Skip to content

Passenger rights group calls on FAA to take action on airline seat size

Oct. 08, 2022
4 min read
plane at gate
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

You still have a few more weeks to tell the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) what you think about the size of airline seats. Already, though, a passenger advocacy group fears the federal government won’t take strong enough action when it comes to aircraft seating and is therefore demanding action.

In a rulemaking petition filed this week, the non-profit organization FlyerRights, for years an advocate for larger onboard seats, calls on the FAA to set minimum seat standards “that accommodate 90 to 92% of the population.”

The group cited the need for passenger safety in case of an emergency, as well as comfort and health needs, as the basis for its calls for stricter seat regulations.

FlyersRights has also called for a moratorium "on further seat size shrinkage."

FlyersRights' 26-page rulemaking petition “exhaustively proves that half of adults can no longer reasonably fit in most airline seats," the organization said in a statement Friday.

The filing comes more than two months into the FAA’s three-month comment period regarding airline seats; a study that appears to be related, most centrally, to safety. It's not clear at this point whether there will, in fact, be any new rules related to seat standards.

However, FlyerRights argues that previous legislation has called for the FAA to issue requirements on seats.

An FAA spokesperson told TPG Saturday that the rulemaking petition filed by FlyersRights will be considered under the agency's rulemaking procedures. The FAA gets six months to decide whether to accept or reject the petition.

Economy seating on board a Boeing 777. SEAN CUDAHY/THE POINTS GUY

Group claims inaction by FAA

FlyerRights claims, among its chief concerns raised in the seating petition, that the FAA has essentially ignored a deadline to set minimum standards for airline seating.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

The FAA Reauthorization Act, passed in October 2018, called on the agency to both study and take action when it comes to airline seat size.

Section 577 of the act said the FAA should issue regulations that establish the dimensions for passenger seats on aircraft “including minimums for seat pitch, width, and length.”

The act called for any action to be taken within a year of the act’s passage, which would have meant the fall of 2019.

To date, the FAA has not set a minimum size for seating on board commercial aircraft.

However, as TPG reported this past summer, the agency did begin a 90-day process of collecting comments regarding minimum seat dimensions. Anyone can weigh in between now and Nov. 1.

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

Concerns over safety and comfort

As part of its filing this week, FlyersRights acknowledged the need for passenger safety in the event of an evacuation or a case where passengers have to assume a brace position for a crash landing.

However, the organization also pointed to the potential for deep vein thrombosis in flyers while on board, as well as comfort and intrusion into personal space, as concerns exacerbated by what they call "shrinking" airline seats.

The typical pitch in economy class for major U.S. carriers is 30 to 31 inches, with a smaller pitch common on some lower-cost airlines.

FlyersRights called on the FAA to weigh those comfort factors when considering potential action on the size of seats. As of now, though, the FAA appears likely to focus more heavily on safety, as opposed to comfort, in setting seat sizes.

The portion of the 2018 reauthorization act focused on seat size noted the agency would be responsible for setting minimum-sizing requirements “that are necessary for the safety of passengers.”

Additionally, when the agency began collecting comments about seat size this summer, it noted this request for comments was regarding “minimum seat dimensions necessary for the safety of air passengers.”

U.S. airlines would quite likely oppose any sweeping action taken by the federal government when it comes to mandating seat size.

Bottom line

Years after a federal act called for action on the issue of airline seat size and standards, the FAA is taking a look at the issue, and you can still weigh in. However, the central focus is on safety, not comfort. For that, some air passenger advocates fear any future rules — if they come at all — will not go far enough.

Read more:

Featured image by SEAN CUDAHY/THE POINTS GUY
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

TPG featured card

Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site

Rewards

3 - 4X points
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.

Intro offer

60,000 bonus points
Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

Annual Fee

$250

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent/Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees