Self-Help Exits on KLM

This article was originally posted elsewhere in Late 2015

I recently had cause to complain to KLM about something which, to me, was a safety concern. My concerns were completely ignored by KLM, despite parroting the usual line about safety being their top priority, it clearly wasn't.

Four flights with them in two days, and there was some disparity in policy around emergency exits due to KLM's policy, which I appreciate is in line with all other airlines these days, of charging for exit row seats;

First Flight

The exit rows were unoccupied at boarding. The cabin crew helpfully selected a few individuals and asked them if they would move to these seats.

Second Flight

We were in row 10 directly in front of the emergency exit row (11) and as it was quite an empty flight, asked if we could move to occupy 11A/11C, the cabin crew agreed - thanked us - and we were on our way.

Third Flight

Upon boarding this flight, again due to the policy of charging for exit row seats, they were again unoccupied. Two passengers and myself politely requested if we could sit in them - we were told “No, that’s an additional cost seat” by a female crew member, who I assume to be the purser, who interrupted the member of cabin crew I’d actually asked.

The aircraft therefore took off without any of the exit rows occupied - this is very concerning and, had it been a UK CAA registered aircraft - would be clearly unlawful as per CAP 789 (Ch 30, 9);

“The aircraft certification process for emergency evacuation assumes that the seats next to self-help emergency exits are occupied by passengers. From an operational perspective, the occupancy of such seats has the potential benefit of a passenger being able to operate the emergency exit at an early stage if an emergency evacuation is required. If these seats are unoccupied, the operation of the
exit and subsequent evacuation could be delayed. This situation would require passengers to move from their seats to the exit and then familiarise themselves with its operation prior to opening the exit.”

CAP 789 further states

“Operators should ensure that passenger seats immediately adjacent to self-help emergency exits are occupied during the taxi, take-off and landing phases of flight”

I am aware that the above quotes CAA and I am not conversant with the laws of the Netherlands in this respect, however it is my experience that most rules across IATA/EASA countries are similar - and that this has been put in place for a good reason.

The fact that the certification process of most aircraft is dependant on this, suggests that a similar rule will exist within the Netherlands, although i would appreciate your comments on this.

Despite no definitive guidance on self-help emergency exit. EU-OPS 1.280 does clearly state;

“An operator shall establish procedures to ensure that passengers are seated where, in the event that an emergency evacuation is required, they may best assist and not hinder evacuation from the aeroplane”

It is my view that the decision by KLM to allow these seats to remain unoccupied during critical stages of flight is a case of putting profit before passenger safety. This is never acceptable, not least in aviation.

We all board an aircraft hoping not to have to use the overwing exits or the slides (I’m sure the novelty would soon wear thin) but they are there for a reason and the guidance of the aircraft manufacturer, regulations of the CAA and other regulatory bodies requires them to be occupied.

Worse still, later another crew member moved passengers into them during the flight (they were travelling together but not seated together) and they were later moved back by the same impertinent woman who wouldn't let people sit there unless they had paid for it.

KLM Response

Unfortunately, our industry's revenue environment has permanently changed, and we must operate accordingly. It has become necessary for us to continually examine every aspect of our business.

The seats on the exit rows and Economy Comfort zone are available as an additional paid service, but offered with a discount to Gold Elite members and free for Platinum members.

I appreciate your disappointment and we truly value your loyalty and support. However, in the interest of fairness, we can only apply our rules with consistency.

Mr McKillop I can assure you that we are aware of our obligations and the concern for public safety will always remain our top priority.

European regulations do not mandate that overwing exit rows are occupied by either passengers or crew, nor do we assign responsibility to nearby passengers when exit rows are unoccupied.

It is our goal to provide exceptional service on every occasion, and I hope you will provide us with an opportunity to restore your confidence. Your support is important to Air France, KLM and our SkyTeam partners. We look forward to your continued patronage and the privilege of serving your air travel needs again soon.

They claim "public safety will always remain our top priority" but yet ignore industry recommendations, and the aircraft manufacturers', advice on occupying exits.

Also "in the interest of fairness, [they] can only apply [their] rules with consistency." my experience was anything but consistent.


The ILT is the Dutch equivalent of the UK CAA, the regulatory body that oversees the operation of airlines and aircraft. When brought to their attention they replied as follows;

EU Regulation 965/2012 is in force. This regulation dictated no occupation of the overwing emergency exits. So if an operator decides that this seats are fated to frequent flyers there is no enforcement to prohibited this. However KLM procedures dictate due to an emergency: Assisting passengers - the (SR.) purser selects assisting passengers as required and reseats them, if necessary.


I brought this matter to the attention of EASA, who all but admitted that there was amendments in the pipeline, shortly after this was published which states;

Furthermore, EU regulatory requirements do not require seats adjacent to (any) emergency exit to be occupied by passengers during taxiing, take-off and landing. It may happen that exit areas remain empty and unmanned by cabin crew or passengers which can delay an evacuation process if the emergency requires so. This situation has been identified as an inadequate level of safety.

Interesting EASA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, agrees that this situation represents "an inadequate level of safety" but that the bean counters at KLM couldn't see this, and ignored concerns of this passenger.

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