No Hopeless Drunks Next to Airline Emergency Exits

Posted by William Herp on Fri, Apr 12, 2013

airline emergency exit

It's understandable that almost no one pays attention to flight attendants’ pre-flight safety briefings and demonstrations. We’ve all seen it a hundred times before and we pretty much already know where the emergency exits are. And we’ve been buckling seat belts in cars and planes since we were toddlers, so those particular instructions seem trite.

Of course, when you fly with us, you will get the FAA-required safety briefing. But we won’t insult your intelligence. We also won't play you for a chump by getting you to pay extra for space that we give away to others. And, more importantly, we won’t ever compromise your safety by using business practices that are the antithesis of operating safety.

If you’ve sat in or near an over-wing exit row on a commercial airliner in the last few years, it's quite possible that you have had your intelligence insulted, been played for a chump and, perhaps, even had your safety compromised by the airlines’ thirst for a few dollars more.

Last year, as I boarded a return flight from Aruba on one of the more succesful and popular airlines of the past couple of decades, I quietly rejoiced as it became apparent that I was the only passenger seated in the exit row. As has become the custom in recent years as the airlines stretch for more and more 'ancillary revenue,' I’d paid extra to enjoy the few additional inches of leg room that comes with an exit row seat. To end up getting the whole row was a bit of serendipity. No elbow jousting with a neighbor. No shoulder bumping. No passing drinks and snacks down the row. No getting up and down several times to allow row-mates to go to the restroom or retrieve something from the overhead. Just peace, quiet and, most importantly, extra room to spread out in MY row.

But I rejoiced too soon. Just as the attendants were preparing to close the door, two late-arrivers scrambled aboard. As I looked up, a large, flush-faced woman came to my row and said, "I've got the window seat."  I stood up and stepped into the aisle, only to hear her say as she squeezed through "My husband is coming behind me."

Uh oh...

A hopelessly drunk passenger enters a row of emergency exit seats

As I remained standing, I watched as a 5' 6" 280-pound guy rumbled down the aisle. Drunk as a skunk, he proceeded to bump into nearly everyone as he staggered to our row, just before making a sort-of half-turn lunge into MY seat. His embarrassed wife had to pull him up and shift him over into the middle seat, whereupon he flopped down the tray table, laid his head over and fell comatose. I squeezed uncomfortably back into my aisle seat, buckled up mourning the last-minute loss of my comfy nest, and began to wonder what would happen next as the crew realized at least one passenger in the exit row was not 'fit, willing and able to assist the crew in the event of an emergency.'window seat of a commercial airliner

However, the flight attendant didn’t even bother to ask my rude and inebriated seatmate to put his tray table up during the requisite exit row briefing, let alone whether he understood his responsibilities if an emergency exit were to be necessary, as she sped thorugh the words in order to save an on-time departure. He remained asleep during the entire taxi and takeoff – only waking when the drink cart came by. For that he woke up long enough to order a drink, which to my surprise he was served by the same flight attendant who gave us the briefing, even though he was quite obviously drunk. It wasn’t just an unpleasant experience for me. It was maddening - a violation of federal avaition regulations and potentially unsafe.

I had paid a premium over the regular fare for the extra space that comes with an exit row seat. I don’t know if this couple paid a premium price. Perhaps they were simply last-second customers who the airline decided to stuff into the only empty side-by-side seats left on the plane – in the exit row.  If that was the case, then the airline played me for a chump.

And it potentially put my life, and the lives of other passengers in jeopardy by making us all rely on a hopeless drunk and his sozzled wife to succeed at maneuvering around in their seats, opening the 33-pound emergency exit door, tossing it out, climbing quickly through the window exit and then assisting the rest of us out and off the wing, despite their advanced inebriation, and the reality of an airline cabin and emergency exit that were designed for FAA-standard people smaller than either of them.  Chance of success in case of an emergency?  Essentialy nil.  I knew I was going the other direction.

Airlines: using emergency exit row seats as revenue boosters?

And that’s not the only time something like that has happened to me. On another commercial flight last year a very large lady was placed in the middle seat of my exit row. Again I’d paid extra for the aisle seat on that row, but wound up getting squeezed by her, hmm, overflowage. The arm rest between us wouldn’t go all the way down without cutting painfully into her. And I’m very certain she would not have fit through the window exit, blocking everyone from using that emergency exit had there been a need to – it just wasn't designed for someone of her size.

Just last month I took a snowbird flight to West Palm Beach on the same airline I flew home from Aruba, and witnessed a very, very elderly couple gingerly take their exit row seats. There’s no way either of them could have lifted out the emergency exit door, which the flight attendant pointed out was quite heavy - they couldn't even lift their roll-a-boards into the overhead bins!  Yet the old gentleman made it clear that he’d paid extra for a seat on that row and he wasn’t giving it up for any reason.  "Just say 'Yes'!" his similarly-vintaged seatmates admonished when the crew asked if they could assist the crew in the event of an emergency.

We can laugh about these things – they’d make good Seinfeld vignettes. But airlines are so anxious to put a few extra butts in seats, and a few extra bucks in their coffers, that they regularly allow such things to happen. Regulations are skirted and safety is compromised, at least potentially. And some of their better-paying customers are abused as a result.

I can promise that won’t happen on Linear Air. As an on-demand air taxi service, flying planes that seat 3 or 4 passengers, everyone gets an aisle AND a window seat.  You never have to contend with a drunk or large person consuming your personal space. And in the extraordinarily unlikely event you had to get out of one of our planes quickly in an emergency, you won’t be blocked by the presence of someone who has been incapacitated by illness, age or liquor. We serve everyone, including large people, elderly folks, people who need guide dogs or other special assistance - even those who want a drink or two in-flight. But we do it without compromising passenger comfort or safety. That’s another good reason to give our service a try.

See you onboard.


Tags: airlines, airline seats, emergency exits, drunk passengers, flight safety

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