An exit row is the row of seats on an airplane that is next to the emergency exit. This row might be next to the wing, or near other exit doors. Exit-row seats are often some of the most coveted seats on an airplane because of their extra legroom. However, airlines will often charge extra for these seats, or they are reserved for elite frequent fliers.
A passenger sitting in an exit-row seat has the incredibly important responsibility of operating the emergency exit in case of an emergency. Flight attendants are required to brief exit-row passengers about how to do this properly.
Although an emergency is unlikely, studies have shown that the importance of exit row passengers being able to operate emergency exits cannot be understated. If you’re not up to the task, you must let your flight attendant know.
You can sit in the exit row if:
No, children cannot sit in the exit row. This includes infants. Passengers in the exit row must be physically able to assist during an emergency. Many airlines define a child in this case as anyone under 15 years old, but age requirements vary by airline.
If you need more legroom, the exit row has plenty of it (although the amount of legroom varies per aircraft).
However, these seats aren’t for everyone. If you’re nervous about assisting in an emergency, don’t sit here. In some airline configurations, the seats can also be narrower if the armrests are fixed to accommodate the tray table and entertainment.
If your exit row is also a bulkhead row (the row at the front of the plane or front of a section separated by a dividing wall) you may be asked to keep your carry-on luggage in the overhead, since there is no seat in front of you. In most exit rows, however, you can put an item under the seat in front of you, so long as it is fully underneath the seat and not obstructing the floor space.
If the aircraft has TVs, the exit row also has TVs. Sometimes they’re stored in the armrest of your seat, but usually they’ll be mounted on the bulkhead. The downside if they’re stored in the armrest: you’ll have to store your TV for take-off and landing.
Nowadays most airlines will charge extra for the exit-row seats or they will offer frequent fliers the chance to reserve first. Otherwise, passengers have the opportunity to request the exit row when they’re checking in.
The cost to reserve an exit-row seat depends entirely on the airline and the fare you’ve purchased. For example, on US carriers, reserving an exit-row seat may cost as little as $20 for domestic flights but can be as high as $200. Air France charges up to €70 to reserve an exit-row seat on a long-haul flight and up to €20 for a short flight.
It’s up to you to determine whether or not the extra expense is worth it. If you’re a very tall person on a long-haul flight, paying extra might be worth it for the additional comfort.
Whether or not your emergency exit row seat reclines depends on the aircraft. Some emergency exit rows have seats that recline, but seats in front of the emergency exit row usually do not recline because they could cause an obstruction in front of the emergency exit. If your aircraft has a double row of emergency seats, seats in the forward exit row won’t recline.
If this is a concern for you, use SeatGuru to find where you’re sitting and whether or not your seat reclines.
Again, booking an exit row seat will depend on the airline. Some airlines, like Alaska, dictate that only elite frequent fliers can reserve seats in advance. Other airlines like Delta will sell their exit-row seats as Preferred Seating, meaning you’ll pay at least $39 to reserve this seat in advance (and the price varies per airline, aircraft, route, and fare booked).
You can also consult the attendant at check-in or at your departure gate. If there’s an exit-row seat available, they may move you there free of charge.