In the past, before airlines began charging fees for some seat selections, travelers looking for some extra legroom could book the exit row seat. In exchange for that extra room, you had to listen to a flight attendant explain how to operate the exit row door in case of emergency. Knowing the odds of a plane actually crashing, it seemed like a pretty good deal.
But when airlines started charging fees for everything from baggage to ticket changes, many saw the chance to earn some money for that extra legroom, along with adding economy-plus seats at the front of the plane behind first/business class.
There are rules to sitting in the row outside of listening to the flight attendant's instructions. You must be physically capable and willing to perform emergency actions when seated in emergency or exit rows, and you must be 15 years of age or older.
The biggest benefit of being seated in the emergency exit row is that the legroom is usually more generous, particularly on long-range aircraft. Smaller turboprops and regional jets tend to have a bit more room. But beware when booking these seats on larger narrowbody and widebody jets—you may get extra room, but your seat will not recline, which could affect your comfort on a longer flight.
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/they will be reseated. The inflight crew will not ignore safety procedures, which certainly does include whether a passenger should or shouldn't be seated in the exit row.
So what passengers may be barred from being seated in an emergency exit row?
- Children under 12 (sometimes up to 15) years old
- Unaccompanied minors
- Passengers with any physical or mental limitations that may affect a passenger's ability to perform the functions required to remove the door and/or clear the path in the case of an emergency
- Passengers traveling with a pet or service animal
- Passengers who do not feel comfortable with the idea of performing the necessary duties in the case of an emergency
- Passengers who do not speak any of the languages used by the crew on board (passengers in the exit row need to be able to understand safety instructions in the case of an emergency)
- Passengers who have requested additional assistance from the airline, whether it be assistance to or from the aircraft, additional assistance on board, etc.
The extra legroom can almost make you forget that your elbows are snuggly planted against your rib cage, but the emergency exit row comes with restrictions. Make sure that you do not fall under those restrictions when you secure a seat in order to avoid the disappointment or frustration of being reseated.