In the language of air travel, exit row seats refer to the seats that are adjacent to the emergency exit doors of an aircraft.
These popular airplane seats are well-known for their extended legroom, but there are some other important factors to consider when deciding whether or not booking an exit row seat is right for you.
Why are Exit Row Seats Considered Desirable?
Simply put: Exit row seats are generally prized because they offer extra legroom.
This is because safety regulations require a clear pathway to the emergency exits, and this necessary clearance space translates into a bonus for tall travelers or anyone who values a bit more stretch-out space.
Sometimes the exit row seats are jokingly referred to as “poor man’s first class,” since it’s the only way to get more legroom without shelling out hundreds of dollars more for a business class seat.
The only other benefit is if you have some sort of psychological savior complex and enjoy fantasizing about scenarios where your action could save hundreds of other people.
Are There Any Drawbacks to Exit Row Seats?
There’s always a catch, isn’t there? While the extra legroom is a definite perk, there are a few potential drawbacks to keep in mind:
- Responsibility: You’ll be expected to assist in case of an emergency. You must be capable and willing to operate the emergency door if required.
- Less storage: Often, you won’t be able to store your carry-on items under the seat in front of you during takeoff and landing. This depends on if there’s another row of seats in front of you, or if there’s a bulkhead after the exit row which is common on larger planes.
- Fixed armrests: To house the tray tables, the armrests in exit row seats are often fixed and cannot be raised. If you’re traveling alone this isn’t a big deal, but if you enjoy leaning up against your travel partner on a long flight, this could be annoying.
Keep in mind that the storage and armrest considerations are going to depend entirely on what specific plane you’re flying on. If you’re really curious, you can always use SeatGuru to look it up ahead of time so there are no surprises.
Are All Passengers Eligible for Exit Row Seats?
Interestingly, not everyone can just snap up an exit row seat. Air safety regulations mandate certain restrictions. Generally, to occupy an exit row seat, you must:
- Be at least 15 years old
- Have sufficient physical strength and mobility to operate the emergency exit
- Be able to understand instructions in the language of the airline
- Not be traveling with infants or others who require special assistance
- Not be obviously impaired in any other way (there is flight attendant discretion to some degree to determine this, and they can ask anyone to move out of the exit row if they judge a safety concern).
Can You Reserve Exit Row Seats? How Much Extra Do They Cost?
Yes, you can often reserve exit row seats! However, policies vary from airline to airline.
Some airlines allow you to select an exit row seat at the time of booking or check-in, while others assign these seats at the gate. An additional fee may be charged, which also varies depending on the airline and the length of the flight.
Some airlines even give exit row seat preference to passengers who have elite status with the airlines.
The only way to know exactly how much it will cost on your particular flight is to check yourself during booking/seat selection and decide if any extra cost is worth it to you.
There is no hard number to provide, but in general, you might expect to pay anywhere from $15-100+ extra for the coveted legroom depending on airline and duration of your flight.
Is It Worth It to Pay Extra for an Exit Row Seat?
This is the big question, and the answer is: it depends.
If you’re a taller traveler or simply value extra legroom, the additional cost may well be worth it for you.
However, if you plan to sleep and won’t be stretching out your legs, or if the additional responsibilities sound unappealing, you might prefer to save your money.
The right choice for you hinges on your personal preferences, needs, and willingness to assume the associated responsibilities.
And always remember that while emergencies are rare, they can happen. So if you decide to book the exit row, please be legitimately prepared to help should the need arise.