Opinions on less able-bodied passengers in exit rows

Discussion in 'General Discussion | Travel' started by Derek, Apr 12, 2011.  |  Print Topic

  1. Derek
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    Derek Silver Member

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    I am conflicted about how I feel regarding certain persons occupying exit row seats. On a flight not so long ago, the window seat of my exit row (I was in the aisle seat) was occupied by a feeble, elderly lady who I would estimate was 85 years old and 90 lbs. To say this woman would be unable to open the emergency door (which weighs, IIRC, 50 lbs.) would be an understatement. While I'm sure she considers herself able-bodied (no disabilities, or obvious physical ailments), she none-the-less would have been a serious impediment to the passenger in the middle seat and myself getting to and opening the emergency exit. Nevertheless, she was not asked to move.

    As I sat there, I could not help but think how an emergency would have played out. It seemed to me there were two options. Unless the middle seat occupant trampled her, he would have to pick her up, lift her to a level above seat height, rotate, and move her to the position he previously occupied. I figure this would take 30 or seconds. In certain instances, these seconds could be the difference between life and death for many passengers.

    At the same time, when I was 16-17, at over 6 feet tall and well-built, I routinely occupied exit rows in violation of regulations requiring these seats be occupied by adults. I also realize that emergencies are VERY rare, and that FAs do not want to unnecessarily offend people. The likelihood of an emergency requiring the aforementioned lady to act was infantismile.

    I think I would have preferred she have been moved, but this brings up several problems. It seems to me there is an inherent contradiction in the fact that generally, people pay, to sit in a seat where the concurrently volunteer, to help others in an emergency.

    The biggest problem for me though, is the slippery slope problem. Since this flight, I've taken close note of who occupies exit rows, and have seen a number of people that I'd rather not have sitting there due their apparent lack of physical ability, though non as blatantly incapable of opening an exit door.

    If passenger safety where truly the foremost concern, exit rows would not be booked, but blocked off. After boarding, the FAs would move the most athletic, able bodied passengers into these seats after evaluating all the plane's occupants. Perhaps there would also be some sort of exit-row test, where before being seated by an emergency exit, you would take both a physical and written exam. Occupants in exit rows would not be allowed to drink alcohol, or take an Ambien. Clearly this option is not viable/nor desirable.

    At the other end of the spectrum, exit rows could be occupied by anyone, including the disabled, elderly, children, so on and so forth. Again, a bad option.

    I think the current system, generally works pretty well, but gives FAs a tremendous amount of leeway and discretion, and asks them to make very hard decisions.

    Common sense says that if an exit door weighs 50 lbs., it is better to have someone who can lift 100 lbs., sitting next to it than someone who can, but barely, lift 50 lbs. I am not familiar with the exact regulations, but I believe they are along the lines of "passenger must be able to open the door and assist others." Such ability can be very hard to assess. Should an FA re-seat a waif-thin woman who insists she can, but in reality may or may not really be able to lift 50 lbs? What about an obese man who fits in his seat, but just barely. What about an able bodied marine who's had five or six beers?

    So when/where would you draw the line? I guess I don't really have an answer, but thought this might make for an interesting discussion!
     
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  2. MSPeconomist
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    MSPeconomist Gold Member

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    I've thought about exactly this question, especially as a result of my participation in the DL ATL DO in October. As part of Road Warrior Training, we were taught how to open emergency doors on a variety of aircraft types. We also served as gate agent volunteers for a day, where we asked boarding passengers if they knew, were able, and were willing/comfortable with exit row duties. Different airlines do it differently, but personally I like the idea of offering these seats to elites (who have lots more experience flying and might be less likely to panic). I've also observed airlines filling the exit rows with nonrevs, which makes sense if they're off-duty FAs, but less sense in general except for the presumption that they fly a lot, like elite FFs.
     
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  3. viguera
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    viguera Gold Member

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    Nonsense... you grab that old lady and fling her towards the row behind you. That takes 5 seconds tops.

    :)
     
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  4. Derek
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    Derek Silver Member

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    LOL. I tend to agree, in a plane on fire type of situation. But people/emergency officials tend to err on the side of caution and sometimes overreact. They tend to do emergency evacuations if a plane overruns the tarmac by so much as a meter or two. I'd feel terrible breaking an old lady's hip just because our plane got nudged by an A380 or similar... (Actually I don't think today's incident prompted a slides-down type evacuation. But you know what I mean. Someone smells what they are sure is gasoline in the cabin, when it's really a rotten sandwich, and the Captain orders an emergency evacuation etc).
     
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  5. Bob Smolinsky
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    Bob Smolinsky Gold Member

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    She should not be there, full stop.
     
  6. Derek
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    Derek Silver Member

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    I love the things I learn on MP. I would never have known:
    "A full stop (British English) or period (American English)[1] is the punctuation mark commonly placed at the end of sentences." (from Wikipedia)

    You mean I get to talk about travel, and expand my (already large:)) brain? Yes please!
     
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  7. viguera
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    viguera Gold Member

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    Indeed, but I blame the staff for that. There's no way a flight attendant should allow a frail old lady to sit there, regardless of whether she looks healthy or not.

    I do agree with the earlier suggestion that elites should be placed on the exit row, primarily because they fly a lot and in the event of an emergency chances are they will know how to react better than someone that has never even paid attention to the safety announcements. Hell, even if they haven't been paying attention, chances are that they've heard them so much that they have them commited to memory. :)
     
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  8. Bob Smolinsky
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    Bob Smolinsky Gold Member

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    Until someone faces an actual emergency situation like that (and I certainly haven't), being elite or not makes no difference in the type of person one is when faced with that....
     
  9. viguera
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    viguera Gold Member

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    But you have to admit that there's certainly a difference between a first time flyer -- or someone that barely flies -- and someone that flies on a consistent basis. I'd equate it with someone that just learned how to drive vs. someone that has been driving for a decade... sure chances are that if you've never faced an emergency you might freak out and not know what to do, but the guy that has been doing this for a while has got to have an advantage over the newbie.
     
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  10. travelgourmet
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    travelgourmet Silver Member

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    Agree completely. I've flown several hundred thousand miles and am elite on a couple of different carriers. I've never been involved in an accident or emergency landing. I've never opened an exit door. I've never deployed a slide. I've never used the oxygen mask. I've never put on the life preserver. What, exactly, makes me more qualified than Joe Once-a-Year? Now, I'd like to think that I'd handle the crisis reasonably well, but I don't think anything in my flying would prove particularly valuable in reacting to the crisis.

    Now, exit rows should still be assigned to elites, but only because they are coveted seats and suspect that they can manage to find some folks that are capable enough among the elites on a given flight.

    As to the original question, I do think that there should be a bit more scrutiny of those that are seated in the exit row, but also suspect that the safety gains would be minimal, given the infrequency of emergency situations.
     
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  11. secretsea18
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    secretsea18 Gold Member

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    I have gone to an FA to let them know that a child under 15 years old was sitting in the Exit Row in the past. It was the wing exit row in front of my exit row seat. The kid must have been about 12 years old, as Mommy was constantly hovering around the kid at boarding. The FAs had already done the "exit row" check with us, and these people were late boarders...

    The FA said "thank you" and came over and moved the kid. thumbsup.gif
     
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  12. MSPeconomist
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    MSPeconomist Gold Member

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    Good. You and the FA both did the right thing.
     
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  13. ella
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    ella Silver Member

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    I used to book travel for my boss - a 79 year old million-miler. He kept telling me to put him in an exit row. After a few arguments when booking flights I started telling him "exit rows were full". He had no business in an exit row, and I wasn't going to endanger a planeful of people just because he felt entitled.
     
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  14. Exit Row
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    Exit Row Silver Member

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    My ears are burning. I have not garnered this kind of attention in a while. ;)

    But seriously, I understand what the OP is saying. I almost always sit in the exit row when I travel in economy, and I pay close attention to the others in the row and whether they are able-bodied or not. I have seen Air Canada move people from the exit row due to the fact that they had an impediment, were too young or couldn't speak English. I have not seen them move an elderly/frail passenger though.
     
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  15. Exiled in Express
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    Exiled in Express Gold Member

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    I view myself as more qualified, and deserving, than the once a year flyer. I have offered up my seat to flight crew in the past, they trained for emergencies and I am content in any aisle seat. One thing that does bother me about the elite preference is the small cadre of DYKWIAs that take it as a right to do as they please and are running laptops up to touchdown, happened last week.
     
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  16. N965VJ
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    N965VJ Silver Member

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    Deadheading crews as well; in fact that may have been in the language of their contract.
     
  17. ShopAround
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    ShopAround Silver Member

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    I had a very similar experience - sitting next to an elderly woman in an exit row. I boarded late and could see the flight was full - the FA would have had to swap her with another passenger. When the FA asked if we were able to assist, the woman barely nodded. I just couldn't bring myself to make a fuss over it when no one else seemed to have a problem and honestly, having been through Road Warrior Training, I felt I was better prepared than most other pax in case of an emergency and would compensate for the elderly woman next to me.
     
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  18. lili
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    lili Gold Member

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    I didn't see the frail 85-year old, but I'm guessing you are youngish and everyone over 50 looks ancient to you. Most 85-year olds aren't traveling alone, they are usually accompanied by an even older, frailer man. And a cane.

    As a smallish, older woman I get those looks from time to time when I'm in the exit row. But unlike most people on the plane (and in this forum) I have successfully and effectively removed the exit row door and know I can do it. When the FA shouts "Emergency" and screams at you to remove the door and toss it out the opening you don't think twice, you just do it! It was quite easy - much easier than hoisting my 23-lb carryon into the overhead :) FWIW, I also know how to go down the slide without rolling out of control, burning the skin off my hands or blocking the next person coming down.

    This was in a safety training course at Austrian Airlines about a year ago. Apparently there was discussion among the OS instructors, because one who wasn't in the simulator told me later they assumed I was a former Flight Attendant and had previous training. Nope, just adrenalin.

    So I may look old and frail and tall guys may covet my space but you're going to have a hard time evicting me unless it's to move me to the forward cabin.
     
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  19. Sweet Willie
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    Sweet Willie Gold Member

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    while you're asleep. ;)
     
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  20. lili
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    lili Gold Member

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    We nap often, but lightly. Beware.
     
  21. sunseeker
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    sunseeker Silver Member

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    You won't find my 86 year old mother in an exit row, but I am sure she could handle it. She looks frail but she moves pieces of furniture that I wouldn't attempt to tackle, and she has experience dealing with stressful situations -- no one reaches her age without that. At the end of the day, no one knows how any person will react in an emergency.
     
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  22. KENNECTED
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    KENNECTED Silver Member

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    When this was happening, did you notify someone? FA, GA or pilot? If no, why not?
     
  23. Derek
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    Derek Silver Member

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    But if you do it based on elite status, there is no way to differentiate between someone who has been driving for a decade, and someone who has been driving for 90 decades. Sure I'd prefer to ride with the former, but I'm not so sure I'd prefer the latter driver to a newbie.
     
  24. Derek
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    Derek Silver Member

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    I too, am always very reluctant too come across as "that guy (gal in your case)" in a situation where I am about to be locked in a tube with several hundred strangers for the next 6 or so hours.

    If you could get through/around her:) For me, I am less concerned about the less-abled being unable to assist with a potential evacuation, as there are (hopefully) other calm and able bodied passengers somewhere in the row, and more concerned about their potential to serve as an impediment/roadblock.
     
  25. Derek
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    Derek Silver Member

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    I trust you make one of the best exit row pax, and doubt appearances would lead me to believe otherwise. But if they did, then it underscores the trickiness of these situations, as looks may well be deceiving.

    Whereas I am a big young guy, but nap heavily, and often with the aid of Ambien. (Going back to MSPeconomist's point about elites and exit rows, it bears mentioning that I think elites are significantly more likely to be under the influence of some sort of sleep aid on certain routes than non-elites). Again, a tricky situation.

    Perhaps an even trickier one than the one I originally presented, because in this case an FA has no way of knowing someone has taken a sleeping pill, and if they have, it is likely in-flight. Further, I know how I react to my medications and am comfortable that I could perform any necessary emergency duties, but have seen others that react differently.
     
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