FAA declines regulation of minimum airplane seat size

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Despite passenger complaints and a federal court case, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Tuesday that it will not regulate a minimum seat size on airplanes.

In a letter to consumer advocate group FlyersRights.org, the FAA said it found “no evidence that there is an immediate safety issue necessitating rulemaking at this time” regarding seat width and pitch.

Flyers Rights sued the FAA at the U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C. last year, alleging that cramped seats were a safety issue in the airplane cabin. Last year, the court ordered the FAA to file a “properly reasoned disposition” regarding seat pitch and safety.

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In its letter, the FAA said it had “no evidence that current seat sizes are a factor in evacuation speed” and that it believed “seat pitch is unlikely to go below 27 inches under current technology and regulations.”

As evidence, the FAA watched videos of tests from aircraft manufacturers like Boeing, Airbus, and Embraer, which concluded that seat size does not slow down emergency evacuations.

In response to the decision, Paul Hudson, the lawyer for Flyers Rights, told USA Today, “If you don’t do the tests, obvious if you stick your head in the sand, you’re not going to have evidence.”

At the request of the House Infrastructure and Transportation Committee, the Department of Transportation will audit the FAA’s evacuation standards. The audit could call for new testing, based on passenger size.

Since the airline industry was deregulated in 1978, both seat width and pitch (the distance between seats) has shrunk. There is still hope for passengers looking for more room, though. Last year, American Airlines announced it would reduce seat pitch on some aircraft to 29 inches — but the airline soon reversed course after customers spoke out.

This story originally appeared in Travel + Leisure.



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