Getting Around

Are Airline Fees Making Us Less Safe

Written By: jeff

Posted On: January 16th, 2012

airline fees make us unsafe

Where are the people? Copyright

Last week I flew between Bogota and Houston on my way to London on United flight 1008. It’s a flight I’ve been on many times shuttling between Colombia and the US. It’s an easy 4.5 hour flight, mostly free of turbulence, few frills and little drama.

About midway through the flight, I got up to go the bathroom from my seat in 12C. As I turned around, I was shocked at what I saw. The two emergency exit rows were virtually empty, save for 21A and 21F. Row 20, completely empty. Out of the 6 seats, 2 were occupied. Really? Some of the most coveted seats due to their expanded leg room, empty?

OK, calm down, maybe these people are just in the bathroom. 

When I came back, I gave the seats another look. Nope. Still empty.

airline fees make us unsafe

No sign that anyone was seated here. Copyright

As I took my seat, the question that came to mind was, “Is this even safe for the rest of us?” Who would open these doors if there was an emergency? And, if we were to go down, pandemonium would surely set in, leaving our lives in the hands of our collective ability to not beat each other to the door or try to squeeze through the row behind it to get out.

If memory serves, the additional fee for those seats at the time of check-in was $89. Clearly no one, not even the business passengers on the plane, wanted to pay that fee.

I sat on these thoughts over the weekend. And, when the terrible cruise accident happened this weekend in Italy, I felt I had to write about this. I mean if it’s unsafe to have kids in the exit rows, surely it’s even more unsafe to have no one seated in them.

So, I have some questions.

  1. How often does it happen that safety exit rows go unseated?
  2. If no one selects to pay the exit row fee, do the airlines have rules in place to ask for volunteers to sit there?
  3. Do regulating authorities like the FAA have rules in place to compel the airlines to solicit passengers for those seats?
  4. What are the safety procedures in case of an accident if no one is seated in the emergency row seats? And, is that part of the standard training for flight crews?
  5. Finally, is the desire of airlines to charge for any seat it deems “desirable” making us less safe?

These are questions I would certainly like to be answered.

Note: The photos in this post were taken by me on the flight with my iPhone.

If you like this post, sign up for our newsletter or subscribe to our RSS feed to keep up with Career Break Secrets’ career break and travel advice.

8 Responses to “Are Airline Fees Making Us Less Safe”

  1. Good questions. I’ve also wondered about all the carry-on luggage people are hauling on board these days. Since they are charging for checking luggage, more people are carrying on the max – and stashing it all over. Will that go flying around the plane in an accident?

  2. Cailin says:

    If I think about it every flight that I have been on when there has been an exit row like this they always get people to fill the seats ( at least one or two people per row per side) and they make sure you are old enough and responsible yadda yadda but I have never seen it empty!
    Are their thoughts that if a couple people have paid the extra fee its not fair to let other people sit there? But honestly you are right I would rather someone be offended then have my safety obstructed by no one knowing what to do. hmmmmmm

  3. NLM says:

    I never thought of this. My son, who is 6’5″ asked to move to an empty exit row (rather than share his full 3 seat row) and was denied. American Airlines, of course. On Southwest, though, he was invited to do so…another reason I love SWA

  4. Maria says:

    Interesting food for thought

  5. rob says:

    Presumably any adult with minimal intelligence and strength would take 10 seconds to open the emergency exit if necessary, even if they had to *gasp* walk 6 feet to get to the door.

    But… what is this freaky obsession with being “safe”? Do you ever drive? Take a bath or shower? The death risk of driving to the airport is one to three orders of magnitude greater than the risk of death from flying. Perhaps even 4 or 5 orders of magnitude. For the mathematically challenged that’s 10-100000 times, BTW.

    40000 – 50000 people a year die in the USA in car accidents. How many die in air accidents? What percentage of air crashes have empty exit row seats? Exactly. The additional death risk of that row being empty is immeasurably small. There’s a far, far better chance (statistically) that all the people on that plane will kill themselves than that their livespan will be influenced by an empty exit row.

    Worry about things worth worrying about. You’ll decrease your risk of accidental death far more by being more careful when you bathe than you ever could by making sure the exit row is staffed.

  6. You make a good point. The airlines are running so inefficiently, you wonder what shortcuts they are taking (training, maintenance) to save money.

  7. I noticed that there was an emergancy exit row seat vacant on the flight I took a couple of days ago. I though they would have been snapped up.

  8. Food for thought indeed. Didn’t know those seats cost extra – BUT I’ve been on many flights where they ask for volunteers for those seats – for safety reasons. Now that you bring it up though, it’s been several years since this has happened…hmmmmm. -Veronica

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge