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How to Get an Emergency Exit Row on a Plane

F or economy travellers, getting a seat in one of the emergency exit rows is a prized asset offering significantly more legroom comfort.

In this article we look at ways of securing the exit row and give an overview of (paid) options offered by various international airlines.

On narrow body planes, exit rows can be found at the overwing emergency exits and at the very front row on the left side near the main door. On wide-body planes the exit rows are located at various points throughout the aircraft where there are exit doors, generally at the front of each mini cabin.

Benefits of exit rows:

  • in an emergency you are closer to the exit door and will escape faster if the route is clear
  • increased legroom - from a few inches more seat pitch to a few feet of space
  • no seat recline in front of you
  • those in the front of cabin seats get off first on arrival

emergency exit row seats

Some possible drawbacks of exit rows:

  • hand baggage must be stowed for take-off and landing
  • on larger planes the emergency slide box can protrude into the window seat impeding legroom comfort
  • some emergency doors have small windows
  • other passengers can congregate in the area, feeling that it is "public space"

Note, airlines and aviation authorities have strict occupancy rules for exit seats - they will not allow children, "physically challenged" or sight-impaired passengers and non-English or non-native speakers.

If you sit in an exit row, you should always study the safety card carefully as you may be required to assist the cabin crew in an emergency situation.

Getting an Exit Row Seat

In the old days you could often turn up early at the airport and ask to sit in the exit row - this request was often granted. While this can still be the case for some airlines, the situation has become a little more complicated. Nowadays, exit row seekers have to contend with a number of factors : elite status frequent flyers, online check-in (OLCI), transfer passengers and paid-for seat assignments.

Let's review the exit row possibilities for a number of major international airlines:

British Airways
Pay £50/€60/$75 per exit row seat in World Traveller (economy) or World Traveller Plus (premium economy) - buy 14-40 days before flight via "Manage My Booking"
Pay £10/€12/$15 for any seat (including exit row) on short-haul Euro Traveller (economy)
Pay £60/€70/$90 for any seat (including exit row) on Club World (business class)
Buy either up to 25 hours before flight via "Manage My Booking"
Free seat assignment (including exit row ) for BA Gold/Premier at time of booking
Free seat assignment at OLCI, T-24 hours - small chance exit row may still be available
BA also offers advance seat selection (non-exit row) for £25/€30/$38 (WT) and £30/€35/$45 (WTP) up to 25 hours before flight
No children under 12 on exit row
Virgin Atlantic
Exit rows can be booked for a fee: £40-£115 ($60-$180) depending on route
Example prices: London-Sydney £115/$180; London-New York £50/$80; London-Hong Kong/Tokyo/San Francisco/Cape Town £75/$120; London-Los Angeles £80/$130; Hong Kong-Sydney £40/$60
Book via call centre or at airport
Standard seats can be pre-assigned at booking
OLCI T-24 (those with pre assigned seats should check-in by T-2 or T-13 ex-London Heathrow)
No children under 16 on exit row
Air France
Seat Plus seats - exit rows on selected wide body aircraft (773/772/A330/A380) plus entire economy upper deck on 747
Pay €50/€70 per seat for flights under/over 9 hours
Buy at booking, "Manage Your Reservation" or at OLCI/airport kiosk
Free for Flying Blue Platinum/Gold
No children under 12 on exit row
KLM
Sells exit row seats up to 38" pitch (short-haul) and 55" (long-haul)
Pay €20-€70 depending on route length, bookable from 90 days prior to departure
Buy at booking, "Manage My Booking" or at OLCI/airport kiosk
Free for Flying Blue Platinum; 50%/25% discount for Gold/Silver
No children under 18 on exit row
Also sells seats in "Economy Comfort" zone with 4" more legroom
Pay €60-€150 on intercontinental flights, depending on route
Also sells seats in a row of 2 for €30
Lufthansa
Assigned seats for free at booking for intercontinental flights
Priority to top tier frequent flyers (HON/Senator/Star Gold) who also get adjacent seat blocked
Try at OLCI at T-24
Swiss
Call for free seat assignment or use OLCI at T-24
Priority to top tier frequent flyers (HON/Senator/Star Gold)
Iberia
Sells Tourist XL seats which include exit rows
Pay €60 per sector for exit row seat on intercontinental routes
Pay €15 per sector on flights to Canary Islands, Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
Pay €10 per sector on domestic flights
Buy either up to 24 hours before flight via "Booking Management"
Free for Iberia Plus Platinum/Gold & oneworld Emerald/Sapphire
No children under 15 on exit row
Finnair
Pay €60 per sector for exit row seat on intercontinental routes
Seats confirmed at check-in
Free for Finnair Plus Platinum members
No children under 12 on exit row
Qantas
Exit row can be purchased for international flights
Pay AU$160 for long-haul (Australia to Europe/Americas/Africa)
Pay AU$80 for medium-haul (Australia to Asia/Europe to Asia)
Pay AU$40 for short-haul (Australia to New Zealand/New Caledonia)
Buy up to 3 hours before flight via "Manage My Booking" or call centre
Not available at OLCI
No children under 15 on exit row
Qantas offers advance seat selection for other economy class seats on international flights for AU$20 (free for QF/oneworld elite)
Virgin Australia
Extra legroom seats (including exit rows) are available for sale
Pay AU$150(ex-Australia)/$110(ex-US)/AED150(ex-UAE) for international long-haul
Purchase only at check-in, subject to availability
Pay AU$20-AU$70 for international short-haul/domestic flights
Purchase during booking or via Guest Contact Centre before check-in
No children under 15 on exit row
Singapore Airlines
Sells Preferred Seats - exit/bulkhead rows in economy
Available on A380/A330/B747/B777
Pay US$50 per sector (so London-Sydney is US$100)
Purchase via “Manage Booking” up to 48 hours before departure
No discounts for KrisFlyer elite
No children under 15 on exit row
Malaysia Airlines
Sells Premium Seats (exit rows + selected first few rows)
Pay MYR150 for intercontinental flights
Pay MYR40 for Asia/Middle East flights
Pay MYR20 for domestic/ASEAN flights
Purchase at booking or via “Manage My Booking” up to 48 hours before departure
Free OLCI at T-48: Exit rows could be available if unsold
No discounts for elite status
No children under 15 on exit row
Cathay Pacific
Sells extra legroom seats (exit rows)
Pay US$100 for long-haul flights
Pay US$20 for short-haul flights
Free for Marco Polo/oneworld elite
Book by calling local call centre up to 24 hours before departure
No children under 12 on exit row
Emirates
Standard seats can be pre-assigned
Exit rows only given at airport checkin, subject to availability
Etihad
Standard seats can be pre-assigned
Exit rows only given at airport checkin, subject to availability
American Airlines
Preferred Plus Seating (exit rows) freely pre-assigned to AA/oneworld elite and full fare customers only
Sells Preferred Seats (nearer front, not necessarily with extra legroom) "from $4" per flight (free for elite/full fare)
Small possibility of exit row availability at OLCI/check-in
United Airlines
Exit rows freely pre-assigned only to elite 1K or Premier Executive
Sells Economy Plus seating (seats with increased legroom, not the exit rows) from $9-$119 per flight (free for elite)
Economy Plus annual membership $499
Delta Airlines
Preferred Seats (including exit rows) freely pre-assigned only to Medallion elite and full fare customers only
At OLCI (T-24), any non-assigned Preferred Seat can be purchased for $9-$29 (domestic)
Economy Comfort seats (similar to KLM, with up to 4" more legroom, not exit rows) on sale for $80-$160 per segment on international flights, free for Diamond/Platinum/full fare, 50%/25% off for Gold/Silver

For a London-Sydney trip, the cheapest exit row for purchase would be with Singapore Airlines ($100) and Malaysia Airlines (circa $100) compared to British Airways ($150), Virgin Atlantic ($180) and Cathay Pacific ($200).

Note: above information accuracy cannot be guaranteed and is subject to change.

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