A Federal Judge Just Ordered The FAA To Reconsider The Size Of Airline Seats

Updated August 7, 2017

We all know that traveling by airplane isn’t the most comfortable way to get someplace, but it’s necessary at times. Part of the discomfort related to traveling is the compact size of the seats. It’s tough to be crammed into such small spaces for hours at a time but even more challenging when you have to get up to go to the bathroom or stretch your legs. For those who travel with small children under two on their laps, they are even more restricted with space, which can make for a very uncomfortable flight.

Over the last several decades these already-small seats are getting even smaller, but the U.S. government is set on putting a stop to it, claiming that the small seats are a safety issue.

In the case that has been deemed as the “Incredible Shrinking Airline Seats,” Judge Patricia Millett urged the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), to take another look at the seat size and she rejected the FAA’s claim that the smaller seats don’t affect passenger safety. The FAA argued that seat size is not important when it comes to getting off the plan in an emergency situation.

“That makes no sense,” she said, comparing the rationale to doing “a study on tooth decay that only recorded participants’ sugar consumption” but did not look at brushing and flossing.

The three-judge panel on the case is forcing the FAA to conduct a more thorough review of the request for regulations setting a minimum airline seat size.

Over the last several decades, economy-class seat pitch has gone down from an average of 35 inches (89cm) to 31 inches (79 cm). Some airplanes have even gone down as low as 28 inches (71 cm). Seat pitch is defined as the distance from one seat to the same spot on the one in front or behind it.

When it comes to the width of the seat size, it has gone from 18 inches to 16.5 inches just over the last decade.

The airlines are receiving criticism for only being in it for themselves and being more concerned about profit instead of passenger health and safety.

FAA Spokesman Greg Martin shared the following statement regarding the case…

“The FAA does consider seat pitch in testing and assessing the safe evacuation of commercial, passenger aircraft. We are studying the ruling carefully and any potential actions we may take to address the court’s findings.”

A bill by the U.S. House of Representatives is under consideration and it would require the FAA to set minimum seat sizes on U.S. airlines including a minimum distance between the rows. The goal is to protect the safety and health of airline passengers.

The American Airlines Group Inc. stated that it would reduce the leg room by one inch instead of the two that they had originally planned for on their Boeing 737 MAX jets.

United Airlines President Scott Kirby made a statement during a congressional hearing that the airline hasn’t decided whether they would cut the pitch to 29 inches in some seats. Currently, almost all seats on United airplanes have at least 31 inches of pitch.