The US Federal Aviation Administration is gearing up to release its response to a court-ordered review of shrinking airline passenger legroom.
US federal judge Patricia Millett last year ordered the regulatory agency to address consumer concerns about the economy class crush.
“This is the case of the incredibly shrinking airline seat,’’ Millett said at the time. “ 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 FAA, which looks at airline seating from a safety perspective but not in terms of comfort, was forced to revisit the issue and says it expects to release its findings in the near future.
“In late July, a federal judge ordered the FAA to review seat sizes and legroom on commercial airlines,’’ the agency said in response to an AirlineRatings query. “The FAA is still evaluating potential actions to take to address the Court’s findings, but expects to issue its decision soon.”
The court ruling came after advocacy group Flyers Rights petitioned the FAA in 2015 to regulate seat space.
The agency refused so Flyers Rights took legal action, arguing that narrower seats and closer spacing were “endangering the safety, health and comfort of airline passengers.”
In her ruling, Willet expressed doubts about an FAA assertion that seat spacing did not affect the safety or speed of passenger evacuations.
“To support that conclusion, the Administration pointed to (at best) off-point studies and undisclosed tests using unknown parameters,” she said.
Flyers Rights says seat width has shrunk from some 18.5 inches in the early part of the 21st Century to 17 inches in the middle of this decade. At the same time, it says seat pitch (the distance between seats) has gone from 35 inches to 31 inches and, in some planes, to 28 inches.
Fying aircraft with more seats benefits airline profits but the carriers argue customers also gain because they are able to get lower fares. They also contend new seat designs allow them to fit in more seats without significantly affecting “personal space”.
But consumer unhappiness with cramped seating led the US Congress in 2017 to look at measures to establish minimum seat width and legroom requirements on aircraft. The plan was later rejected in the Senate.