FAA Decides Not To Regulate Airline Seat Size
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.