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Of the several restrictions every U.S. airline passenger knows about regarding who can and can’t sit in an aircraft’s emergency-exit rows (no one under 15, or physically disabled, or travelling with small children, yadda yadda yadda), one of the strangest is a blanket prohibition against preboarders sitting in exit rows.

Now, this does make sense for some specific subsets of preboarders; for instance, one common category of passengers allowed to preboard comprises those with physical disabilities severe enough for them to require extra time, and a near-empty aircraft, in order to board (if someone is disabled enough to severely impair their ability to board the aircraft, one would probably not want to have to rely on them to potentially have to open and maneouvre a heavy emergency exit hatch), while another common preboarding group, families travelling with small children, is already excluded by the prohibition from exit-row seating of small children and those travelling with same.

However, the severely-physically-disabled and the possessed-of-small-children are far from the only types of preboarders; a third group of passengers routinely afforded preboarding rights by most airlines are active-duty military personnel, who are among the best possible choices for exit-row duty, due to their generally-excellent physical condition and discipline. So why does the FAA ban preboarders as a whole from sitting in emergency-exit rows, rather than only those preboarders whose reasons for preboarding would actually impair their ability to perform emergency-exit tasks in an emergency?

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  • $\begingroup$ As best I can tell, exit row seating is now nothing more than a revenue generating feature and your abilities to actually serve in the role aren't questioned as proved by the fact that you can reserve those seats online. $\endgroup$ – Carey Gregory Apr 7 '20 at 0:40
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    $\begingroup$ Can you point to the actual FAR that bans this? I cant seem to find it. 121.585 does not mention this and a lot seems to be up to the approved OpSpecs of the 121 operator. $\endgroup$ – Dave Apr 7 '20 at 1:18
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    $\begingroup$ I don’t think there is a specific ban on pre-boarders. More than likely, it’s a policy. It is probably per airline SOP. I frequently get the exit row. I either reserve it or get at check in. As far as it being a revenue generator, I don’t pay for it. Try to always fly the same airline. After a while, you get perks. If that is not a possibility, just be nice to your gate agent. Smiles are great currency. I have been denied reserving the exit row on flights on airlines I don’t usually frequent. That is where the smile comes in handy. $\endgroup$ – Dean F. Apr 7 '20 at 2:17
  • $\begingroup$ Evacuation can occur during boarding. In this case, it may help if there are fewer people in the exit row. $\endgroup$ – Anonymous Physicist Apr 7 '20 at 3:30
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    $\begingroup$ Are you talking about Southwest Airlines? AFAIK, they're the only ones that don't have pre-assigned seats. $\endgroup$ – mkennedy Apr 7 '20 at 21:41

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