Will the FAA regulate airline seat size? Don’t count on it


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It’s been 18 months because the Federal Aviation Administration welcomed the public to consider in on airline seats, motivating a flooding of narratives concerning aching knees, bad blood circulation and confined problems.

But tourists really hoping those tales may result in sweeping laws requiring airline companies to bring even more legroom right into trainer may be waiting some time.

As legislators recently relocated an action more detailed to passing a legislation that would certainly money the FAA and chart its training course for the coming years, the regulatory authority’s principal appeared to indicate significant activity on seat dimension is not likely.

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Many of the 26,000 commenters that considered in on airline seat measurements in between August and November 2022 missed out on the mark, FAA manager Michael Whitaker recommended while supplying statement for the U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Aviation on Feb. 6.

“A lot of the comments focused on ‘I want more legroom’ type comments, versus safety provisions,” Whitaker affirmed. “I think it’s important for us to make the distinction between what might be an economic regulation, and what’s a safety regulation.”

FAA manager Michael Whitaker indicates before the House’s Subcommittee on Aviation on Feb. 6. TOM WILLIAMS/CQ-ROLL CALL/GETTY PHOTOS

An emphasis on safety and security, not convenience

Indeed, the FAA’s passion in hearing from tourists in 2022 was concerning safety and security — not convenience. In reality, that extremely ask for remarks especially noted its emphasis on “minimum seat dimensions necessary for safety of air passengers,” as it connects to emergency situation emptyings.

It belonged to a bigger safety-focused initiative the firm has actually taken on in the last few years to establish whether problems on board business airplane make the discharge of everyone, within 90 secs, viable.

It’s a common the FAA laid out to evaluate numerous years ago via emergency situation discharge simulations. But the research’s efficiency — or do not have thereof — has actually because attracted bipartisan examination.

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Lawmakers have actually slammed previous simulations as impractical because they left out elements typical on basically every trip — from the visibility of lug-on bags to solution pets, little ones, older tourists, guests with specials needs and those that do not talk English as a mother tongue.

Citing those worries, legislators in the House and Senate prepared regulation requiring an extra comprehensive consider discharge requirements, TPG reported in late 2022.

Today, arrangements from those costs are mostly consisted of in the House’s FAA Reauthorization costs authorized last summertime and in the Senate’s variation that got board authorization on Feb. 8.


Once totally passed, the FAA might be charged with taking a much deeper consider discharge requirements and essential elements that may impact safety and security, consisting of existing airplane seat measurement and pitch (the last is the dimension from a set factor on one seat to the exact same factor on the seat before it and is typically thought about a proxy dimension for legroom).

Still, it’s uncertain whether that would inevitably lead the FAA to determine minimum seat measurements to airline companies.

After all, that hasn’t been the overarching objective of this initiative, a leading voice on discharge requirements when recognized to TPG.

“I didn’t write my legislation because of the seat size and pitch issue,” Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat from Illinois, claimed in a late 2022 meeting with elderly air travel organization press reporter David Slotnick.

Concerns concerning legroom continue


One point is particular: Nothing will occur up until the FAA Reauthorization costs totally removes Congress and obtains a trademark from President Joe Biden, setup the firm’s financing degrees and ratings of essential plan regulations for the coming years.

Already, however, the customer campaigning for team FlyersRights, a long time supporter for more stringent airline seat dimension laws, shows up surrendered to the concept that sweeping seat-associated adjustments are not most likely on the perspective.

“The current draft of the Senate bill does not include many of the passenger protection and safety provisions supported by a group of national airline passenger and consumer protection organizations,” FlyersRights head of state Paul Hudson said in a Feb. 7 declaration, regreting that the costs “does not contain a seat size provision.”

Legroom on business airplane has actually progressively reduced via the years, to make sure, claims a leading market expert.

“Certainly, seat pitch in coach, at least standard coach seating, has shrunk the most,” claimed Henry Harteveldt, head of state of Atmosphere Research Group. According to Harteveldt, seat pitch has actually gone from 36 inches or even more prior to airline deregulation in 1978 to concerning 30 or 31 inches in today’s biggest U.S. service providers’ economic situation cabins.

On some ultra-low-cost service providers, you’ll locate as low as 28 or 29 inches.

All the while, weight problems prices in the U.S. have actually increased progressively.

And though convenience had not been the emphasis of the 2022 ask for discourse on airline seats, the feedbacks — consisting of lots of concerning guest wellness — absolutely communicated a high degree of aggravation amongst lots of tourists.

“I have experienced bruising and circulation issues from short and long economy flights,” one confidential commenter created the FAA.

It’s worth keeping in mind that, over the years, airline companies have actually presented an expanding food selection of even more large (though costlier) seat choices past very first or organization course, from added legroom areas like JetBlue’s Even More Space or Delta Air Lines’ Comfort+, to whole costs economic situation cabins on lots of bigger airplane.

Sitting in a JetBlue Even More Space seat on an Airbus A220 airplane. SEAN CUDAHY/THE INFORMATION MAN

Besides, airline companies would likely oppose any type of considerable guidelines on seat dimension or pitch due to the fact that roomier seats would certainly indicate there would certainly be less seats for the provider to offer.

“Airlines don’t want any government regulation that would specify a minimum amount of legroom because they view legroom as an economic element,” Harteveldt claimed. “If the FAA were to regulate seat pitch, and require something like 31 inches or more, [airlines] would say, ‘Ok, that means we will have to raise airfares.'”

Certainly, Harteveldt claimed, it’s basically difficult to picture the FAA ever before releasing a sweeping guideline influencing legroom without extensive proof it’s essential to safety and security.

Speaking to Congress recently, Whitaker appeared to increase uncertainties concerning whether that’s the instance.

“Typically, with evacuation, the problem tends to be piling up at the exits, rather than getting out of the seats,” the FAA principal informed the subcommittee. “We’ve had trouble identifying issues around difficulty with seats.”


Whitaker did, nevertheless, promise to think about all remarks and viewpoints — consisting of that of Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Tennessee whose doubting stimulated the whole exchange on seats throughout the Feb. 6 hearing — as the firm considers the concern in the future.

“Seat size does have to do with getting out of the plane,” Cohen firmly insisted in feedback. “If you work on the 90-second [evacuation standard], work on seat size. Realize safety and comfort can be the same.”

Safety at the center

The concern of air travel safety and security and emptyings has actually gone to the center of spotlight of late, no question. Cohen himself noted he was bothered by the reality that it supposedly took 18 mins for every single guest on a Japan Airlines Airbus A350 airplane to leave after an intense path accident last month at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport (HND), as did Duckworth, that authored the suggested regulation bordering discharge requirements.

Still, that every guest made it out securely was itself impressive — equally as it was when no guest was seriously injured in last month’s midair blowout of an emergency situation exit-size door plug on an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9 airplane, a case for which the National Transportation Safety Board launched its initial record recently.

All informed, air travel stays extremely risk-free. Monday significant 15 years because the last business airplane collapsed on U.S. dirt.

More to the factor: Safety appears to be the one (and maybe just) emphasis when it concerns the FAA’s factor to consider of airline seats.

Far much less clear? Whether that province may bring future alleviation in the kind of added legroom.

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