The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is considering minimum seat sizes on U.S. airlines. Is this something we should celebrate or something we should be wary of?
Should FAA Mandate Minimum Seat Sizes On U.S. Airlines?
In 2018, Congress directed the FAA to study airline seat size and its impact on safety. To some extent, the FAA has done nothing…until now. But this month the agency is soliciting public comment on a possibility of introducing stricter minimums when it comes to minimum seat size.
“Congress directed the FAA to, after notice and comment, issue such rules for minimum dimensions for passenger seats that are necessary for passenger safety. The FAA seeks public comment on the minimum seat dimensions that are necessary for passenger safety.”
One key is determining whether airplanes can actually be evacuated in 90 seconds in case of emergency, per federal rules (and the reason why flight attendants always remind us they are primarily here for our safety).
The FAA is using a mock-up facility in Oklahoma City to test evacuation time in relation to seat sizes.
For some, like Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN) the issue is one of safety:
“The seats have gotten smaller and smaller and smaller and it’s been pretty apparent to the naked eye and the traveling public that airplanes aren’t safe if there’s an emergency.”
For others, the issue is about comfort. Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights.org, told USA Today:
“Seats have continued to shrink by some airlines, and people are continuing to get larger. Our estimate is that only 20% of the population can reasonably fit in these seats now. It’s beyond a matter of comfort, or even emergency evacuation, there are serious health and safety issues when you’re put in cramped conditions for hours on end.”
So what should we make of this?
There’s a need to avoid cliches on both sides. The market is not the savior here if certain airlines are cutting safety corners to squeeze more seats in. Consumers should not be allowed to trade away a minimum baseline of safety, since the inability to evacuate impacts others in a life-death manner. Evacuation models have certainly changed as the American population becomes more obese, and that must be carefully studied.
At the same time, airfare is much cheaper today than it was 30 years ago when seats were well-padded, wider, and everyone had an extra five inches of legroom. Let’s not forget the innovation of cheap airline tickets.
My own opinion is that consumers do have choice right now and that there are options if they want more room, including extra-legroom economy, premium economy, and of course business or first class. The only reason I believe that minimum size regulations would be appropriate (which of course would totally disrupt the business plans of many carriers) would be if evacuation studies consistently show an inability to evacuate in a timely manner with seats wedged so closely together.
Following a Congressional directive, the FAA is soliciting public feedback on minimum seat sizes for U.S. airlines. Should airline seat size grow in the USA? My own answer is only if absolutely necessary.
Are you in favor of minimum airplane seat sizes?
image: Frontier Airlines