Ryanair investigation highlights exit row issues

by Janice Hough on March 28, 2012


For regular airline industry watchers it often seems as if whenever there’s a controversy about fees, expect Ryanair to be involved.

This is no exception. The Irish Aviation Authority is investigating Ryanair’s exit row fee policy, and according to the U.K. Daily Mail, the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) have also questioned safety issues.

The issue is that not only does Ryanair charge UK£10 to sit in exit row seats, the airline will actually leave the seats vacant if passengers don’t pay the fee.

Unlike most U.S. domestic carriers, Ryanair doesn’t have elite fliers who can get exit-row seats for free. Any traveler who pays the airline’s regular advance seating fee can sit there.

Travelers who pay £5 for priority boarding on a Ryanair flight are told they can sit anywhere on the plane except the first two rows and the emergency exit rows in the center.

Plus, since Ryanair caters to what can be a very budget-oriented market, sometimes the airline can’t get enough people to pay the extra £5.

Thus, the worry is that there won’t be anyone near the door to open it in case of an emergency.

In the United States, most airlines could sell the exit row seats several times over. Although, usually they are given for free to elite frequent fliers.

Regarding, the safety issue, however, while passengers are asked to read the directions and acknowledge that they can help in case of an emergency, that rule doesn’t always seem tightly enforced.

Personally, I have clients in their 70s who fly enough to be exit-row eligible; airlines take their word that they are able to open the door over the phone or in email.

I’ve had people ask for exit-row seating because they have a “bum leg” or “just had had surgery” and, of course as many travel agents will attest, because they are traveling with children and want the extra space.

Once on the plane, children are removed from exit rows by flight attendants, which can results in loud parental complaining. But I’ve never seen any adult asked to move. Nor have I heard such a story, although client have complained of frail or infirmed passengers exit row seat mates.

For that matter, are there no rules about drinking or sleeping pills for anyone in an exit row. Although certainly anyone who recently took an Ambien or had a few (or more) drinks, might be less than useful in an emergency.

With all the security and other hassles involved in flying these days, I’m not yet advocating for additional test measures to ensure that anyone in an exit row is indeed able to open it.

But, as airlines increasingly see such seats as a perk and revenue source rather than as part of their safety procedures, it is, potentially, a topic for discussion.

So what do you think, Consumer Traveler readers? Would you like to see more stringent rules about exit row seats, or a physical test of strength and coordination at the airport? Should there be standards for alertness? I would love to hear your comments.


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  • Graham

    It’s Ryanair, not Ryan Air.

  • Graham

    It’s Ryanair, not Ryan Air.

  • davidg

    Hi, I once flew on Bmibaby from the UK to Spain. We were in the exit row and a gentleman on the opposite side exit row had a walking stick and was clearly infirm and he was made to move. I know we all ignore most of the small print but when you purchase one of these seats you do have to say that you are up to operating the exit equipment etc.

  • Paul

    I would prefer someone who is” physically” able to preform the tasks needed to be done in an emergency situation , and also “capable ” mentally to  execute  those tasks under stressful conditions                                            

  • DavidD

    I’ve seen passengers moved who couldn’t understand English well enough.
    Also I’m sure that Ryanair’s exit row seats give the legal minimum leg room for an exit rown and not an inch more. 

  • Anonymous

    I’ve observed enough competent FAs to a pre-flight check of the exit row passengers (and relocate some) to be confident in their judgement.

    And note that in some aircraft, the 737-800 being a good example, there is no lifting involved in opening the overwing exit so strength is not a major factor.  As time goes by we will see these kinds of exits on more aircraft.

  • Frank

    Once on the plane, children are removed from exit rows by flight attendants, which can results in loud parental complaining. But I’ve never seen any adult asked to move. Nor have I heard such a story, although client have complained of frail or infirmed passengers exit row seat mates.
    =================================================

    Non English speakers are a common problem with exit row seating.  I also, once had a woman with only ONE HAND sit there.  Felt horrible explaining to her that I had to remove her.  She was NOT happy!  Under age children can be found in the exit row on occasion.  I cant believe PARENTS would let or advocate LYING to us.  When I ask the age of teenagers in the exit row, they immediately say, 15.  Then, I ask what year were you born?  It doesnt ADD UP.
    NICE. 

  • Frank

    It IS a major factor.  Most aircraft with overwing exits, do IN FACT, have exits that need to be brought inward, turned sideways and THROWN OUT.  They’re awkward, heavy and hard to maneuver.

  • AKFLyer

    Large people sitting in exit rows give me pause.  While you can’t sit there (in the US) if you need a seatbelt extender, there are still some pretty rotund people who otherwise qualify, but who appear to me to be unlikely to the able to move fast enough or nimbly enough to either open the door or get out of the way of exiting passengers.  And I think there should be a drink limit for the exit row, as well.

    I’m a small, wiry athlete who never has more than one drink per flight.  My employer doesn’t pay for 1st class so I usually end up in the exit row.   I’d rather have people like me around who are strong, agile, and sober, and whose giant cabooses won’t block the exit for everyone else.

  • Evan Noll

    I cannot believe this is up for debate, of course it is essential to have people capable of opening the exits.  Its seems like something that is not a big deal at the time, but if, in that very rare case it is necessary, you will be glad to have that capable person!  And I am Ryanair does not have more than the minimum legroom. Did you see that on certain plains like Delta you can now pay for an extra four inches?  I just read this article- http://lechictravel.com/2011/10/delta-economy-comfort/

  • Anonymous

    Not an either-or issue.  US regulations require checking physical ability and willingness to assist.  Seats go to those who are elite or pay or whatever.

  • Anonymous

    If you read my words, I said strength is not a factor in the 737-800 and similar aircraft.  There is no lifting of any overwing exit in those aircraft.

  • Frank

    And, how do you think most exits OPEN?  Very few are peumatically opened and operated.  Strength is indeed a big issue with being an ABLED BODY PASSENGER in those exit rows.

  • Frank

    unfortunately, SALING the exit row seats reaffirms the passengers view of those seats.  They’re for COMFORT and NOT for safety.

  • Michelle

    AK, I usually agree with your comments, but I can’t here.  I am one of those overweight cabooses you see as not being able to move as needed.  So I don’t have an athletic body, but I still finish my marathons and am strong enough to lift a fair amount of weight.  Thanks for offering to have me moved based on my looks, not my ability. 

  • AKFLyer

    Michelle, obviously marathon runners like you are not the target of my concern.  I doubt you arrive at your seat panting from the exertion of walking down the jetway, or need to lever yourself upright by grabbing the seat in front of you every time you visit the lav.  I have sat in the exit row next to people who exibit such poor physical fitness and have wondered what would happen during an emergency landing if they were sitting next to the window exit, or if a FA needed them to get out of the way in a hurry.  I believe many non-athletes fool themselves about how fit they are.  Too bad administering a strength and agility test at the departure gate (open the mock door and crawl through the exit within x seconds) is not feasible.  BTW I’ve had to get out of an inverted mock-airplane submerged in a pool with a blindfold on — not easy!

  • Anonymous

    First, dear Frank, my comments have been obviously directed only at the one specific aircraft.  The overwing emergency exits in the 737-800 open by pulling a small lever.  Pulling takes about 10 pounds of force and can be done by a child (not saying a child is so authorized).  The procedure is similar to pulling a fire alarm.

    The exit door then opens automatically, and springs upwards and outwards, quite violently, hinged to the fuselage at the top.  I believe it’s fully mechanical.  Once so deployed it is not in the way of exit and remains attached to the aircraft.  Nothing to lift.  Check it out next time you’re in that aircraft … it’s really cool.

    If you’ve ever seen one open you would remember it forever.

  • Frank

    yes, you used the 737-800 series as an example, but you began with: And note that in some aircraft, the 737-800 being a good example, there is no lifting involved. 

    I go to Recurrent school every year and have to LIFT, TURN AND assimilate THROWING out Multiple exits.  The 737 is one of the most common aircraft flown in the World.  The 737-200 series, 300 series and 400′s series and others.
    Window exits usually come in two configurations:
    An unhinged hatch type exit, where the hatch is unlocked from the inside and pulled into the cabin, whereupon it can be disposed. Some carriers recommend placing the hatch onto the adjacent seats, while others may recommend dropping it in the next seat row, or rotating the exit and throwing it outside the aircraft as far forward as possible. A manual inflation handle for the evacuation slide, if equipped, can be found in the window frame. Most aircraft overwing exits are of this type.A hinged “self disposing” exit hatch, that opens automatically outward using a spring when the exit handle is pulled. This exit design was designed in response to research generated after the Manchester air disaster in 1985 which indicated that unhinged hatch type exits were difficult to open by untrained passengers. This design is currently found only on Boeing 737 NG aircraft.

  • Charlie

    There should be no question about it – in order to sit in an exit row one should be able to demonstrate that they can open it.  After all the person in that row is depended upon, not only by other customers but the crew. No DOUBT about it, their ability should be tested

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