinum Pro, Executive Platinum, Oneworld Sapphire, and Emerald members can reserve a Main Cabin Extra seat when they book their tickets.

TripSavvy / Emily Roberts

What Passengers May Be Barred From Being Seated in an Emergency Exit Row?

Although not all airlines restrict the booking of exit row seating, be forewarned: If you or someone you are traveling with falls under the restrictions placed on the emergency exit rows, you or your fellow traveler will be reseated. The inflight crew will not ignore safety procedures, which certainly does include whether a passenger should or should not be seated in the exit row.

Make sure that you do not fall under the following restrictions when you secure a seat in order to avoid the disappointment or frustration of being reseated. You will be relocated if you are:

  • A child under the age of 12 years old (occasionally 15 years old)
  • An unaccompanied minor
  • An infant
  • A passenger with any physical or mental limitations that may affect your ability to perform the functions required to remove the door and/or clear the path in the case of an emergency
  • A passenger traveling with a pet or service animal
  • A passenger who does not feel comfortable with the idea of performing the necessary duties in the case of an emergency
  • A passenger who does not speak any of the languages used by the crew on board (this is because passengers in the exit row need to be able to understand safety instructions in the case of an emergency)
  • A passenger who has requested additional assistance from the airline, whether it be assistance to or from the aircraft, additional assistance on board, etc.