Earn your exit row seat, prove you can save lives

I look at the exit row as relief. When you’re staring down a short hop from New York to Boston or a long trans-Atlantic haul, that extra space boosts everything from comfort to morale. Once upon a time, luck was enough to land you one of these treasured spaces, but the brutality of the market has made the exit row a spot for the elite, such as frequent fliers who, for some reason, weren’t able to get the upgrade to the big time. Or, they go to passengers willing to shell out a few extra dollars for several hours of privilege.

Of course, this seat comes with an obligation. You have to be ready to assist the cabin crew if all hell breaks loose. This concept used to be academic, but it only took a landing on the Hudson River to remind us just how serious this role can be.

So, could you pull the trigger? Do you have what it takes to perform under pressure?

Passengers are starting to pay more attention to the card in the seat pouch and the additional briefing from the flight attendants. Full disclosure – I was lucky enough to grab an exit row on my trip to Madrid last month, and I read the card twice. I did the same thing on the way home, thanks to the fatality-free crash at London’s City Airport.

But, that’s not enough to tell if I would have the strength and presence of mind to haul a 50 lb. door out of the way.

One extreme view is to put together a mockup of an emergency exit door and encourage people to test their skills before claiming the extra-legroom prize. I say, why stop there? If you can’t navigate an airport like O.J. Simpson, maybe you should take that middle row toward the back of the plane.

For everyone else, I propose “the gauntlet.”It would start with a sprint through the security gate – x-ray machines be damned! You have to get past several TSA workers, but they won’t be working too hard. This is your warm-up. Next, a diving roll past a Sbarro is in order, and you must pick up a slice with sausage and pepperoni along the way … but you can’t eat it until you’ve sprinted by three gates.

This is nothing, though.

After picking up and paying for a USA Today with exact change (don’t forget your receipt!), you’ll face the proposed emergency exit door mockup. Yank the hefty door out of the way, trigger a life raft and fill your life vest … at the same time. Then, show that you can put an oxygen mask on a screaming toddler while sipping (and enjoying) some airline coffee with your left hand.

If you can do all this, perhaps, you deserve your spot on the exit row. But, you still won’t earn the good wishes of the rest of us. Nothing bets having the extra legroom.