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From the simple perspective of how to save the maximum number of lives, where is the best place to seat oversize passengers and those with limited mobility?

I was in the over-wing exit row on a recent flight and noticed that exit appeared to smaller than the main doors. Also the exit row is reserved for fit and mobile passengers.

Do emergency evacuation strategies take this into account - is it best to seat the old/infirm/oversized passengers at the front by a full-sized exit - where they can be assisted out ASAP in an emergency? Or is there are risk of a log-jam of limited mobility people blocking a hoard of able bodied passengers behind them? Or maybe the ideal solution is let the able-bodied swarm out immediately, and then let the remaining exit in their own time?

Ocean liners have a tradition of following the 'Birkenhead rules' (aka 'women and children first' - unless it's an Italian ship of course!) but they have the luxury of a bit more time and space control the evacuation.

Or maybe aircraft crashes are just so chaotic there's no point in trying to plan anything?

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There is no safest place in an aircraft. But logically being not too far from an exit can help one with reduced mobility, specially close to an "able-bodied passenger" assigned by the attendant to open the exit if required and the attendant is not available.

Flight attendant manuals can include such instructions:

Before each take-off and landing you should prepare yourself for a possible emergency by using the 30-seconds review. Consider such things as:

  • The location of possible ABP (able-bodied passengers) with particular attention to military and airline personnel who can assist you;
  • The location of those passengers who will need special assistance (physically challenged, unaccompanied minors, pregnant women, elderly etc)

(Defunct Freedom Air FAM)

ABP will help if needed and instructed by attendants. Such guidance implements the recommendation in IATA in Cabin Operations Safety best practices guide:

Below is a mnemonic for Silent Review used by some operators to help review some critical components. This example is known as “OLD ABC”:

  • O – Operation of exits
  • L – Location of emergency equipment
  • D – Drills (e.g., brace for impact)
  • A – Able-bodied passengers and passengers with reduced mobility
  • B – Brace position
  • C – Commands

IATA is the syndicate of air carriers. Transport Canada template of Flight Attendant Manual.

Flight attendants are trusted crew members, highly trained for passengers safety, this is their first task, well before welcoming passengers and selling drinks.

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