Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Federal Appeals Court Fans Airline Seat-Size Debate: A three-judge panel ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to address a travelers’ rights group petition and the emergency egress concerns it raises

The Wall Street Journal
By Susan Carey
July 31, 2017 2:31 p.m. ET

A federal appeals court gave a travelers’ rights group new hope that the Federal Aviation Administration should be made to address its concerns about shrinking airline seat size and legroom.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Friday declined to order the FAA to review rules on seat size and how they affect the safety or speed of emergency evacuations. It also rejected a challenge to the agency to regulate matters of physical comfort and routine health.

Passenger-rights groups have complained in recent years that airlines aren’t adjusting their seats to keep up with the growing height, weight and girth of American fliers. FlyersRights.org, a nonprofit passenger advocacy group, petitioned the FAA to pass new rules on airline seat and spacing dimensions in 2015, noting that economy-class seats now are 17 inches wide on average, down from 18.5 inches in the early 2000s, and that the space from one seatback to the next has shriveled to as little as 28 inches to 31 inches, from an average of 35 inches.

The FAA denied that petition in 2016, saying its tests of emergency evacuations from the smaller seats found them to be safe. The agency also rejected the advocacy group’s concerns about the connection between smaller seats and a condition called deep-vein thrombosis, saying the condition was rare, can happen on any longer flight and that the risks are the same in coach as in business class.

Writing for a three-judge panel, Judge Patricia Millett criticized the FAA for withholding the data from those tests and for imprecise methods that raised questions about its refusal to pass new seat rules. “This is the case of the incredible shrinking airline seat,” she said.

Judge Millett ordered the FAA to “adequately address the petition and the emergency egress concerns it raises.” But the panel stopped short of ordering the FAA to institute new rules.

“We are studying the ruling carefully and any potential actions we make take to address the court’s findings,” the FAA said on Monday.



  1. The problem with deep vein thrombosis deserves much more study. Happened to me once and I've heard about it from countless others. It is sufficiently common that hospital personnel term it "economy class syndrome." This problem will only grow as the population ages ... baby boomers now entering their seventies. Bathrooms are also too few and too dirty on some planes.

    We've got a "race to the bottom" in airline customer service that the "magic of the market" can't seem to check. All this "competition" was supposed to improve service. Instead, we wound up with oligopoly ... with many major hubs primarily served by one or two airlines who can pretty much do what they want. We let government set minimum standards elsewhere. Why not in these "flying buses?"

  2. The small seat sizes fuel the "air rage" increasingly common in flying. Having a large passenger whose body mass flops over to your space should not happen. There needs to be a minimum standard. This is not that hard to do.

  3. "Having a large passenger whose body mass flops over to your space should not happen."
    Simple, weight limits or buy 2 seats, or don't fly. Take Amtrack. Richard Anderson will have those trains in tip top shape like the well run watch at Delta...

  4. Since deregulation of airlines, the prices of flights have declined by at least half. Today, you can fly business class or first class for what it cost thirty years ago for coach. You can fly cheap in the flying bus, or you can pay double and fly first class. That is a free market.

  5. I've always found this matter to be an interesting one. I get the airlines perspective, but from the consumers side, it's to an extent a health hazard. Being 6'7" I cannot get into the fetal position they show you in case of a crash landing. What if the plane goes down and I suffer an injury because I can't "brace for impact" like everyone due to my size? Make Seats Larger Again.