Last year, the Federal Administration of Aviation (FAA) was ordered to investigate the safety risks that smaller airline seats pose to passengers. The D.C. District Court of Appeals ruled that the FAA must review and readdress a petition filed by Flyersrights.org. In this petition the airline consumer advocacy group asked the FAA to limit the shrinking of airline seats. According to Flyersrights.org, seat pitch (amount of distance between any one point on a seat to the same point on the seat in front or behind) has shrunk from 35 to 31 inches. In economy airlines like Frontier or Spirit, the seat pitch can be as little as 28 inches. Additionally, airlines have reduced seat width going from 18.5 to 17 inches. Just as airline seats have decreased, adult men and woman have increased in size. This combination, they argued, makes it more difficult for passengers to exit in an emergency situation. This year the FAA has come back with their decision.
In the “case of the incredible shrinking airline seat” the Federal Administration of Aviation has declined to impose a minimum seat size requirement for airlines and have rejected the proposal from Flyersrights.org. Over the past year, they determined that seat size does not in fact reduce the speed at which a passenger can exit in an emergency. Stating that passengers can stand and queue for the emergency exit faster than it takes the exit to begin functioning.
More Issues Than Just Comfort
Flyersrights.org is not the only one fighting the incredible shrinking seat. Christopher Elliott, founder of Elliott Consumer Advocacy blames the size of airline seats to the increase in the number of onboard altercations and tense situation. He claims that these situations are a direct result of passenger discomfort. He proposes than minimum seat size could stop the confrontations.
While more legroom is definitely more comfortable, it appears that without significant and obvious evidence that it is a safety risk the FAA will not regulate seat size. The only recourse for cheap Ft. Lauderdale airport parking travelers may be public outcry, although with the record numbers in air travel that is unlikely to sway the major airlines.
*Update: A new law was just passed that will require the FAA to set minimums for seat width and pitch. No news yet as to how small they will let the airlines go, but this is a step in the right direction for airline passengers.
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