Sitting in the Exit Row September 29 2017

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

I don’t fly nearly as much as I used to.  But I happened to be on a flight from Palm Springs to Denver a few days ago (first leg of a trip to Virginia to see my 95 year old dad) and was able to get a seat in the exit row, right next to the window.  The exit row seems to be much sought after, especially with ever declining leg room in coach.

I had not been in the window seat of the exit row for a long time, but since I would be the one responsible for getting the exit door out, I decided to read the instructions a little more carefully than usual.  The doors are actually a bit on the heavy side – 40 pounds, but I should be able to handle that.  Among other things, the instructions state that exit row passengers need to be able to:

  • Speak and understand English.  Check.
  • Hear and understand commands given to you by crew members for opening exits and following emergency procedures.  Check.
  • See hand signals given by crew members and visually assess dangers outside the window/exit, such as smoke, fire, water, or debris that would make the exit unusable.  Check.
  • Locate the emergency exit, recognize the emergency exit opening mechanism, and operate the emergency exit with sufficient mobility, strength, and dexterity in both arms, both hands, and both legs.  Check.
  • Assist and lead others away from the aircraft.  (This one requires a little bigger commitment and some self-sacrifice.)  But that’s the coolest instruction of all.  So check.

I couldn’t help but wonder, though, how often they have to use emergency exits, and how likely it is that I would be on such a flight.  It’s one thing to be able to do those things.  It’s another to be able to do them under the pressure of an actual emergency.  So I looked it up.

According to a National Transportation Safety Board study, there were 42 evacuations during the 16-month study period in which the Safety Board recorded all evacuations. On average, an evacuation occurred every 11 days.  That’s a lot more often than I thought.  But the odds of that happening on your plane is very remote, with approximately 30,000 commercial airline flights in the U.S. per day.   The chance of you being on such a flight is one in roughly 300,000.  But it does happen to a group of passengers somewhere, once every 11 days.

I didn’t intend to get too philosophical about sitting in the exit row, but it was starting to help me reflect on the transitory nature of life. Having nothing but 35,000 feet of air below you creates a much different impression than traveling in a vehicle with wheels firmly in contact with the ground.  The reality is that you are over 100 times more likely to be killed traveling in a car compared to traveling by airplane for the same distance covered.  Riding on a motorcycle is 3000 times more likely to get us killed for the same amount of travel.
Traveling by car or motorcycle should actually be an even better reminder of our mortality than traveling by air. My job requires me to keep up with transportation statistics, and a staggering 37,000 traffic deaths occur per year in the US. alone.

That said, it is good for us to be reminded of our mortality.  It helps us and others to see our need for and dependence on God and to perhaps use our time on earth a little more wisely. God made note of this numerous times through the writers of Scripture.  Here is a compilation of a few related verses:

  • Psalm 39:4 – Lord, make me to know my end and what is the extent of my days; Let me know how transient I am.
  • Psalm 90:10 – As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years, yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; for soon it is gone and we fly away.
  • Psalm 90:12 - So teach us to number our days, that we may present to you a heart of wisdom.  
  • Psalm 103:14-16 – For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust. As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.  When the wind has passed over it, it is no more. And its place acknowledges it no longer.
  • Psalm 144:4 – Man is like a mere breath, his days are like a passing shadow.
  • James 4:14 – Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow.  You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.
  • James 1:9-11 – But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away.  For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.
  • I Peter 1:24 – All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass.  The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord endures forever.

As a Christian, considering our physical mortality should not lead us to despair, but rather should give us great hope.  For example, 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 states – Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, our inner man is being renewed day by day.  For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

As the old gospel song says, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.”  Every time we get into anything that travels at high speed, exit row or otherwise, it should remind us of this truth.

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Steve Smith