James Lileks
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When we took our seats on the plane, I realized I'd booked the emergency exit row. The flight attendant asked, "Are you willing and able" to perform our duties? I could've said, "I am fully prepared to blow this door wide open," but it's like hearing the pilot say, "When I go, I'm taking everyone with me." Technically, it's true, but it's best not said.

My wife, who takes civic duties seriously, started to read the instructions in the seat pocket, which I don't think anyone has done in the history of aviation. I doubt that Charles Lindbergh took a look at the water-landing protocols. "Eh, what are the odds?"

But that's the sort of conscientious, responsible person she is. This made me think that I should read them, too, because if we did land in the drink, she'd be the one opening the door while I stood there useless, confirming studies that say women do 65% of the emergency evacuation, which, on top of housework, is a common source of marital discord.

In my nervous flying days, the very existence of the emergency door was a problem. Why do they need that? What's going to happen? Are we all supposed to go out that one little door? Why can't we have ejector seats with parachutes?

Then I got used to flying so much that I paid the door no attention, and when they asked if I was willing and able, I said "sure" in the same way you'd say sure if you were touring a nuclear power plant and a guy said, "Hey, can you watch these dials for a second? Hit the red button marked scram if all the sirens go off. Be right back." Sure, like that's going to happen.

But now it seemed as if I should learn this. In the unlikely event of a damp landing, the flight attendants will be busy cross-checking or all-calling. It just seems an odd thing to leave up to amateurs.

That's why there are instructions, of course. So, we studied what we were supposed to do, and it's simple: Pull UP the red lever, push the door OUT, pull the thing marked PULL and then fling ourselves into the void, hoping the life raft deploys. If it doesn't, well, that's a bad review on expedia.com you just can't wait to write.

"Where's the knife?" My wife asked. She pointed to a drawing that showed the faceless passenger-savior severing the rope that tied the raft to the plane. This would seem to be an important step. Otherwise, you join your luggage in the briny deep.

"I don't know. It has to be there. You can't go around asking for knives at a time like that. They'd have been confiscated back at security. Even if you had a meal in flight, they don't give you a knife. This is what it's come to — from the elegant days of dining on china with fine cutlery, to digging out butter from a plastic cup with the butt end of your fork. Thanks, Al Qaeda."

"There has to be a knife, but it doesn't say where," she pointed out.

"It'll be obvious! They can't just assume we'd have a knife. They'd ask, 'Are you able and willing and in possession of a raft-rope saw?'"

Bottom line: You're sort of in trouble when the flight attendant takes away your knife. You're really in trouble when she gives you one.