7 reasons why I hate exit row seats (a brutally honest confession)

7 reasons why I hate exit row seats (a brutally honest confession)

I realize that this might be an unpopular opinion, but I’m going to say it anyway: I hate exit row seats on airplanes. I totally understand why some people go really far out of their way to sit in the exit row, but it’s just not for me.

Although I’m going to explain all the individual reasons below, the main reason I dislike them is the fact that there are a lot of rules to follow. The responsibility of taking charge in the event of a emergency turns me off as well. Am I a bad human for admitting that out loud?

I learned very early on in my journey as a frequent flyer that I like things to be as simple as possible when I travel. Being given a seat with more legroom in exchange for having to follow more rules and (and volunteer for some potentially serious obligations) isn’t my thing.

Why I hate exit row seats (some of these reasons are petty, I know)

Before going any further, it’s important to note that I’m not going to turn down an exit row seat if one is offered to me. All I’m saying is that it’s very rare that I’ll go out of my way to secure one for myself. Here’s why:

1. My carryon bag has to go *fully* under the seat in front of me

I’ve always been the type of flyer who can go anywhere in the world (for any amount of time) with just my backpack. The backpacks I have owned in my life have all been very special to me, and I often think of them as my loyal travel companions for my journeys around the world.

Since I like to have access to all my belongings with me at my seat, I hardly ever make use of the overhead bins when flying economy class. Even when my backpack is fat and overstuffed with everything I cram into it for a long trip, it always goes under the seat in front of me.

In the exit row, all under-seat baggage must be placed fully under the seat in front of you. Even if it’s just hanging out an inch or two, the cabin crew will be quick to let you know that there are two options: get it to fit all the way under the seat, or place it in an overhead bin. I don’t wanna place it in an overhead bin.

under seat bag in exit row
My knees might not be all that nice to look at, but I totally nailed that bag placement.

2. The seats don’t fully recline

Another reason why I don’t like exit row seats is that the seats don’t recline. Don’t give me wrong – I’ve never been the type of person who instantly slams the seat back as far as it will go as soon as I sit down. An inch or two of recline is just the amount that I need to take some of the pressure off my lower back on longer flights.

I don’t know about you, but I can deal with a lack of legroom a lot better than I can lower back pain. This obviously isn’t a big deal on shorter flights, but it’s one of the primary reasons why I will avoid exit row seats on flights over 3 hours in length.

exit row seat recline
A neon-pink throwback to Virgin America A320 exit row economy seats. Since you couldn’t lean the seat back in this row, your only option was to lean all the way forward (with your face on the tray table). Hopefully the lip fungus she most certainly got from doing this didn’t last long…

3. The in-flight entertainment experience isn’t as good

One of the things I never hear anybody talk about is how diminished the exit row in-flight entertainment experience is. Sure, you’ll get the exact same features and amenities that everyone else in economy class does, but it’s a much more awkward experience IMHO.

Basically, the video screen in the seat back in front of you will be much farther away. If you’re under 6 feet tall, you will very quickly feel the agony of having to reach far forward to swipe through all the options on the touchscreen.

It becomes even more frustrating if you can’t find anything to watch. Your arms will start buzzing from the lack of blood flow. Your back will be pinching in places it has never pinched before. Most annoyingly, your gut will be strangled by the seatbelt still latched tightly in place (as required by the same grumpy flight attendant who reminded you that your carryon bag wasn’t fully under the seat).

4. Sometimes there’s no window

I can’t count the number of times that I’ve booked myself an exit row seat, only to find out later that there were no windows in that particular row. My trip to Vienna on Turkish Airlines several years ago was a perfect example of this.

On the flight from Chicago to Istanbul, I was seated in a bulkhead exit row with no window. The legroom was decent, but I would’ve given that up in a second to be able to see what was happening outside.

Turkish Airlines 777-300 economy class exit row seats
Turkish Airlines 777-300 economy class is really good – just as long as you avoid the exit row seats!
SANspotter exit row no window
One of these days I’m going to smarten up and listen to my own advice.

On my connecting flight from Istanbul to Vienna, I had another exit row seat. And once again, no window. I basically flew halfway around the world in a window seat without being able to see any of the scenery along the way.

Turkish Airlines A321 exit row economy window seat leg room
I really couldn’t decide if Turkish Airlines A321 exit row economy was really good or really bad. On one hand, the leg room was ridiculous. On the other hand, the lack of a proper window had me questioning my choice in footwear for the entire flight.

Not all exit rows on airplanes are windowless. Some of them are though, so I suggest doing your research ahead of time so you don’t get any nasty surprises as you board your flight.

5. Sometimes there’s a lack of leg room

Depending on the type of aircraft that you’re flying on, some exit row seats have less legroom than regular economy seats. It’s rare, but it happens!

A perfect example of this was that Turkish Airlines flight from Chicago to Istanbul that I mentioned above. My exit row seat was in a bulkhead row against the window. Just ahead of me was an emergency exit door.

Unfortunately for my feet, at the base of that exit door was a protruding box (which contained a compacted life raft). You’re not allowed to put your feet on that box, so I basically had to sit sideways all the way from Chicago to Istanbul.

boeing 777-300 exit door life raft bulge
Exit row seats with a lack of leg room do exist! Be gentle with these boxes on the emergency exit doors though. There’s a life raft in there just waiting for any excuse to inflate inside the cabin and kill you dead.

6. I loathe the awkward encounters with the flight attendants

Another thing that I don’t like about exit row seats is that sometimes there are flight attendant jump seats right in front of them (directly facing the exit row seats). These are the seats that the flight attendants sit in during takeoff and landing. And because you will be facing each other when they’re sitting there, it can be extremely awkward.

I can imagine that being forced to sit face-to-face with a complete stranger might not seem so scary for the extroverted types. However, even if you’re the slightest bit introverted like I am, feels pretty much like hell on earth as you nervously try to avoid direct eye contact. No offense to the flight attendants of course.

flight attendant jump seat airbus a321
Is there anything worse than sitting down and seeing that flight attendant jump seat right in front of you? I’m basically scrambling to download videos to watch during takeoff and landing at this point. Anything to avoid direct eye contact!

7. I don’t want to be the last off the plane in an emergency

And finally, the most controversial reason of all why I hate exit row seats: I don’t want the responsibility! When sitting in an exit row seat, you will be required to assist the cabin crew in the event of an emergency.

If you’re in the window seat, you will be responsible for popping the door open. Not only that, you will then have to stand there at the door making sure that everyone gets out safely. You’re basically going to be the last one off the airplane.

emergency exit instructions
I can barely understand how to open a carton of milk for crying out loud. RIP to myself and everyone on the plane if I’m ever the one responsible for popping open the exit door in the event of an emergency.

Is it wrong of me to admit that I don’t want that kind of responsibility? Of course I’d be willing to help in any way that I can when the aircraft I’m on bursts into flames. However, I can’t say that I’d be willing to volunteer to be the last one off if **** gets real. Isn’t that the Captain’s job?

Comments (6)

  1. Euroflyer

    June 22, 2022
    • Scott (SANspotter)

      June 22, 2022
  2. ptahcha

    June 22, 2022
    • Scott (SANspotter)

      June 22, 2022
  3. Ken A

    June 23, 2022
    • Scott (SANspotter)

      June 23, 2022

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