Airline seats getting smaller

The Case of the Incredible Shrinking Airline Seat

Admin Airplanes, Flex Air News

A court in Washington recently ordered the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to look into the size of their seats and potential dangers smaller seats may cause. On Friday, July 28 a United States Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia said that the FAA has to review policies involving seat size and legroom in relation to commercial aviation. The case was argued on March 10, 2017.

The group Flyers Rights brought forth the evidence to the court. The group advocates for passengers rights abroad airlines. According to their website, “ is the largest airline passenger non-profit organization with over 60,000 members.”

The court document begins by stating, “This is the Case of the Incredible Shrinking Airline Seat. As many have no doubt noticed, aircraft seats and the spacing between them have been getting smaller and smaller while American passengers have been growing in size.”

The case was first petitioned on August 26, 2015 by Flyers Rights. The court document states, “In its petition, Flyers Rights provided evidence that commercial airline seat and spacing dimensions have steadily decreased in size over the last several decades. The petition noted that economy-class ‘seat pitch’—the distance between a point on one seat and the same point on the seat directly in front of it—has decreased from an average of 35 inches to 31 inches, and in some airplanes has fallen as low as 28 inches. Evidence in the petition further indicated that average seat width has narrowed from approximately 18.5 inches in the early-2000s to 17 inches in the early to mid-2010s.”

In addition, information was provided that indicated since the 1960s, “the average American flyer had grown steadily larger in both height and girth.” It was noted this could imperil “passenger’s health and safety by slowing emergency egress and by causing deep vein thrombosis.” The last, according to the court document, is defined as “a potentially fatal condition involving blood clots in the legs.”

The court also found that the FAA was responsible in ensuring the safety for citizens on flights. While the court documents note the FAA responded to the allegations by stating “seat spacing did not affect the safety or speed of passenger evacuations.” The FAA “pointed to (at best) off-point studies and undisclosed tests using unknown parameters.” The court said that the FAA needs “decision making grounded in actual evidence.”

The FAA is allowed to review the petition for six months. At this point they can argue the case further or issue a “notice of proposed rulemaking or advanced notice of proposed rulemaking.”

Flyers Rights first came about in 2007. Kate Hanni, who is from Napa, California, had to wait nine hours with two kids in Austin, Texas with around 10,000 others. The website states, “She sought to organize other passengers to enact long stalled passenger rights legislation.” Soon over 20,000 people joined her group. This lead to the creation of the Three Hour Rule which gave “passengers the option of getting off delayed planes after three hours on the ground, and requires passengers be provided with adequate water, food, temperature, ventilation and working toilets after two hours.” As a result, according to the website, 98% of tarmac confinements were eliminated.