Court Orders FAA To Review Airline Seat Space
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."