A US appeal court panel ruled on Friday 28th July 2017 that federal officials must reconsider their decision not to regulate the size of airline seats as a safety issue. One of the judges termed it “the case of the incredible shrinking airline seat.” The Flyers Rights passenger group challenged the Federal Aviation Administration in court following a rejected request to write rules governing airline seat sizes and the distance between the rows of seats.
“The Federal Aviation Administration had relied on outdated and irrelevant tests and studies before deciding that seat spacing was not a matter of safety, but comfort,” remarked the three-judge panel. The judges referred the issue back to the aviation administration and directed it to come with a well-reasoned out response to the safety concerns raised by the group.
Flyers Rights spokeswoman, Kendall Creighton commented, “We applaud the court’s decision in enabling and widening the path to larger seats.” According to Flyers Rights, small seats bunched too close together are responsible for slowing down emergency evacuations and also increase the risk of passengers developing clots in veins, notably in the legs.
“We have to oblige to the court’s ruling, and our next step is to consider the spacing between the seat rows when testing to ensure the safe evacuation of airlines,” remarked the Federal Aviation Administration spokesman, Ian Gregor. The airline industry has for a long time been opposing the regulation of seat size. Airlines for America, the main trade group for the airline industry in the US, declined to make a comment on the court ruling.
It is reported that airlines have been steadily reducing the space between rows to facilitate extra seats and enable them to rake in more money and increase profit margins. Discount carrier, Spirit Airlines, has a pitch of 28 inches. The pitch is the distance between the headrest of one seat and that of the seat in front. A pitch of 28 inches leaves little room for leg adjustment.
Earlier in the year, news leaked that American Airlines was planning to order new Boeing 737 jets with 29 inches of pitch in the final three rows. This would make space for an extra row of executive, premium priced seats towards the front of the plane. “After objections from customers and flight attendants, the plans were laid off, and we have customized our plan to 30 inches of pitch,” remarked American Airlines chief executive Doug Parker.
Flyers Rights are of the opinion that the average seat has become too narrow from 18.5 inches about a decade ago to 17 inches or less currently. This, they said, not only compromises passenger comfort but also their safety as well and this got the judges’ attention. “This is the case of the incredible shrinking airline seat.” Judge Patricia Millet commented. She further added, “As many, if not all of you, have noticed, aircraft seats and the spacing between them has been getting smaller and smaller by the day, yet the American passengers have been growing in size.”
Some lawmakers have proposed legislation to regulate airline seat size, and this could see the issue end up in congress.