FAA to Passengers: Shrinking Airplane Seats Aren’t Our Problem

Jul 5, 2018

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Unless you have the luxury of traveling first and business class for every flight, you know the pains of sitting in a cramped airplane seat with little wiggle room, a too-close-for-comfort distance from your neighbor.

The debate about whether airplane seats are too small and if the Federal Aviation Administration has the power to change that has been on-going for years. But the FAA is less concerned with how you fit in the seat and more concerned with whether or not you can evacuate a plane in 90 seconds in the case of an emergency.

Despite demands from the nonprofit airline consumer group Flyers Rights to add federal regulation to seat size and U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Judge Patricia Millett’s order to reconsider their decision, the FAA said Tuesday the debate over the “The Case of the Incredible Shrinking Airline Seat” is not their domain.

Judge Millett noted in her case that “aircraft seats and the spacing between them have been getting smaller and smaller, while American passengers have been growing in size.” She’s not wrong — airplane seat size has been decreasing for decades. Since the 1970s, economy-class seat pitch has decreased from an average of 35 inches to 31 inches, and even to 28 inches in some low-cost carriers, such as Spirit Airlines. Meanwhile, as seat sizes shrink, Americans’ waists grow.

The average waist circumference for American adults aged 20 and over is 40 inches for males and 38 inches for females, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

FAA’s Senior Technical Specialist for Aircraft Cabin Security and Survivability, Jeffery Gardlin, declared Tuesday that there is no significant evidence proving that seat width and pitch in combination with passenger size has impeded passenger evacuations. “Barring injury to the passenger or the flight attendant, the time it takes a passenger to stand up from the seat will be less than the time it takes the flight attendant or another passenger to get the emergency exits opened and functional,” Gardlin stated.

The FAA also stated that they have seen no evidence that the “girth” of average Americans severely delays their ability to evacuate the aircraft or create an evacuation issue.

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