The Emergency Aisle

I sat in an emergency row on an airplane for the first time today.

I don’t like the emergency row—it’s the row next to the part of the plane designed to come apart from the rest of the plane. I don’t like that. It feels like sitting next to a trap door at 30,000ft.

But today, one of my Southwest flights was full. I mean, totally full. 175 seats and each one filled with a mask-wearing passenger, which is kind of funny, considering everywhere in the airport, signage and overhead recorded messages remind you to observe social distancing… and then they cram you onto a plane, shoulder to shoulder.

Ahh. Science.

And this full fight meant I would be stuck in the horrible middle seat. I knew this because the DH always prefers the aisle and I always prefer to sit next to the DH which means when the flight is full, I take one for the team and plant myself in “The Seat Nobody Wants,” which is always fun, especially if it’s next to a “knees apart” guy. You know, the dude who refuses to sit with his legs together and, instead, assumes the stance of a baseball catcher: crotch open, knees splayed wide. They’re my favorite…just like kale.

But today, there were two seats available, all by themselves, but they were on the emergency row.

I stopped in the aisle and stared at them.

“You can take them if you want,” said the fight attendant.

“Emergency Exit Row.” That’s a lot of responsibility. I wasn’t sure if I could handle that level of aircraft responsibility and said as much to the flight attendant.

She informed me in no uncertain terms that if I sit in those two seats, I would need to accept that responsibility, confirming my decision with a verbal “yes.”

OMG. A verbal yes. It’s like I’m getting married to the plane.

Having never sat in the emergency row, I had no idea but was pretty sure this was WHY I didn’t want the pressure of the emergency row, but I also knew I didn’t want to sit in a crammed middle seat next to baseball catcher guy, so I said, “Yes.”

Now, I know the emergency row is named so for a reason. It’s the route through which passengers exit the plane in case of an emergency.

AIRPLANE and EMERGENCY. Two words you never want to hear in the same sentence. And the airlines is trusting regular schlubs like me with that? Shouldn’t there be some sort of emergency row mini-seminar or preparedness video? An emergency row certification? A print out to gauge reading comprehension? A physical fitness test? SOMETHING?

Apparently, “what you need to do is found on the laminated aircraft card in the seat back pocket in front of you,” so I pulled it out to take a look just in case my Boeing aircraft went down.


Turns out, my responsibility involves pulling a handle and kicking a door out so people can slide on the wing. Yeah, I can totally do that. I’ve pulled and kicked stuff before. No sweat. But the information card had a lot of other information, too. Stuff about threading cords through devices and where to lift to engage the slide. Kind of detailed stuff. This was like putting together a piece of furniture from IKEA while your house fell in around you.

I mean, what passenger is going to truly know how to do all of this?

And then I saw something that eased my Emergency Row fears; the illustrated square on the information card that reminded me everything would be fine.

In the event of an Southwest Airlines emergency landing, Chuck Norris shows up.

We’re all good here now.

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