In the departure gate area at Heathrow, waiting for my plane to board. There are delays, and I can overhear conversations between crew, maintenance staff and agents. Eventually there’s an announcement – “the flight will be boarding soon, but can everyone who is seated in rows 32-40 please come to the side.”
The explanation given is that one of the exit doors at the back is broken. It is shut OK but will not open safely and cannot be repaired right away. So the decision is that noone will be allowed to sit in the rear section of the aircraft; they will have to be rebooked. If an emergency happens, they can get the remaining passengers out of the rest of the doors.
Once on board, I can see that the affected rows are taped off. They are not letting anyone spread out into those seats. There are many checks to ensure all the available seats are taken – the small gaps that often exist get filled in. There’s even an announcement that they will do a walkthrough of the cabin and you MUST be in the seat, not even using one of the lavs. Otherwise your seat WILL BE reassigned. While all that is going on, I can see from the window that there’s activity to remove the non-travelling passengers’ luggage. They claim they got all the right stuff off and left the correct stuff on.
What surprised me somewhat was that even after takeoff, when the emergency doors were not useful, they still didn’t allow people to spread out. But the light load did mean we got to Chicago on time, even after the long departure delay!