Victory for Consumers

Seat size IS a safety and health issue.

That was the ruling from the U.S. appeals court last Friday – that the Federal Aviation Administration must reconsider their decision not to regulate the size of airline seats.

The court decision was unanimous, 3-0. Hundreds of supportive comments were posted on the FAA docket, and thousands signed FlyersRights’ online petition calling for seat and legroom standards.

Citing “basic physics,” a panel of three judges ordered the FAA to examine why seats on airplanes have gotten smaller and whether they pose a safety risk.
In 2015, FlyersRights.org petitioned the FAA to place a moratorium on shrinking seat sizes and to create seat size standards.
We maintain that:
Seat pitch and width have been shrinking while Americans grow taller and wider. These factors pose a safety threat, most notably for emergency evacuations. The FAA has not conducted, or alternatively has not released, any tests, whether computer simulations or rehearsed evacuations, that demonstrate that planes with modern seat sizes and modern passenger sizes would pass emergency evacuation criteria.

The FAA rejected our seat space petition, so we took the agency to court, which ended up criticizing the FAA for its “vaporous” evidence that dense seat configurations aren’t a safety and health risk.

Seats were 18 in/46 cm before airline deregulation in the 1970s and have since been shrunken down to 16.5 in/42 cm, while seat pitch used to be 35 in/89 cm but has been reduced to 28-31 in/71-79 cm. At the same time, the average man is 30 lbs/14 kg heavier today than he was in 1960 (196 lbs/89 kg compared with 166 lbs/75 kg) and the average woman is 26 lbs/12 kg heavier (166 lbs/75 kg, up from 140 lbs/64 kg).

Shrinking spaces has created a safety hazard, we argued, making it more difficult to evacuate in an emergency and increasing the risk of deep vein thrombosis, a potentially fatal condition of blood clots.

The airlines’ chase after profits have gone too far when it becomes a safety, evacuation and health issue for passengers.

Not Done Yet

“We are gratified by the court’s decision and now are calling on FAA administrator Michael Huerta to grant the FlyersRights Rulemaking Petition, freezing further reductions in seat size and legroom, and promptly appoint an advisory committee with representative members as called for by the petition in compliance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act.” said Paul Hudson, FlyersRights’ president.

“As Congress must act on FAA reauthorization by September 30, Mr. Huerta can ‘moot’ threatened Congressional action or further court action that would be rebukes of the FAA position that seat size and leg room should remain unregulated.” Hudson said.

“Finally, we are calling on DOT Secretary Elaine Chao to order the FAA to consider passenger health as well as safety issues in regulating seats and passenger space, as the FAA claimed in court that it has no jurisdiction over passenger health issues without DOT authorization.” Hudson concluded.

This fight is not over. Commercial air travel is the main and often only means of long distance transportation. The US airlines are now highly profitable and operate with near monopoly power. But service continues to decline. And airlines are the only industry exempt from all state and local and most federal consumer protection laws.

Nearly everyone has an airliner horror story – delayed or canceled flights, lost baggage, uncaring to rude customer service, ever shrinking passenger seats, exorbitant or hidden fees, long security lines, and devalued or unusable frequent flyer miles have become the norm.

Flyersrights volunteers and staff are dedicated to restoring passenger rights, encouraging competition, convenient, affordable, reliable, healthy and safe air travel. We are the largest airline passenger organization, and the only one with an office in Washington DC, a toll free hotline 877-FLYERS6 (877-359-3776), and an online weekly newsletter. We advise both the FAA and DOT on safety and passenger issues, and regularly petition the government and the courts on behalf of airline passengers.

We depend on individual donations, and need to make Flyersrights.org much larger and stronger. Our goal is to grow our membership to over 500,000 and expand internationally. Otherwise the powerful airline industry will continue to have their way- suppressing competition and reducing service, raising fares and fees, opposing any meaningful reform.
If you value better air travel, please consider a donation of $5-10 per month, or 1% of your annual air travel budget. You’ll be protecting yourself and fellow air travelers everywhere.
 Forward this Newsletter to your friends, family, and neighbors, and tell them about FlyersRights.  The more members we have, the more likely we are to be listened to!
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Your Comments!

Congratulations on recent court ruling regarding the FAA and airline seating. If it is of any use, wife and I recently moved to Tucson from SE Michigan. We have flown there and back a number of times since relocating two years ago. The seating, compared to what we experienced over the previous decades,has come to be so uncomfortable that we are driving this September rather than suffer with the miserable seating conditions. If the driving proves to be more than we are up to, our next trip to and from MI will be by train. Though train is not the best solution it at least will have more room. Thank you for your efforts. -TM

THANK YOU for doing something about space between seats! It’s outrageous! Now let’s make sure the FAA makes those changes! -SF

The article in USA Today does not indicate that these 90 seconds evacuation tests are done with people who know it is a test and they are safe during the test. In reality, when it is necessary to evacuate the passengers are scared, upset and worry about their lives. They will not react like test subjects and thus they will not be able to get them all out in 90 seconds. If there was a crash, did the overhead containers open and spill stuff? Will some passengers try to get their carry on off the plane because there medications or something important to them? The test subjects would have no such concerns. What happens if several people are injured and others push the stewards out of the way and these injured need help? I think these arguments need to be heard by the public to get you more support. Good Luck, I hope you win. -DHI have been flying for over 50 years. I was always willing to take a middle seat out of consideration for taller, larger passengers. Imagine my shock , when on a flight recently, I was not able to get into or retrieve my computer bag which was under the seat in front of me. I am 5ft 1in tall and weigh 110 lbs ! That is ridiculous and I never thought it would happen to me, a very under average size adult. -PC

GLAD YOU EXIST – JH

I believe it is unhealthy to sit in a cramped, uncomfortable seat. Yes, you can get blood clots from sitting too long. How can you get up and walk around when the aisles are too tight to walk around and you must remain seated when there is turbulence. The customer is paying good money for discomfort and no wonder their is more and more violence on the planes. It is disgusting to have the passenger in front of you lean back in his or her seat and you practically have their head in your lap. More disgusting if they smell or have lice in their hair. GROSS!!! I had a passenger seated behind me on an international flight , with a cold, sneeze while he was leaning over and felt it on my arm. That shouldn’t happen, disgusting! Unfortunately our representatives are being bought by lobbyists for the airlines. Our representatives are voted in by the people not lobbyists, it is about time they listened to the people who voted for them rather than making lame excuses for not passing bills in favor of the people. So disgusted with Washington. I would love for the airline executives to sit in the main cabin on an international flight, or a flight over 2 hours and see how they like having someone recline in their lap, have no legroom, an obese person sit next to them, and have a rude person behind them kicking their seat, or sneezing on them, etc. How about those federal officials who voted against the comfort of passengers be forced to suffer through a flight like that, oh they probably fly first class on the American taxpayer’s dollar. I am so disgusted. -MB

It’s embarrassing that the government has let the airline industry get to this stage…then again look at the government. The entire senate and congress needs to be fired. -AM

I’m 6’2″ and disabled.. I’ve been having to get first class tickets because I don’t fit in tourist class seats. It takes much of my travel budget just to get to my destination. -MD

I believe it is unhealthy to sit in a cramped, uncomfortable seat. Yes, you can get blood clots from sitting too long. How can you get up and walk around when the aisles are too tight to walk around and you must remain seated when there is turbulence. The customer is paying good money for discomfort and no wonder their is more and more violence on the planes. It is disgusting to have the passenger in front of you lean back in his or her seat and you practically have their head in your lap. More disgusting if they smell or have lice in their hair. GROSS!!! I had a passenger seated behind me on an international flight , with a cold, sneeze while he was leaning over and felt it on my arm. That shouldn’t happen, disgusting! Unfortunately our representatives are being bought by lobbyists for the airlines. Our representatives are voted in by the people not lobbyists, it is about time they listened to the people who voted for them rather than making lame excuses for not passing bills in favor of the people.d So disgusted with Washington. I would love for the airline executives to sit in the main cabin on an international flight, or a flight over 2 hours and see how they like having someone recline in their lap, have no legroom, an obese person sit next to them, and have a rude person behind them kicking their seat, or sneezing on them, etc. How about those federal officials who voted against the comfort of passengers be forced to suffer through a flight like that, oh they probably fly first class on the American taxpayer’s dollar. I am so disgusted. – MB

On my last flight from Charlotte to Dallas, I had an aisle seat. The center seat was occupied by a nice young man that weighed 300 lbs or more. This was a full flight, I had to hang my body in the aisle. I asked if anything could be done. The flight attendant said, “it is a full flight”. I FULLY SUPPORT YOUR ROLE IN GETTING MORE SEAT SPACE AND LEG ROOM. Please continue your efforts. I just quit flying until it changes or I can afford a first class seat. -JH

I have issues with my right quadricept which always leads to cramping after flying but after a recent a 5 hour flight it was exacerbated since I was unable to extend my leg during the flight leading to the past month being unable to run, pain during the night which wakes me up and trouble climbing stairs. -EM

Size of the passengers is one thing, but let us not forget that many passengers also have age- or health-related limitations too. If you have hip or knee arthritis, or back problems, longer flights are torture. This, combined with the policy of forcing us all to take two or three flights to get to cities connected by direct routes (which are priced out of our reach), is a very challenging situation. -MF

I am only 5′ tall and 120 pounds, but I hate flying because I am so cramped by all the fatties around me. No way could a full plane be evacuated in 90 seconds! -EAG

Something has to be done fast, about the spacing between seats. My son, who is 6’5″, and myself, at 6’4″, just flew cross country on United. We were literally crammed into the seats, with our knees into the seat backs in front of us. It got even worse when those in front of us put their seats back! We couldn’t really fault them…they didn’t set the measurements. End result, on our return trip home from Boston to Portland, I was in tears from being confined as I was, and having severe back pain that required medical treatment. When you walk on to a plane in good condition, only to require assistance and a wheelchair to get off, things have gone way too far. This after suffering greatly for the last two hours of flight. Changes definitely need to be made in the seat area. I can handle planes with excess heat, etc., but not this. …and this from someone who used to make over 100 flights a year fir my work. Not anymore… -RS

The space between seats has been shrinking for years. There is no way to even go into a crash position as outlined in the emergency proceedings unless you sit in first or second class seating. -WS

I am 6’9″. And I have neuropathy in my feet. Airline seats have become impossibly small. It is not an exaggeration to say they are torture for me. And for the passenger in front of me when I tell them they can’t put their seat back be Amy knees are already jammed in to the metal frame of their seat. I just read an article today that American Airlines is planning to further reduce leg room. Surely, other airlines will follow suit. American is the carrier that a number of years ago was aggressive with me about providing a bulkhead seat when I presented a doctor’s letter about horrible hop and back pain I was experiencing. When I wrote them a letter of complaint, I got back a BS missive that ended with a cold-hearted quote “face it, sir, we can’t make your airline seat as comfortable as your loving room chair. No surprise that American is leading the charge on putting capacity (money) over equity. -JV

I fly back and forth to Mexico every year with my cat in a hard carrier–snowbird. I’m in my late 70s and partially disabled with osteoarthritis of the spine and hip. As a result I always request a wheelchair when I book a flight. In October 2016 I was booked out of Sacramento, CA on an Aeoro Mexico nonstop flight to Guadalajara. The wheelchairs now at SMF require someone to push them. Upon my arrival, the friend who helped me to the Aero Mexico portal, requested a wheelchair for me. It was not forth coming so finally he found one and wheeled me to the AM desk where I was told I had to wait in line before I could have a wheelchair. I nearly lost it, but did not back down and finally someone came to help me. I have been making this flight for 7 years using either Volaris or Aero Mex. It seems with each year, the airline attitude and service is getting worse. Add this to the crammed seats which are difficult for me to get in and out of, In an emergency on the plane, I would be a liability with seats packed as they are(I’m not obese). By the time I disembark, my legs and back are in severe pain. Last time I was carried down the steps on a stretcher at GDL because I could barely walk. I’d like to see reasonable regulations sooner rather than later. -SS

I am extremely glad to see this initiative to more closely regulate decreasing seat dimensions. My long legs have a “Buttock-to-Knee” (not Pitch) distance of 28″ that does not fit into any commercial seating configuration in Coach, except emergency row seating. Unfortunately, I cannot reduce my leg length, and these extra-room seats in coach are booked to those that pay extra. As a military retiree, I cannot afford to routinely pay for extra room seating. There should be a certification or some means to document valid non-discretionary body dimensions (height, shoulder width, and leg length for instance, but not fat) so that such people can be accommodated when booking online or at the airports. Anything less is discrimination, and more importantly, unhealthy. -JF

The problem is not that people are larger. The problem is that seats are smaller. I am 5’2″. Flights over 6 hours duration are torture. One can’t stretch out legs or recline adequately. On some rows, the seats don’t recline at all! Passengers are told to remain seated and belted for our safety. We’re also told that we should stretch and move about in order to prevent blood clots on long flights. I’ve flown numerous times between the US and Europe and Japan. Every airline executive should be required to fly economy on all business related flights and to make overseas flights, anonymously, as a part of “training.” I remember when seat size was adequate. I haven’t gotten larger: seats have gotten smaller and closer together. Too small and too close! Curtail corporate greed. Hold the airlines accountable for passenger comfort and safety. -MT

I had the displeasure of taking a flight from Oakland to Detroit. at 6’2″ and 270 lbs, I found it very difficult to get to my window seat as the rows were very close together, I had to hold onto the backrest of the seat in front of me to assist with getting to my seat. Once seated, my knees were in the seat rest of the poor person in front of my. The seats did not recline making the redeye flight that much more uncomfortable. My poor wife of 63 yrs of age and all of 5’7″ also found it difficult to get to her seat in the middle. This is a disgrace that passenger safety and comfort is not taken into consideration all in the name of profits…-LP

Last time I flew, I could barely walk for 3 days. I am 6’3″ and I consider modern airlines a modern day torture chamber… far worse than any mass transit option I might otherwise have. The head of the FAA is out of touch and must go. -DR

just found out you guys existed, I’m 6’3″ every flight is torture… If the train system in the USA was up to par with the rest of the world, the airlines would HAVE to change their “pay us and suck it up” approach. -GC

Please consider these reasons for mandating airline seat size:
1. The actual average traveler size vs the seat size.
2. The passenger is usually discouraged from leaving seat (the fasten seat belt sign stays on for majority of flight) thus, you are trapped in a smaller space.
3. The real danger of DVT
4. When personal space is constricted people are prone to lash out when upset or anxious. The majority of “air rage” incidents are from people in coach.
5. Cramming more overweight passengers will over load airplanes thus reducing safety.
-MM

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4 comments on ““Ahhh, this chair is just right” -Goldilocks

  • United Airlines is making people pay for two seats if they take up one and a half seats when sitting.They call it “Encroachment”. How do you feel about this? Is this right?

  • Of course nobody sane would disagree that the shrinking pitch is bad. The shrinking width doesn’t quite make sense, since losing and inch and a half per seat, even a 10-across widebody, doesn’t allow for an extra seat. So this suggests that the actual fuselages are narrower. In any case, it feels like a red herring, since there’s nothing to be done about it, and as such it just weakens the argument.

  • This is such a positive step forward with much work still to do. It is validating to read the comments of fellow travelers. On a recent return flight from Madrid, the passenger in front of my husband, who had switched seats with his daughter, intentionally, so he could literally fall into the seat and with all the force he could muster, pushed his seat all the way back to jam my husband’s knees multiple times in order to harm him and immobilize him. My husband is 6ft plus and his knees were already surface to surface with the seat in front of him. It was the most egregious behavior I have ever witnessed. It was an assault with the airline seat. He did suffer and so did I. Abhorrent. The airline sent us a scripted response to apologize, along with a minor token. I believe the corporate culture in some airlines condone this behavior. Then it spreads like a cancer and the unprivileged public pays the price.

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