Airline seats keep getting smaller. The FAA could stop that

Over the past 15 years, airlines have found a new way to increase revenue: squeeze more seats per plane.

The result has been frustration and protest from passengers who currently endure narrower airline seats with less legroom.

But there may have been relief: After years of delay, federal regulators have begun soliciting public comment on a proposal to impose minimum standards on seat width and legroom airlines to prevent seat shrinkage for many years.

Passenger rights advocates say standards are needed to ensure that passengers are pain-free during long flights and can quickly exit planes in the event of an emergency. Airlines oppose any standards, saying studies have shown seat size has no effect on how quickly passengers exit the plane during a disaster.

The US Department of Transportation does not impose any standards on legroom, width, or seat comfort. Instead, the federal government allows airlines to cram any number of seats in the cabin, of any size, as long as passengers can evacuate in an emergency within 90 seconds. It is a standard that has been in place since the 1990s.

Over the past decade, airlines have reduced legroom – what the airline industry calls “yards” – to accommodate more seats per cabin. Since 2011, average seat height – the distance between the back of one seat and the back of the next – has fallen from 35 inches to 31 inches, according to a passenger rights group. Low-cost airlines, like Spirit Airlines, have reduced the height of many seats to 28 inches.

This process has allowed airlines to collect additional revenue from passengers, offsetting fuel prices that began to soar starting in 2008.

But health studies have shown that since the late 1980s, the average American man over the age of 20 has gained about 15 pounds and his waist size has increased by more than 2 inches. The average American woman over the age of 20 has gained about 16 pounds and increased her waist size by more than 3 inches.

Passenger advocates say the reality on planes today is different than it was in the 1980s. More American passengers have disabilities, and passengers tend to bring a lot of electronic devices on board – including earplugs and earplugs. power cables – and more carry-on baggage to avoid checked baggage fees. These changes, passenger advocates say, make it harder to evacuate a plane with cramped seats.

“We’re focused on making sure the minimum seat size reflects the realities of flying,” said John Breyault, vice president of the National Consumer League, one of the consumer groups pushing for new standards. nowadays.

Paul Hudson, president of Flyers Rights, a non-profit airline passenger advocacy group, said he plans to submit a proposal on airline seat standards in the next few weeks because most people America can’t fit in regular airline seats without squeezing adjacent passengers or hanging into the middle aisle.

The country’s flight attendants are calling on the Federal Aviation Administration to set seating standards.

“Flight attendants are allowed to manage the frustration of passengers trapped in ever-shrinking spaces,” said Sara Nelson, president of Assn. of Flight Attendants-TTK, representing nearly 50,000 flight attendants at 19 airlines. “This is not a problem the market will fix.”

An airline industry representative said there was nothing wrong with the current state of airline seats.

Hannah Walden, a spokeswoman for Airlines for America, a trade group of the nation’s largest carriers, said the FAA has “confirmed that all U.S. airlines meet or exceed these standards.” Federal safety standards for seat sizes and the FAA continue to approve seat configurations before they go. into service. “

A few years ago, France-based Airbus suggested that the industry at least adopt a comfort standard for seat width. The plane manufacturer published a study that said a seat width of at least 18 inches improved passengers’ sleep quality by 53 percent, compared to a seat that was 17 inches wide.

If the FAA imposes standards that force airlines to give passengers more leg and elbow room, some airlines – especially low-cost carriers – could be forced to raise prices or charge a higher baggage fee to compensate for the loss of revenue due to fewer passengers being crammed in. Henry Harteveldt, an aeronautical analyst for the Atmospheric Research Group.

The FAA will continue to accept public comment through November 1, online or by mail addressed to Docket Operations, M-30; United States Department of Transportation, 1200 New Jersey SE Avenue, Room W12-140, Ground Floor West Building, Washington, DC 20590-0001.

To date, the federal agency has received nearly 5,000 comments, mostly from leaflets with objections to the seat sizes and legroom offered on airlines.

“I feel like I’m not that big. I wear a size 8 jeans, size 10 dress and I feel like if I were a little bigger I wouldn’t fit,” wrote one commenter from San Jose. “And I hate the way my older friends are treated when they try to fly. If we leave it to the airlines, they will ask us to get up so more people can get on the plane.”

A customer not from Arcadia also suggested in a submission that the FAA needs to impose seating standards “before the airlines make us all stand like cows in traffic!”

“Profit rather than comfort at all costs is now beyond absurd!” commenter wrote.

Eric Lipp, executive director of Open Doors, a nonprofit that promotes the rights of travelers with disabilities, says seat size and legroom are a concern for people with disabilities. The cramped seating makes it difficult for travelers who are older because of a disability or traveling with a service dog to fly on commercial aircraft, he said.

The debate over standard seat sizes has been going on for years, with airlines working to prevent the government from regulating seat sizes and legroom between them. Under pressure from frustrated passengers and consumer advocates, Congress directed the FAA in a 2018 fiscal bill to review the adoption of seating standards.

In response to the direction of Congress, the FAA conducted a series of evacuation tests, using 775 volunteers in several simulated aircraft cabins at a test facility in Oklahoma. Volunteers vary in size, age, and weight, but most of them weigh more than the average American tourist because “the population of Oklahoma is generally larger, heavier, and arguably slower than the average population. average of the United States,” according to the FAA study.

In some evacuation trials, volunteers were given extra money as an incentive to be among the first to evacuate in simulated evacuations.

Some tests used a 28-inch high chair, one of the narrowest seats found in the industry. The results “indicate that evacuating a narrow seat is safe for virtually all (99%) of the healthy population,” according to the study.

The FAA study adds this warning: “The results of the study did not consider passenger comfort (or deprivation), which affects passengers’ feelings of happiness during the flight.”

Passenger advocates like Breyault question the reliability of such studies to gauge what would happen in a real-life situation.

“Physics tells you the more people you put on the plane, the longer it will take to evacuate,” he said. “It’s hard to believe that current seat sizes are safe.” Airline seats keep getting smaller. The FAA could stop that

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