Photo: Chanita Chokchaikul/Shutterstock

Why Tray Tables in Exit Rows Are Different Than in Normal Rows

by Matador Creators Mar 14, 2024

Most of us probably don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about airplane tray tables. It’s easy to simply believe that all tray tables are created equal, that airplane engineers aren’t exactly expending much creative energy on designing cool or innovative tray tables. And it’s true, apart from the rarified air of first and business class, economy amenities are all pretty much the same: a little seat back net barely stretchy enough to hold your water bottle, and a tray that swings down to hold your snacks, cup of water, and mediocre airplane meal. If you’re lucky, on some planes it might even extend and retract. But did you know trays within the same plane cabin can actually look different?

Well, maybe not the tray itself, but the mechanism that makes it work functions differently if you happen to be in an exit row. Even the most seasoned travelers have probably never noticed that something’s a little different about their exit row tray stopper.

@itsmekikooooo Did you know the different?🤨❤️#viral #fypシ #fypageeeee #fyp #foryoupage #fypage #foryou #cabincrewlife #flightattendant #stewardess #cabincrew #cabincrew #crew ♬ Bops Goin Brazy – Tyga

This TikTok video, posted by itsmekikooooo, shows how the stopper in a standard airplane seat has a full range of 180-degree motion, swinging smoothly from side to side. Then, she shows the tray stopper in an exit row seat, which has a little circle preventing the stopper from moving to the left, meaning the tray table can only be released by moving the stopper in one direction. This additional layer of security seems a little superfluous, but when you hear the explanation, it actually makes a lot of sense.

@flyswiss The more you know! In the emergency exit row, the opening of the tray table is only possible in one direction, compared to all other seat rows. Like this in the unlikely event of an emergency, an unintended opening of the tray table (due to people rushing by) is avoided. #flyswiss #didyouknow #themoreyouknow #aviation ♬ Pieces (Solo Piano Version) – Danilo Stankovic

As Swiss International Air Lines explains in the caption of their own TikTok video, this is to prevent the unintended opening of a tray table in the event of an emergency, by passengers rushing past the seat. A tray table could, in theory, swing down accidentally, blocking passengers from reaching the exit. If the stopper can only move in one direction, that’s much less likely to happen.

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