This is not my first flight. I’m familiar with seats and flotation devices and tray tables and windows and call buttons and seat belts and no congregating in the aisles. I wrote about flying before here.
As I wait for my flight, I hear an announcement in the airport “Customers who accept preboarding will be not be permitted to sit in the Emergency Exit Row.” That’s not me. I board unassisted, going solo with my Sword of Protection, I mean my white cane, from waiting area to fuselage, but I am traveling with Stockton and family this trip, too. Once we board, Stockton with his long legs turns into the exit row. I sit next to him.
I see the red emergency exit handle over the window to pull. I verify with Stockton the operation required to open the door. I’m confident I could do it in an emergency.
American individualism. Dexterity and stubbornness. Plus, my will to live and desire to help people is strong.
Before takeoff, a flight attendant asks everyone in the row to verbalize assent on taking the responsibilities of sitting in the exit row. When I say yes, I believe yes, I am able. I wouldn’t panic; I used to lifeguard. I worked as an overnight camp counselor. She-Ra mode happens. I would rip that door open and stow it and secure it in an adrenaline rush. I would. Or, I could hurdle over a seat to get out of the way. Keep those passengers moving. Alert others that my way is clear. I’m imagining myself methodically pushing people down the evacuation slide like the elf and those starstruck then terrified kids in A Christmas Story. Or, after opening the hatch and going first down the chute into the choppy seas or a random land surface, directing others away from the aircraft as she might blow. Go now.
I think about the abilities of the exit row passengers. I move quickly. I’m sound. I swim. I’m sober. I’m not severe enough to be classified as legally blind, but where does that leave me? I research things later when I arrive home. My generosity, my willingness to help, my clear state of mind, my tactile sensitivity, my oxygen tankless, my skinniness, my childlessness, my physical strength mean nothing because of my marginalizing low vision as I read up on airline policies. Some airlines even list if you have low vision, you are not allowed in the exit row.
Certain passengers cannot be seated in emergency exit rows where they could obstruct access to emergency equipment or hinder an emergency aircraft evacuation:
Passengers with reduced mobility, blind/vision impaired, intellectual disability, those travelling with an assistance dog and passengers whose physical size or age would prevent from being able to move quickly.
Others say if you require preboarding or any special assistance, you can’t sit in the exit row, but don’t specify low vision. I search more and scan some Federal Regulations. Here’s a link to FAA guided requirements.
It’s probably best if I don’t sit in an exit row–for the airlines that don’t already bar me–now that I have scoured the policies. I’m not willing to plead my good-hearted case with a flight attendant who is just trying to do his job. Technically, there could be a weak hand signal from a flight attendant I could misunderstand if she was rendered mute during an emergency. Small print on the airstrips would be unreadable to me. My ability to lead others to safety would ruin the local TV station’s chance to film someone with a disability needing help. My She-Ra tendencies will have to contain themselves. Your loss.
Back to the tarmac. The captain tells the crew to prepare for takeoff. We taxi down the runway. The jet engines rev up and roar. The plane builds speed and bounces a few times over the concrete airstrip. The vibrations at my feet increase. There is a rumble then we lift, flying up, up into the sky of mini pretzel snacks and recirculated air. Whoosh.