FAA Decides Not To Regulate Airline Seat Size

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The FAA is sticking to its decision that there is no safety reason for the agency to regulate airline seat size, according to a letter published by the agency on Monday. The letter comes in response to a 2017 court order that called for the FAA to reconsider its decision to deny a petition from passenger advocacy group Flyers Rights. The petition claimed that some airlines’ use of increasingly narrow seats with less space between them (lower pitch) to fit more passengers on an aircraft was a matter for the FAA to regulate due to the practice’s potential to cause safety concerns in the event of an evacuation.

The 2017 court order (PDF), which called the FAA’s evidence “off-point studies and undisclosed tests using unknown parameters,” only required the agency to reconsider its position. It did not require any regulation of seat size. In its recently issued response (PDF), the FAA said that after re-examining the matter it can find no safety issues with the current seat sizes. “The key,” said the agency, “is that the time it takes to stand up from one’s seat, even if the seat is relatively narrow and installed at a 28-inch pitch, and even if the passenger is relatively large, is less than the time it will take to get the emergency exits opened and functional and for the line that begins forming in the aisle to clear.”

Although information from aircraft manufacturers regarding the performance of their aircraft in evacuation testing is considered proprietary, the FAA received permission from Airbus, Boeing and Embraer to share several videos showing evacuations tests with smaller seats. Flyers Rights raised concerns that the testing shown in the videos appears to have been done with only slim, fit participants and did not include anyone who was elderly, had a disability or had a child or infant with them. The FAA responded that testing with those groups might prove dangerous to the individuals involved and that although it cannot simulate every variable present in emergency situations, it believes the tests are still valid.

Comments (9)

It is evident that the FAA people must fly 1st class. If you have flown lately you might as well be put in a chicken coop. Your knees are up in your chest and you have no room. These people need to fly a regional jet and other airplanes in the coach section with very large people setting beside them.

Posted by: Lanny Murdock | July 6, 2018 5:51 AM    Report this comment

Don't be silly. The FAA doesn't have a travel budget. Most of those folks have never seen an airplane.

Posted by: David Bunin | July 6, 2018 6:18 AM    Report this comment

Yes, please give me another reason to hate flying commercial.

Posted by: Richard Montague | July 6, 2018 7:09 AM    Report this comment

Thanks for nothing, FAA. If you are offering a public carrier conveyance service for hire, there should be a requirement for some kind of a safe accomodation for taller people (otherwise, clearly state up front No Six Footers Allowed). I have a 25 inch femur length and literally cannot sit straight in these ridciulous 28" pitch seats while facing forward. A few rows of longer pitch seats allocated for this purpose would be sufficient...but no, FAA is more concerned with promoting bureaucracy than actually doing something to help the public.

Posted by: A Richie | July 6, 2018 9:17 AM    Report this comment

There is a reason I refer to the FAA as the "Friendly Airline Agency". They always side with the airlines and aircraft manufacturers over the general public. The current close spacing poses health risks in addition to the evacuation issue. Just ask any cardiologist about the hazards of DVT from sitting immobile for extended periods. But, the FAA ignores that as well. It would be interesting to take a bunch of average citizens off the street and see how they would fare in an evacuation drill as opposed to the athletic kids the manufacturers use for their videos.

Posted by: John McNamee | July 6, 2018 11:16 AM    Report this comment

Last time I checked, people still had the option to drive, take a bus or a train, or just stay home.

Posted by: YARS (Tom Yarsley) | July 6, 2018 12:29 PM    Report this comment

---> Last time I checked, people still had the option to drive, take a bus or a train, or just stay home.

I don't think many businesses are going to allow their employees to drive from coast to coast or spend two or three days on a train. Some people really have no realistic choice. I suppose when DVT becomes a common on-the-job injury, something might change.

Posted by: Ron Steele | July 6, 2018 12:58 PM    Report this comment

The fact that people still have the option to drive, take a bus or a train, or just stay home is no excuse for airlines to gratuitously abuse their customers just because they can. Last time I checked, there still is a concept increasingly ignored by the airlines called common public decorum and ethics.

Posted by: John Kliewer | July 6, 2018 7:15 PM    Report this comment

While sitting in one of those newer thinner seats on the airline flight I was on today, I almost laughed at the picture on the safety card (yes, I do look at them out of respect for the flight attendants who give the safety briefing) depicting a passenger doing the brace position. How can any average height person possibly get into that position without putting your face into a solid plastic seat back with the seat pitch so small. And what about putting your face against the seat back when there is no cushion on the back side of the seat in front of you. I'd like to meet the FAA person who approved that design so I can have him/her demonstrate to me what will happen to their/your face when it meets up against the solid plastic seat backing during a sudden deceleration or hard braking.

Posted by: matthew wagner | July 8, 2018 10:07 PM    Report this comment

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