New Exit Row Instructions – “Are you Taking Your Meds?”

Seems hardly a day goes by that we don’t hear about some airline incident but this one has some serious implications. The passenger, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, was seated in the exit row of an Alaska Airlines flight. Everything was okay until he decided it would be a nice idea to try to open the exit door before the plane landed. Fortunately he was subdued – not that the exit could have been opened at that altitude anyway – but only after the flight (and his arrest) do we learn that he admitted that he hasn’t taken his medication for treatment in over a year.

To be seated in an exit row requires very little – generally at least 15 years old, speak English (flying in the U.S.), be in sufficient health to be able to operate the exit row door/window, and be willing to assist in the event of an emergency. Many passengers prefer the exit row because of the great legroom but is it time for the FAA to consider more specific instructions?

On one flight last year, an elderly couple was boarding and the husband was assisted down the aisle by the flight attendant. The FA escorted them to their seats – exit row next to me – and then put his cane in the overhead compartment. On another flight, the attendant asked each exit row passenger if they understood the instructions. One of the passengers responded in Spanish. Good enough to satisfy the flight attendant, I guess.

Fortunately the odds of needing assistance from exit row passengers for any given flight is quite negligible. This is good because in the event of an emergency, most would not have a clue how to disarm the door or window and remove it properly. Seriously, how many actually read the safety card?

Nevertheless, we persist with this false sense of security. Is it time for the FAA to get more specific about exit row seating requirements?


  1. I was in an exit row yesterday next to someone who must have been stoned or tripping on something. FA did the spiel and he didn’t respond so the FA said he needed to move him. Then the guy was like “yo, dude, I didn’t realize you were talking to me. ya, I’m cool.”
    Then flying over Lake Michigan he said “dude, what river is that?” and the FA and I responded Lake Michigan and his response was “far out!”

  2. I was asked to move from the exit row on a TAM flight from EZE to GIG because i did not speak Portuguese. Moved me to a bulkhead next to two lap children with restricted legroom. Was not pleased, but I understood why they moved me. Just irritated bc I’d paid extra for the seat.

  3. Just because someone responds in Spanish doesn’t mean that they can’t read English…

  4. I too was on a plane where it was an elderly and frail looking woman who was seated in the exit row. I did not feel good about it. I had seen a documentary about how to open an exit door and it was not how I expected it would be so I’m sure she had no idea let alone strength to open it and lay it across the seats in order to get out.

  5. Doesn’t matter how many times I’ve been on an aircraft, I always always always read the safety card an just confirm with the FA how to open the door.

  6. When seated on the exit row when the FA asks if I am willing, etc. I always respond that if we have an evacuation the first thing off this plane is that door.
    Seriously I’ve never seen an FA move anyone except underage kids. SW typically won’t let pre-board or family board passengers to sit in the exit rows.

  7. I want to sit next to you next time I’m in the exit row! We all should be this diligent because you just never know when something will happen.

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