Flight Safety | Occupying an Emergency Exit Row

Aircraft Emergency Exit SEATS

In flight safety, an emergency exit is a door, window exit, or any other type of exit leg hatch in the flight deck, tail cone exit) used as an egress point to allow maximum opportunity for cabin evacuation within an appropriate frame.

Emergency exit row seating in the plane includes each seat in a row of many seats located at an emergency exit, with direct access to the emergency exit.

Also, there is another name for emergency exits called unstaffed exits (or self-help exits). This kind of emergency exit is not assigned to crew members. Unstaffed exits may be floor-level emergency exits or window exits, such as those located on some aircraft at the over-wing location.

As required by flight safety, the airlines should assign suitable aircraft passengers to occupy an emergency exit row seat or a seat adjacent to an emergency exit.

The assigned passenger must be strong, and able to assist with the rapid evacuation of the aircraft in an emergency.

In this article, you will gain an idea about the aviation safety requirements related to assigning aircraft passengers to occupy an emergency exit row on a plane.

Assignment of Aircraft Passengers to Emergency Exit 

As per ICAO cabin safety guidelines, a passenger seated in emergency exit rows should meet the specific criteria. These specific criteria identify the correct aircraft passenger who can help in operating an emergency exit, and assist with the rapid evacuation of the aircraft.

He should be:

  1. Physically capable of operating the emergency exit.
  2. Capable of understanding the emergency instructions (printed and spoken).
  3. Able to visually determine if the exit is safe to open.
  4. The passenger that has sufficient mobility, strength, and the dexterity to reach, operate, and stow (or otherwise dispose of) the emergency exit if removable.
  5. Able to receive oral information from the crew and communicate this information to other passengers.
  6. Of minimum age as per airline safety procedures to ensure that he has the necessary knowledge, physical, and sensory ability to operate emergency exits when required.

He should not:

  1. When traveling, is responsible for other passengers, as this can hinder the opening of the emergency exit.
  2. When traveling, he has any animal (with him in the aircraft cabin).
  3. Have a condition that might cause them harm by opening the exit.
  4. Have any other conditions that might slow the opening of the emergency exit or the flow of other passengers, or impede the pathway.

If aircraft passengers do not satisfy conditions mentioned above cabin crew should ask them to change to another seat.

Briefing the occupants of the row of emergency exits 

In each unstaffed emergency exit, there are placards with operating instructions for reading by passengers occupying seats of the row of emergency exits.

An aircraft passenger who has not been briefed may be unable to operate the emergency exit as expected in the event of an emergency evacuation.

Without briefings, the aircraft passengers - seated in an emergency exit row- may not be able to fulfill the responsibilities expected from them. Flight safety briefings lead to increased passenger awareness, improved performance in an emergency evacuation, and a higher level of safety.

Safety briefing provides the necessary information to aircraft passengers, not only on the operation of emergency exits but also on the responsibilities of sitting in emergency exit rows where cabin crew are not present.

Note: - By adequate safety briefing, the aircraft passengers can avoid delay or impede an emergency evacuation process.

Able-Bodied Passenger 

Able bodied passenger is any aircraft passenger that is physically capable and willing to assist the crew in emergencies.

Note: Not suitable able-bodied passengers may delay or impede an evacuation process because of lacking strength and ability to remove the exit, attempt to open the emergency exit, etc.

The Safest Seat on a Plane 

According to many aircraft investigations statistics, there are random factors during aircraft accidents that maximize a survival opportunity in specific places in the aircraft cabin.

For example, seats to an emergency exit in the front or rear or a middle seat in the back third of the plane offers a lower fatality rate.

Understanding the Verbal Commands of the Crew 

Not only operating the emergency exit, but the aircraft passengers seated in an emergency exit must also understand the crew's verbal commands during the evacuation process.

Commands may vary depending on the nature and location of the accident (on land or water), potential fire, or other danger outside or inside the aircraft.

Therefore, aircraft passengers seated in emergency exit rows must understand all commands given by the crew (e.g., when to, and when not to, open exits).

Pre-flight Individual Emergency Exit Seat Verification 

The cabin crew should assess to determine the suitability of each passenger occupying an exit seat, such:

  1. Visual assessment
  2. Verbal assessment

In addition to the above assessments, the cabin crew should request the passengers to read over the safety information briefing card regarding exit seating.

The cabin crew should have an agreement from each passenger occupying an exit seat that they are willing and able to assist in an emergency evacuation.


Passengers who are physically able and are willing to assist crew in emergencies are called able-bodied passengers.

Able-bodied passengers play an important role in helping the cabin crew during initialing the aircraft emergency evacuation. This help may maximize a survival opportunity, especially if the able-bodied passengers are choosing as per ICAO cabin safety guidelines.

Airlines should assign a suitable aircraft passenger to occupy an emergency exit row seat or a seat adjacent to an emergency exit.

See how Japan Airlines Assigning aircraft passengers to occupy an emergency exit seat. Click here

Maged Saeed AL-Hadabi

I’m Instructor / Maged Saeed Al-Hadabi. ​ Air Cargo / IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations / Safety Management System Senior Instructor, Auditor [ Yemen Airways] . Approved IATA DGR/ SMS Instructor by Yemen Civil Aviation Authority.

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