Everyone loves sitting in the emergency exit row on airplanes. And why not? A few feet of extra legroom in exchange for the minuscule chance you might actually need to assist in an evacuation seems like a good trade-off. But does everyone sitting in these seats meet the physical requirements necessary to assist in an emergency evacuation? U.S. Federal regulations require passengers sitting in an emergency exit row to be able to:
“1. Push, shove, pull, or otherwise open the emergency exit
2. Lift out, hold, deposit on nearby seats, or maneuver over the seatbacks to the next row or out the opening objects the size and weight of over-wing window exit doors
3. Have the capacity to perform the applicable functions without the assistance of an adult companion, parent, or other relative (Emergency Exit Seating Requirements)”
On a Boeing 737, the overwing exit doors measure 0.97 meters x 0.51 meters (3.2 x 1.7 feet) and weigh 39 pounds (Boeing 737-400 exits). So take your largest suitcase (which is still probably shorter than three feet), set it on your bathroom scale and fill it with clothes until the total weight is 39 pounds. Stand the suitcase on a coffee table or other knee-high surface. Then lift the suitcase off the table and raise it above your shoulders. Like my three previous precepts of human movement (Part 1 and Part 2), moving an emergency exit door is an action all healthy adults should be capable of performing, and an action which has significant ethical implications. If you can pass the suitcase test, you are physically qualified to sit in an emergency exit row. If not, you are putting the lives of everyone on your flight at risk by choosing to sit in these seats.