Exit row seats are popular with passengers due to the extra legroom they offer.
But not everyone can sit in the exit row – because if you do, you are responsible for operating emergency exits.
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Who Can Sit in an Exit Row Seat
If you meet all of the following requirements, which most flyers will, then you will be able to sit in the exit row.
- You are an adult (at least 15 years old as defined by most airlines).
- You can speak the primary language of the crew members.
- You are healthy and have enough strength, mobility, and dexterity to open the emergency exit.
- You are not visually impaired or deaf, and can communicate verbally.
- You do not have other responsibilities on the flight, such as taking care of children seated elsewhere.
- You do not suffer from a pre-existing condition or mental health issue that could hinder your ability to act in an emergency.
- You are not pregnant.
- You are not traveling with a pet in the cabin, as the carry-on crate is not allowed to be stored under an exit row seat.
Even if you don’t meet all of the requirements, you might be able to get away with sitting in the exit row, as long as you don’t inform a flight attendant that don’t meet a requirement, and they don’t find out.
This isn’t something I would recommend, though, as it will put the safety of yourself, your passengers, and the cabin crew at risk.
What If There Are No Other Seats Available?
Even if there are no other seats available on the plane, you still won’t be allowed to sit in the exit row if you don’t meet the requirements as determined by the FAA.
You will actually be denied boarding.
Fortunately, if you ever find yourself in this situation, it isn’t uncommon for one of your fellow passengers to switch seats with you, especially if they are given some sort of reward or perks.
Is it Worth Paying Extra for Exit Row Seats
These days, airlines try to make money out off everything – and that includes exit row seats.
But for many passengers, paying extra for an extra row seat can be worth it.
Exit Row Seat Pros
- More Legroom: The main reason to choose an exit row seat is for the extra legroom.
- You May Get Served First: Due to the process in which flight attendants serve passengers, you may be one of the first passengers to be served food and drinks.
- You Won’t Be Seated Next to Babies/Kids: A screaming, crying baby or out of control child can quickly affect your in-flight comfort. But as a passenger has to be at least 15 years old to sit in the exit row, you won’t be seated near one.
Exit Row Seat Cons
Exit row seats also have their cons.
- You Will Have to Pay More: The biggest downside of selecting an exit row seat is that it isn’t free, and you will have to pay for the privilege. On a U.S. domestic flight, you can pay as little as $20 up to $200 to book an exit row seat, depending on the airline and route you are flying.
- You Can’t Drink Alcohol: While it can vary by the country and airline, you generally won’t be served alcohol, and you shouldn’t have consumed any alcohol 3 hours before your flight either.
- You Need to Assist in an Emergency: The reason why airlines have rules for who can sit in the exit row is because you need to be fit and capable enough to help in an emergency. Fortunately, air travel is remarkably safe, though.
- Your Seat May Not Recline: Some exit row seats won’t recline at all, while others won’t recline fully.
- You May Not Have a Window: If you love looking out of the window when you’re soaring above the skies, you might be disappointed.
- Your TV Will Be in an Awkward Position: Your TV won’t be located in the back of the seat in front of you like the other seats on the plane.
- You Might Get Cold: As exit row seats are located near the plane’s emergency exit, it is one of the coldest places to sit on the plane.
- You May Be Seated Next to the Toilet: Constantly having people walk past you to go to the toilet during your flight can quickly get annoying.
- Your Armrest May Not Fully Lift: You’ll probably leave your armrest down for comfort anyway, but it’s another thing to consider.
- You May Have to Place Your Bag in the Overhead: If you sit in the exit row, you will likely have to place your bag in the overhead.
The Best Exit Row Seat to Choose
The best exit row seat is any in the second row.
This is because seats in the first exit row won’t fully recline, because if they did, they would block the exit.
How to Book an Exit Row Seat
If you want to book an exit row seat, first and foremost, you must make sure that you meet the requirements listed above.
Even if you do, you might not necessarily be able to book an exit row seat because some airlines only allow loyal customers to do so.
Alaska Airlines, for example, only allow Mileage Plan elite members to book exit row seats in advance.
If you’re flying with Delta and have booked a Delta Basic Economy ticket, you aren’t able to pay extra for Preferred or Comfort+ seating, which includes exit row seats.
Some airlines give priority to their frequent fliers to book seats in the exit row, while others will let anyone book on a first come, first serve basis.
How to Know if Your Seat in the Exit Row Will Recline
Not all exit row seats will recline, but there are few indications to tell you if you will be stuck in that unfortunate position.
- If your seat in the front of the exit row, it won’t recline.
- If there is a double row of exit row seats, seats in the first exit row won’t recline.
- Seats on larger narrow-body and wide-body jets are less likely to recline. These include popular planes like the Boeing 737, 747, and Airbus A320.
Ella Dunham, a Freelance Travel Journalist and Marketing Manager, boasts an impressive career spanning eight years in the travel and tourism sectors.
Honored as one of "30 Under 30" by TTG Media (the world’s very first weekly travel trade newspaper), a "Tour Operator Travel Guru" and "Legend Award" winner, Ella is also a Fellow of the Institute of Travel, a Member of the Association of Women Travel Executives, has completed over 250 travel modules, and hosts travel-focused segments on national radio shows where she provides insights on travel regulations and destinations.
Ella has visited over 40 countries (with 10 more planned this year).