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.
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.
- How often does it happen that safety exit rows go unseated?
- If no one selects to pay the exit row fee, do the airlines have rules in place to ask for volunteers to sit there?
- Do regulating authorities like the FAA have rules in place to compel the airlines to solicit passengers for those seats?
- 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?
- 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.