My journey to Malta began at Newark airport where I boarded a Lufthansa A340-600 en route to Munich. I eagerly asked if I could get a window or an aisle seat, and they said, sure – we can do one better. When I got on the plane, I was happy to find that I was in an exit row, the holy grail of long-haul coach flights. This plane was a big one too. Even in all of my travels I don’t think I’ve ever been on a plane where when I asked where the restrooms were, the flight attendant motioned that they were downstairs. Downstairs? Really?
As luck would have it, I was in an exit row of two seats only, and my seat mate was an Italian from Venice who had been working in New York and was on his way back to resecure a working visa. After some time conversing in Italian, I discovered he was a barista at an espresso and wine bar in the East Village that I had just been to a week prior. Our conversation was interrupted by a young blonde flight attendant who greeted us with a smile.
“Auf Deutsch or English?” English we said. She then took out the emergency procedures card for each of our seats and handed them to us individually. “You are in an exit row, and as such you may be asked to assist in an evacuation.” “Fine”, we said. Now I have been in exit rows before, and most of the time it only means that the other passengers look at your outstretched legs with envy as they pass by. This was quite different.
She continued, “since you are in this exit row, please review the emergency procedures card. I will be back in a few moments to quiz you. If you don’t pass, you may not be able to sit here.”
The Italian looked at me – I looked at him – and our surprise quickly changed to into an in-depth investigation of the card. I pride myself on being able to memorize information quickly, vomit that information on to the paper, and then immediately forget it. But my brain was so foggy from lack of sleep [this happens on a run-up to every holiday] I was having trouble grasping the simplest of concepts. So, the Italian and I studied together. I paused for a moment and thought how ridiculous the situation was, but that soon morphed into newfound respect for whomever trains the staff at Lufthansa. The details of evacuation are actually important.
The flight attendant returned and quizzed us, and the Italian and I tag-teamed the answers, looking at each other for approval and to make sure we were correct.
“When do you begin the procedure of opening the door?” she asked me. “When evacuation is called by the flight attendants” I answered. “And when do you NOT open the door?” “When you look out the small window and see water or fire.” That was followed by some questions aimed at the Italian as to how to open the door. After her interrogation, she said “good, you both can stay.”
She left, and we congratulated each other in our victory, stretched out our legs, and began our flight to Munich.
Kudos to Lufthansa.