What Are the Pros and Cons of Exit Row Seats?

exit row seats pros and cons

Exit rows can provide you much more comfort and legroom when flying economy on long haul trips but are they really better?

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the emergency exit row seats and provide you with information that will surprise you.

PROS

  • More legroom, which means leg stretching flexing is possible. And there is no need to wake up your neighbors to go to the restroom or get something out of your carry on bag from the overhead locker. Personally, I find that a big advantage.
  • If you are taller than average, you’ll definitely like the legroom of an exit row seat
  • It’s a good option if you are in Economy and can’t afford the option of Business or Premium economy but still want at least some of the comfort.
  • You sometimes get served first. But this isn’t a given, it depends on the airline and your particular seat.
  • A good consideration for some: it’s the safest seat because you ‘ll be able to exit the plane faster in an emergency. At least, so it appears, but there is a disadvantage to that, as I’ll discuss in the Cons section.
  • You don’t need to worry about kids sitting next to you as Federal law doesn’t allow it.
  • Nervous fliers often feel a bit more relaxed because of the extra space and the proximity to the emergency exit. 
seat legroom
More legroom is a big Pro for long-haul flight

CONS

  • No bags allowed: flight attendants will not permit you to keep any bags in front of you. During takeoff and landing, they must be stored again in overhead compartments. You can have them back during the flight, but when it comes time to land, they will have to go back into the overhead compartment. The reason for this is pretty obvious; in case of an emergency, you don’t want a primary escape route to be blocked by bags and luggage. Or anything at all, come to that.
  • A little known fact is this one: the window seat can be cold. Cold air will leak in through the seal on the exit door and lower the temperature around you. Don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe, but your comfort level might not be what you had bargained for.
  • If, as is the case on some aircraft, the emergency exit is by the wing, you will have a higher level of engine noise to contend with.
  • In some models, the armrest can’t be lifted because the tray table often sits inside the armrest. The seat in this row can also be narrower. Not being able to move the armrest or solid divider can be really annoying on a long haul flight.
  • You may have to pay extra to get an emergency row seat. And be aware that even if you do stump up with slightly larger fare, if you don’t meet the physical requirements that I’m going to talk about shortly, then you still won’t be allowed to sit there.
  • This is another Con to check out, it can be a game-changer for many: Not all exit row seats recline. If there are 2 exit rows one after another, the seats in the row in front are designed not to recline because if they did, it would block the second row in case of emergency.
  • You will be asked to help in case of an emergency evacuation under instructions of the cabin crew to assist the crew and open the door in case of an emergency. You will be asked if you are willing to do this when you take your seat.
  • Some airlines don’t allow passengers to sit in exit rows to use headphones during take-off and landing. This is to make sure you are able to hear the instructions of the flight attendants in case of an emergency. According to Ben Sherwood, author of “The Survivors Club — The Secrets and Science That Could Save Your Life” (and president of ABC News),  80% of the accidents happen within the first three minutes of a flight or in the last minutes before landing. So those are critical, the most critical phases.

Why can’t everyone have the choice of having a seat in an emergency exit row?

Because a passenger sitting next to the exit row has a huge responsibility: operating the exit in case of an emergency, which means that they must be fit and able to push open a door that can weigh up to 18 kg/39 lbs.

exit seat sign
You have to be fit enough to do what is instructed on those signs!

Requirements needed to be able to sit in an emergency row

In general, the requirements needed for a person to be able to sit in an emergency exit seat are:

  • Physically fit and capable of opening the exit door. Sufficient mobility, strength, in both arms and legs, no medical conditions or visual impairment
  • Be a minimum age (as established by the operator) for most, above 15. But it can vary between countries and airlines
  • Not traveling with someone else who needs their assistance in case of an emergency
  • No mental health issues
  • Doesn’t  need a seatbelt extension to fasten their seatbelt
  • Not pregnant or seated with an infant
  • Not elderly (age usually not defined, but will be a judgment call by the crew).
  • Speak and understand English or be able to speak and understand the airline’s local language (French in France, Spanish, etc.) so that can follow instructions if needed
  • Not traveling with a pet inside the cabin. Your pet cannot travel under the seat in front of you in an emergency row.

Let’s be clear, an emergency is extremely unlikely to happen, but airlines need to establish requirements to ensure that if one does, the people in the exit row meet certain requirements.

These are pretty much the same for all airlines with minor variations such as the age restriction (some companies will allow only adults, others only persons over the age of 15 and others only those over the age of 12).

Conclusion: Is it worth paying exit rows? Are these seats better?

slepping exit row
Yes, sleeping at exit row is allowed, but…

This really is your call, but here are the sorts of considerations that will help you to make your decision.

Choose what is important to you and remember to factor in that what is fine for a short-haul flight, is often not good for a long-haul one.

You should pay an exit row:

  • If you want to sleep, e.g. on an overnight flight, there is more room for both leg stretching and tossing and turning.
  • If you are taller than average, you won’t spend the flight in the misery of being cramped up in your seat.
  • If you don’t want to be sitting next to a crying baby, a child, or someone who is perhaps larger than airline seats are designed for.
  • If the airline you are flying has a very reduced seat pitch in economy.
  • If the flight is long (over 4 hours) and you know you will need to stretch your legs

You shouldn’t pay an exit row:

  • If the flight is short. Ask yourself: Do you really need it for a flight of under 2-3 hours? Would you pay $75-$100 for the privilege? Or, in other words, $50 an hour?
  • If you are very sensitive to cold.  This isn’t the place for you.
  • If the ability to sleep is a major consideration, remember that the solid dividers in an emergency exit row can’t be removed, so you may be better off (if you can) laying down in a row with empty seats in it.
  • If you want to keep all your belongings with you under the seat, then the emergency exit row is not for you.
  • If you like to recline your seat, this can’t be done unless there are two emergency rows. In this case, choose to sit in the second row. Pick the second row if there are two.

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