The Federal Aviation Administration wants to ban passengers who might have difficulty operating an airliner's emergency exits from sitting in those exit row seats.

The ban would include those with physical and mental disabilities, children traveling alone, parents who would also be responsible for small children in an emergency and those who for any reason would have difficulty opening the door.Surprisingly, the proposal has been criticized by a national organization of the blind and a handicapped veterans group, who claim that such a rule would amount to discrimination.

FAA spokesman James Gashel called it a "critical safety issue" and said that in an emergency, individuals seated near emergency exits become auxiliary flight attendants.

But the president of the National Federation of the Blind, Mark Maurer, suggested that a blind person might in fact be the best person to have seated in such a location during a fire, because he would be used to not seeing and would not be blinded by smoke.

Discrimination does not seem to be a valid issue. Although some individuals might be denied the opportunity to sit in specific seats, they would in no way be denied access to air travel.

In fact, such a rule would seem to provide added protection to all air travelers.

Although the federation has been vocal in speaking out against such a proposal, many blind people support the move, saying it would protect their interests and other passengers' as well.

It seems logical to err on the side of caution. Although many blind or handicapped people might be able to operate an emergency door, seating someone who had difficulty there could lead to dire consequences.

And surely the last thing someone who is impeded by any type of disability or frailty would want is a number of other passengers pushing and shoving to get at the emergency exit.