A new court decision may lead to new regulations about the minimum size of seats on U.S. airlines. A federal court in Washington D.C has instructed the Federal Aviation Administration to review legroom and seat sizes on commercial airlines for the first time ever. The FAA has previously declined to mandate exactly how much space airlines must provide customers on their aircraft, but the recent decision may require it.
A statement released by the FAA said that it is ‘studying the ruling carefully’, with the administration’s decision on how to respond expected in the near future. The last time this issue was adjudicated was in 2015, when the FAA rejected the request on the grounds that aircraft makers had passed the required safety tests.
The case was brought by the advocacy group Flyers Rights, citing concerns regarding the shrinking of airline seating. This was echoed in Judge Patricia Millett’s decision, saying that ‘As many have no doubt noticed, aircraft seats and the spacing between them have been getting smaller and smaller'. Evidence was presented to the court by Flyers Rights of the decline of the average width of airplane seats from 18.5 inches early in the 200’s to 17 inches by 2005. This change is believed to be caused by long-haul carriers changing their seat arrangement to allow an extra seat in each row.
Meanwhile, the average ‘pitch’ (the distance between a point on one seat and the same point on the seat behind it) has declined from an average of about 35 inches to 31 inches, and in some instances to 28 inches. American Airlines drew attention to this trend when they announced plans to cut down the legroom for some of the economy seats in their new Boeing 737’s. Although the plan was eventually revised to 30 inches of pitch, this still left it below the 31-inch average.Even while the FAA considers its response, another branch of the federal government is contemplating action. The House and Senate versions of the FAA reauthorization bill both include portions directing the FAA to standardize minimum pitch dimensions within a maximum of 18 months. The House version also requires establishing a minimum standard for seat width. Although similar measures were considered last year in Congress they failed in both houses.
Decisions on both counts are expected in the upcoming months, with the deadline for congressional reauthorization of the FAA in September.