Judging By Appearance is Wrong, Except in the Exit Row

Posted May 12, 2016

Traveling seems to be a major headache for everybody these days. From the increased prices to the crazy long security lines, there’s become an increasing number of variables that continue to agitate and frustrate commuters. While many of us believe that the changes are for our security, I can’t help but notice how almost everything about airplanes seems to have transitioned into the modern world in one other major way: it’s all about money.

Want a snack? Buy a $15 box of random treats.

Want leg room? Pay $25 for something called Main Cabin Extra.

Want to check a bag? Offer up your first born child and show up four hours early.

I’ve grown accustomed to all of this and have learned to deal with it without it really affecting my plane travel. But there’s a line that I’ve noticed being continuously crossed and it’s hard for me to control my agitation. Every time I walk by the exit row seats and see the faces of the people who were quicker to pay the $50 up charge than me, I can’t help but feel like showing them how quickly I can open that exit door, and then throwing them through it.

I’m all for equal opportunity, and I firmly believe that making decisions based on superficial qualities like wealth or physical appearance is detrimental in society. In fact, I likely just got done preaching it to my students when we read Perks of Being a Wallflower, or The Great Gatsby, and “Othello,” and many more.

However, in this moment, as I sit with my legs pushed into my chest by a man about my size who pushes his chair back seems intent on ignoring the space my body takes up, I want to start a movement to physically profile for acceptance into the exit row seats. If we have to submit applications for colleges, jobs, and dating apps, why aren’t we doing it for positions that are meant to, in worst case scenarios, actually help determine life and death?

Sorry, Susie, but we regret to inform you that your application to this university has been declined due to you skipping every class, constantly bullying younger students, and failing to submit an essay on your application. However, I will absolutely trust you with my life if you can pay a major corporation $25.

As I walked down the aisle on my recent flight to Austin, I started immediately sizing up everybody in the two exit rows and judging them based on their likely ability to help me in emergency (and as a consequence, their worthiness of that leg room). There’s a small, frail woman who looks about 90-100 pounds. Not the most inspiring, but she could still be capable enough of opening the door and taking control of the situation. Her 5’5″ frame makes it completely unnecessary for her to have the leg room, but she can stay. The muscle bound dude with arms littered with tattoos next to her qualifies because he looks like he could rip the door of it’s hinges and he absolutely needs to extra room.

But then I eye the short, older woman, who glares at me as I walk by. She has on more money in jeweled accessories than I make in my monthly paycheck, and she probably hasn’t lifted a finger to do anything for herself in years. Even with her legs fully stretched out, they barely reach underneath the seat in front of her. Across the aisle from her is an even older man with an impressive mustache but a less impressive likelihood of strength. I’m not sure if they could lift up a mattress with their combined strength.

Now, I know all of this may seem to come from the bitterness and judgment of somebody who just wants more leg room, and it partially does. But, I’m also posing a serious question: why do we just let anybody who is older than 16 and “feels they can handle the responsibility” sit in the exit row? If the plane were to actually need an emergency landing, those people would be crucial.

If you aren’t comfortable with profiling then think of it as an application. If you are applying for a position of any level of responsibility, you’re required to submit an application or be verified in some way. Jobs, loans, school. Shoot, even signing up for dating websites requires some sort of verification; some have even become invitation only.

And that’s the best way to approach the emergency exit as well. If you’re willing to submit yourself to a screener so that you don’t get dick pics from a douchebag on a dating site, then you should be willing to do the same to determine if the person in the position to save your life is fully capable.

I may seem callous or unfair to some, but we’re talking about potential life and death. For the safety of all of the passengers, we should hold the people in those seats to a certain standard and not just allow them to sit there because they sat by the computer and checked in before everybody else or chose to pay more money.