Why You Never Get The Emergency Exit Seats

Let’s set the scene. It’s the day of your departure, it’s a gloomy rainy day and a long haul 14 hour flight awaits you later in the day. You switch off you alarm and stumble towards the shower slowly getting your day to a start. By the time you check for the last time that you haven’t forgetten to place anything in your suitcase, that you have your passport and booking details it’s time to drag your heavy suitcase to the underground station.

You get in to a crowded train, which stays so all the way to the airport. That heavy suitcase you’re carrying along is building up an ache in your shoulder and arm.

Once at the airport you get in line you realise you forgot to do your online check-in. So you get in line for the regular check-in. You board the aircraft while you’re walking down the aisle, exhausted by such a tiring morning, you come across those extra leg room emergency exit seats. And you think to yourself: “Why don’t I ever get one of those seats?” That’s exactly what we’ll talk about today!

Why Don’t You Ever Get The Extra Leg Room Seats?

First of all let’s start by saying that when I talk about emergency exit row I’m talking about the set of seats immediately next to the door. That set of central seats behind the bulkhead (the wall) are a different thing.

Those central bulkhead seats are generally reserved for families travelling with infants. For one simple reason, the wall is structured to accomodate a bassinet, to give the parents some relif during the flight.

Getting one of those emergency exit seats isn’t simple. The odds aren’t in your favour. An average economy hosts 300 passengers, which on average has only 12 emergency exit row seats. Which gives you a 4% chance of getting one of these seats, in theory.

There are though some best practices you can follow to increase your chances of getting one of these 12 seats. Let’s start with the most simple steps to follow. Do your online check-in and get to the bag drop early so you can try to change your seat to one of these before anyone else does. If you’re stuck in the regular check-in queue someone else will certainly beat you to it.

Now The Hard Part

Remember that shoulder ache we talked about earlier, when you were dragging your suitcase to the airport? Well if you’ve got one of those you’re already not eligible for an emergency exit seat. And I’ll explain why. The check-in staff and the cabin crew are responsable for assigning those seat to “Able Bodied Passengers”.

You might be asking yourself who can be defined an “Able Bodied Passenger“? To keep it simple, it must be a person who is fit, not overweight and which in case of an emergency evacuation is capable of assisting the crew with the evacuation.

So no sore shoulders, no casts on any part of your body, no exhausted passengers and especially no kids. So to increase your odds try to stay fit before your flight. But this is not enough to get your hands on one of those seats.

So There’s More To It?

There are certain categories of passengers that have a way higher chance of getting assigned an emergency exit row seat. For instance positioning crew (crew which is not operating but is on duty), off duty crew are the first in line to get one of those 12 seats. Immediately after them you’ll have ex-cabin crew (like myself) and emergency response trained staff, such as police or fire fighters. Last in the list of priority are all other “ABPs” (Able Bodied Passengers).

So Now You Know

If you do fall into one of these categories next time you are at check in trying to get a better seat, in particular an emergency exit row seat, mention it. It will definitely increase your odds. So as you might have understood the odds in theory are at 4% but the reality is that they are way lower for the average passenger and a lot higher for some other very few passengers.


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