Am I “Able” to Open the Exit-Row Door?

OK, this post reminds me of a conversation I had Friday night on the flight I managed to escape to (not “from,” despite the movie) LA last night.

I’d gotten the ticket with miles, because the last-minute prices to DC were nuts, the only way to do so was to (a) go out of IAD instead of DCA and (b) fly into SNA (John Wayne Airport in Orange County) instead of LAX. Thursday, I asked American if I could change it by going same-day standby, and they said, sure, if you want to burn more miles. So I was resigned to going to Dulles, and flying into Orange County, and Patricia picking me up there, with at least a 45-minute drive each way.

Fortunately, God (or whoever controls the weather) intervened, and my flight from IAD was delayed sufficiently that I missed my connection to SNA, and managed to get reassigned to a flight that went to LAX, with no penalty.

So I’m in an exit row on the flight, and the flight attendant comes by with the usual FAA-required question: “Are you willing and able to assist in opening the door in the case of an emergency?”

I’d been asked this question before in similar situations, but this time, I realized that I couldn’t say “yes” with any honesty. Because I had never actually opened an emergency door. Sure, I’d read the instructions, but had I ever done it? No.

So I said to the flight attendant (because I can occasionally be a pain in the ass from my pedantry, and it had been a long day), “Well, sure, I’m willing, but how can I know that I’m ‘able’? I’ve never done it before.”

There was an American captain sitting next to me, dead heading, and I said, “I’d bet no one in this row, except him, has ever opened an emergency door in an aircraft, so when you ask us if we’re able, there’s no way for us to know.”

The flight attendant is now flustered, and asks if I want to be moved.

“No, I’m sort of kidding, but it’s not a useful question, despite the FAA rules. What you should be asking is if I’m willing and have sufficient strength. I am and do. But none of us know if we are able, and we all hope that we don’t have to find out.”

9 thoughts on “Am I “Able” to Open the Exit-Row Door?”

  1. I’ve been asked that question a lot myself, but the only departure from the standard answer I give (“Si”) was a time that I was traveling with my equally wise-ass cousin.

    The flight attendant said “This is a 737-600. Are you able and willing to assist in opening the exit door in the event of an emergency.”

    “Yes…wait, you said a 600?. Oh, then forget it!”

    Fortunately, she had a sense of humor.

    1. Well, this was an 800, and it had the big door that opens automatically when you pull the lever, not the hatch which, according to the pilot sitting next to me, is a lot harder to open. But the hatch also has a much larger window. I actually had the best of both worlds, because that row doesn’t have a window seat. I was sitting right behind it, so I could stretch my legs with a real window.

  2. I tell them that not only can I open the emergency exits (all of them), I can also close them, repack the slides, and if needed, fly the airplane. And I would appreciate a coffee with cream, there’s a good girl.

  3. “Sure I can open the door but if you want me to walk out on the wing and fight the monster I expect an upgrade to first class” is what I didn’t say, because the flight attendant had probably never watched The Twilight Zone.

  4. C’mon people.

    An airplane is a “craft”, much like a ship or a ferryboat, where its safe operation requires active participation by the passengers.

    Maybe I am an engineering aviation nerd, but I read the seat card, look around for the exits and heed the safety demonstration on every leg of every flight. Think of it as a pre-flight checklist for passengers. Would you want the cockpit crew to skip checklist items because, “We have been through this so many times before, let’s hurry this up”?

    I don’t get seated in an exit row on a regular basis because these days this is a premium seat with more legroom that you have to pay for. The time I was seated and asked the question, I responded “I am able bodied and capable of following crew orders.”

    ’nuff sed.

  5. It is pretty funny to watch the faces of the people around you when you say “Sure, I’ve done it before, I can do it again.”

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