If you're deaf, you shouldn't sit in the exit row on a plane

I saw this in my Facebook feed today.

If you can’t see it, it is a woman signing her story about sitting in an exit row (seats picked out by her father). When the flight attendant came by and talked rather quickly about what being in the exit row entails, she asked him to slow down and repeat himself. The flight attendant then became concerned, consulted with a colleague, and asked her to move. The dad then stood up for her, saying she can hear, but she just needs you to slow down and speak clearly. The crux of the story is the rudeness of the flight attendant.

I honestly have my doubts about the rudeness of the flight attendant. If you can’t hear someone talking quickly on a loud plane, then you probably shouldn’t be in the exit row.

The only flaw I can see in this story is that the flight attendant should have asked for volunteers for someone to swap seats with the young woman. It’s not that uncommon to have to swap seats.

The mistake lays with the dad for even getting exit row seats in the first place. Why pick those seats if your daughter is deaf? Was he properly warned that the occupants of exit row seats must be able to perform a task in an emergency?

Out of curiosity, I looked at different airline websites to see what they say.




“You cannot sit in an exit seat if you: Need corrective aids beyond eyeglasses/contact lenses to see; Cannot understand crewmember instructions in English; Have a condition that could prevent…helping in an evacuation.”









” You must be able to understand and speak English” (to which I add–“in a very loud plane in evacuation procedures.”)

“You must be able to comprehend instructions for operating the emergency exit, including locating…” (Aha, there we go. You must be able to comprehend instructions, WHEN GIVEN QUICKLY DURING AN EMERGENCY.)





“be able to…understand oral commands given by a crewmember…”

“Be able to hear well enough to understand instructions shouted by crewmembers without assistance other than a hearing aid.”

Speaking slowly, clearly, and repeating things does not count. You have to hear well enough to understand things the first time around. Maybe even the second. But you can’t expect them to speak slowly in an emergency.





Southwest has no assigned seating. That said, they offer preboarding for individuals with disabilities so that they can choose seats other than the exit row.

I take advantage of this myself, because I know I wouldn’t be able to hear well enough during an evacuation, even if I understand and can physically do the job. Especially in an impact, my cochlear processor might fly off, my hearing aid might get damaged, and I might otherwise be less able to hear. (That said, Southwest has been wonderful in accommodating me, other than giving me a Braille magazine once in a while).




Poor United. They just keep screwing things up, don’t they?

They do a good job here. “Understand English well enough and hear well enough to understand crewmembers’ commands. Persons may wear a hearing aid.” To which I add–only if you can hear well enough when people speak quickly, and hear well enough when the plane is loud.

If you need a flight attendant to slow down and speak clearly on a loud plane, that is a fundamental alteration of the evacuation procedures. You cannot expect them to speak slowly and loudly if a plane is careening or crashing. It’s an emergency, for God’s sake. They also have the right to ask you to swap seats with someone else.

I’m less than sympathetic to the story. I understand that it’s very frustrating and offensive when you’re not being respected, and when people think you can’t do things when you can, but I take the side of the airlines in this case.

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