Exit Row Seats on an airplane are among the most desirable seats available. They have more legroom, and on airplanes where it seems like space continues to shrink, sitting in an exit seat provides a little bit of extra comfort on a flight when flying economy. However, sitting in an exit seat is not just about comfort, it also comes with responsibility. Because of the additional responsibilities required of people who were seated there, should an emergency occur, they are expected to meet minimum requirements. Airlines are responsible for ensuring only qualified persons sit in an exit seat. The screening process takes place at check-in, but for some airlines, passengers are provided open seating, so flight attendants must be vigilant in screening those that sit in an exit seat. Anyone who sits in an exit seat us understand that it is not a right or a privilege to sit there. Some airlines require passengers to pay extra to sit in the seats, yet the flight attendants are charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the passenger seated meet the regulatory requirements of 14 CFR 121.585 Exit Seating.
This list is not complete, however the key points of exit seating requirements are that a person cannot sit in an exit seat if they:
- Are under 15 years of age
- If they have a responsibility to care for another person, small children for example, while seated in an exit seat. (Scenario: Dad is traveling with his 10 year old son. Dad is in the exit seat, the son is in the seat row behind him. Dad cannot sit in the exit seat as he has responsibility for a child not authorized to sit in an exit seat. Scenario: Dad is traveling with his 10 year old son, and an adult is seated with his son. Dad may sit in the exit seat as there is an adult tending to the child.).
- Have any kind of physical limitation, or likelihood of harm would occur that would restrict or cause difficulty in the operation of the emergency exit.
- They cannot hear instructions shouted by flight attendants, use of a hearing aid is acceptable (The regulatory text: (5) The person lacks sufficient aural capacity to hear and understand instructions shouted by flight attendants, without assistance beyond a hearing aid. Translation: the person cannot be deaf and sit in an exit seat. Use of a sign language communicator assistant is not acceptable, the person themselves has to have the ability to hear)
Additionally, passengers must comply with the instructions given by a crewmember implementing exit seating restrictions established in accordance with the regulation.
If a passenger does not wish to perform the functions required when seated in an exit seat, they can ask the flight attendant be reseated without being questioned why they want to change seats.
There is much more to this regulation than briefly described. You can read the full text of the regulation here, 14 CFR 121.585 Exit Seating.