Mile-High Responsibility

April 6th, 2010 by Kathy McManus

Should airlines be allowed to charge more for exit-row seats?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

Should airplane exit-row seats be open to anyone simply because they paid a premium for the extra legroom?

New York Times travel expert Joe Sharkey reports that higher pricing of exit-row seats—long assigned to elite flyers as perks because of the additional seven inches of space—is one of the latest ways airlines are raising revenues. But the practice is also raising concerns about “who exactly is sitting in those seats,” which come with the legal responsibility of having “sufficient mobility, strength, or dexterity” to open the 45-pound hatch during an emergency.

“The presumption has been loosely that elite fliers at least had the experience to know what the drill is in an emergency,” Joe Brancatelli, publisher of travel website, told the Times. The Federal Aviation Administration added that it’s the airline’s responsibility “to make sure that whoever they sit in that exit-row can perform the duties that are prescribed in the regulations.”

But with the seats now sold as revenue enhancers, The Times’ Sharkey says many readers have “expressed strong feelings about safety.” One business traveler said, “Very often these rows are occupied by people who look like they would be in difficulty if they had to do something [physically challenging]. And some of them will say anything to be able to stay in those seats.”

Tell us what you think: Should exit-row seats be sold at a higher price—and to anyone?