Exit Row Rules

Andrew Boast
To many flyers, the exit row is simply a more comfortable seat where you can stretch your legs and enjoy the prestige of having more space. I’ve often walked past people sat there gleefully looking up at me as I walk past with my 6’8” body, ducking down to look for the row number where my standard ‘knee breaking’ seat can be found.

A few of my blogs have been promoting giving tall people access to the exit row seats as standard for the obvious reason (Airbus A320 & Airbus A321) – tall people don’t fit into a standard seat.

There is, however, a more important function for the exit row seat and it has nothing to do with comfort. It is actually to ensure the safety of passengers in the event of an emergency. The Civil Aviation Authority enforce strict rules regarding exit row seats which all airlines must adhere to and this is why you may be asked to leave your seat if you aren’t able to fulfil the duties of an exit row seat.

Why do exit row seats have more space?

The answer is simple, it is to give passengers more room to vacate the aircraft safely in the event of an emergency. The exit rows are situated by the over wing doors and give access out of the plane. Anyone sat in the exit row seat must be physically and mentally able to open the door, allowing passengers to get off of the plane.

This is often lost on some people as they never expect to be in a situation where they will have to open the door to save passengers lives.

Who is not allowed to use the exit row seats?

The following passengers are among those who should not be allocated, or directed to, seats by emergency exits:

  • Passengers with physical or mental impairment or disability, to the extent that they would have difficulty in moving quickly if asked to do so.
  • Passengers who have significant sight or hearing impairment, to the extent that it might be difficult for them to respond to instructions quickly.
  • Passengers who, because of age or sickness, have difficulty in moving quickly.
  • Passengers who, because of physical size, have difficulty in moving quickly.
  • Children (whether accompanied or not) and infants.
  • Passengers travelling with animals, for example assistance dogs.

At the heart of these exclusions is the need to ensure the safety of all passengers in the event of an emergency and as such anyone sat in the exit row seats must be aware of their duty to help the cabin crew.

British Airways Extra Legroom Seat Rules

British Airways go a step further in their guidance on who cannot use the exit row seats and excludes the use by anyone who:

  • is a child under 12 years’ old.
  • is not in full fitness.
  • can’t understand printed or verbal instructions given in English.
  • is unwilling and or unable to assist in the unlikely event of an emergency evacuation.

They state "British Airways has the sole discretion to determine whether you meet the requirements to sit in an exit row seat. If you do not meet the requirements, you will be assigned an alternative seat. The additional amount paid for an exit row seat will be forfeited and will not be refunded."

Qantas Extra Legroom Seat Rules

Qantas have similar exclusions for their exit row seats. In order to sit in an exit row seat, you must:

  • be at least fifteen years old;
  • not be travelling with someone who needs your assistance in an emergency e.g. an infant or child (unless there is another guardian seated elsewhere with the child);
  • not require the use of an infant/extension seat belt;
  • be willing and able to move quickly and assist crew in an emergency situation;
  • be willing and able to listen to a briefing, check outside conditions and follow instructions given in English by crew;
  • be physically able to reach, open, lift and throw out an emergency exit, up to twenty (20) kgs;
  • not be travelling with a service dog;
  • not have an amputated or prosthetic limb;
  • not have a visual impairment that is not corrected by use of spectacles/glasses/contact lenses;
  • not have a hearing impairment that is not corrected by use of a hearing aid/device*; and
  • not utilise any part of the aircraft door (or its surrounding area) to rest your feet, or any other personal item(s).
*Hearing aids/devices that use Bluetooth are permitted to be used at all times onboard A330, A380, B737 and QantasLink aircraft. On B747 aircraft, hearing aids/devices that use Bluetooth must be switched off during taxi, takeoff and landing, therefore passengers with Bluetooth hearing aids/devices are not permitted to be seated in exit rows on B747 aircraft.

Easy Jet Legroom Seat Rules

Easy Jet states, Passengers who are not eligible to sit in these seats include:

  • Children under the age of 16
  • Infants (children under the age of 2)
  • Disabled passengers
  • Mobility impaired passengers
  • Passengers requiring a seat belt extension
  • Pregnant passengers

Exit row rules: What happens if you don't meet the criteria?

In the exit row procedure for British Airways, they have the sole discretion to determine whether a passenger meets the requirements to sit in an exit row seat. This even means that if during the flight you fall ill and are unable to meet the CAA safety requirements, then you will be moved to a non-exit row seat.

More space, more responsibility and it costs more!
The number of times a passenger emergency has required the exit row door to be opened are very few. In fact in 2016 there were only 20 reported accidents or incidents involving commercial aircraft. This means that although the principle is for the exit row seats to be reserved for ‘Baywatch fitness hunks’ ready to leap into action should the need arise, the fact is that airlines use the extra legroom space to charge more for the luxury. In fact, Monarch boasts: “15% more space for your legs, you’ll experience a real increase in the luxurious feel of your trip, allowing you to sit back, stretch your legs and relax!” – they don’t seem to mention the exclusions with this statement or the serious role you’ll need to play in the event of an evacuation.

The question is should airline be allowed to charge more for something that is a necessity for tall people that also commands such responsibility. In the age of budget airlines where the objective is to put more bums on as many seats as possible has meant the spacing between the seats has suffered, although we are taller than ever before (read my blog on How quickly we are growing taller).

You need to be careful though: If you pay extra for an exit row seat, but, when you come to check-in you are viewed to not be eligible, then you will not be allowed to sit in the exit row and won’t be refunded. Of course I strongly suggest you speak to your airline provider and ask them for a refund.

Are you looking for advice?
We'd love to hear from you
Sign up for blog updates
I agree to Terms Privacy Policy