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.