Court Orders FAA To Review Airline Seat Space

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While travelers have complained for years about shrinking space aboard airline flights, the FAA has elected to ignore the problem, saying it has not been shown to affect safety. But a federal court on Friday told the FAA they must “adequately address” issues raised by the advocacy group Flyers’ Rights. The petition said that since the early 2000s, the average seat width has narrowed by about an inch and a half, to 17 inches. The distance between seat backs, or pitch, also decreased, to as little as 28 inches. The petition also noted that during the same time span, American adults have grown larger, by an average of 24 pounds for women and 25 for men. The tight space could make it more difficult for passengers to evacuate in emergencies, according to Flyers’ Rights.

Flyers Rights petitioned the FAA in 2015 to place a moratorium on shrinking seat sizes and to create seat-size standards. The FAA has not conducted, or alternatively has not released, any tests, whether computer simulations or rehearsed evacuations, that demonstrate that planes with modern seat sizes and modern passenger sizes would pass emergency evacuation criteria, the petition states. The FAA does require airlines to prove they can get everyone off a plane in 90 seconds in an emergency. The judges gave the FAA six months to provide documentation to show why it shouldn’t regulate seat size. The FAA also was given 60 days to appeal the decision.

In a brief statement, the FAA said it "does consider seat pitch in testing and assessing the safe evacuation of commercial, passenger aircraft." The statement concludes: "We are studying the ruling carefully and any potential actions we may take to address the Court’s findings."

Comments (4)

This is long overdue. Getting out of either a middle or window coach seat is virtually impossible unless the occupants get up and stand in the aisle. Evacuating a modern 737 or A-320 series jet in 90 seconds would be basically a pipe dream.

Posted by: John McNamee | August 1, 2017 6:55 PM    Report this comment

It may be long overdue and then we have the safety hazard imposed on the passenger population by the obese individual that one is forced to sit next to. As seat sizes have shrunk, the traveling public had increased in bulk -- probably NOT in proportion to shrinking seat size. Seriously, is there anyway that can be addressed as a safety issue?

Posted by: Barbara Filkins | August 2, 2017 9:15 AM    Report this comment

Bah, government interference. If people really cared they wouldn't buy the seats. They buy the seats, obviously they have no problem with them.

Posted by: Joe Servov | August 2, 2017 7:05 PM    Report this comment

People buy the seats because they really don't have much choice. The FAA is charged with aviation safety, and seat spacing is one component of that issue. They have basically ignored the effect of spacing on aircraft evacuation for years. The recent evacuation of the American 767 following the engine fire on takeoff took about 2.5 minutes - well beyond the desired 90 second time frame for evacuating a passenger airliner. Cramming too many seats into an airframe only adds to that problem. This is in addition to the potential for passengers to develp blood clots and other health problems due to the inability to move around. The airlines like having you locked into a seat so you can't move around the cabin and interfere with the flight crew. So closer seat spacing is a win-win for them. But, at some point the spacing issue goes too far. Time for a thorough review.

Posted by: John McNamee | August 6, 2017 12:57 PM    Report this comment

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