In a followup to FlyersRights.org’s court victory last July, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is expected to announce soon the results of its review of seat sizes and legroom, reports theWashington Post.
This could prevent airlines from further reducing the seat space of passengers.
The FAA review is looking at how tighter seats affect safety. The average width of an airplane seat has shrunk from 18 inches to 16.5 inches, while legroom has gone from 35 inches to 31 inches. Some airlines like Spirit, Allegiant and Frontier only offer 28 inches.
In 2015, FlyersRights.org petitioned the FAA to set parameters for seat size and legroom. The FAA responded that it regulated safety, not health and comfort, and wouldn’t take up the issue.
FlyersRights.org then took the FAA to court, and last year a federal judge told the FAA to study the safety of seat sizes.
The specific task the court set for the FAA is to explain why it rejected FlyersRights.org’s request for rules about seat size and the amount of room between rows of seats.
The situation has become so combative that members of Congress haveintroduced bills to stop airlines from further shrinking seat and legroom – but, so far, none has succeeded.
Fortune says passengers are complaining with their wallets. In 2016, airline profits were down over $11 billion.
Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights.org told the Washington Post, “I think that this most likely will end up back in court, unless they agree to do something about the shrinking seats. Since the court decision in July, airlines have been aggressively shrinking even more.”
Hudson said the airlines have put new seats on old planes. “They are replacing what were already small seats with seats that are even smaller,” he said. “They’ve also reduced the size of the bathrooms. You cannot turn around in some of them. They have [sink] bowls that are so small that you have to wash one hand at a time.”
The evidence points in one direction, that the airlines will do anything to make a buck. For that reason, help must come from the courts and Congress.
Since the July court decision, FlyersRights has been keeping the pressure on the FAA. We have filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to turn over studies and tests that it claims show shrunken seats are safe. To date, the FAA has not complied and instead is demanding search fees of $3,500 to look for the data.
Previously, the FAA told the court it would not release these studies because they contained proprietary information.
The FAA has said the Boeing 777 hasn’t undergone a full-scale emergency evacuation test for 20 years. It has been even longer for the 737 and 747, last tested in 1988 and 1986, respectively. But an evacuation test of an Embraer ERJ 190-300 took place last summer, the FAA said.
“The main point on testing,” Hudson said, “is that emergency evacuation tests have in general not reflected the current cramped seating or the larger older passenger profile.”
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