The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has declined to regulate the size of seats on airplanes, in spite of passenger complaints and a federal court case. In a letter to FlyersRights.org, a consumer advocate group, the FAA said it found “no evidence that there is an immediate safety issue necessitating rulemaking at this time” in regards to seat width and pitch, which is the distance between seats.
The FAA also added in its letter that it had “no evidence that current seat sizes are a factor in evacuation speed” and that “seat pitch is unlikely to go below 27 inches under current technology and regulations.” The FAA stated that it had viewed videos from aircraft manufacturers like Boeing, Airbus, and Embraer, which tested seat size and concluded that it does not slow down emergency evacuations.
Flyers Rights sued the FAA at the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, DC, last year, claiming that cramped seats posed a safety issue. The court then ordered a “properly reasoned disposition” from the FAA, regarding seat pitch and safety.
Flyers Rights President Paul Hudson said, “If you don’t do the tests, obvious if you stick your head in the sand, you’re not going to have evidence.” The Department of Transportation is expected to audit the FAA evacuation standards, which could result in new testing, based on individual passenger size.
Flyers Rights also released a statement saying that the FAA’s “proof that sardine seating is fine are videos of unrepresentative test subjects doing truncated partial evacuations.”
Adding, “The FAA refuses to recognize reality or do any emergency evacuation tests that reflect the actual passenger profile by size, age, physical capacity or emotional state of mind,” the group stated.
In the letter, Dorenda Baker, executive director of the FAA's Aircraft Certification Service, said, "The time it takes passengers to get out of their seats, even if those seats are relatively narrow and close together, is less than the time it takes for the emergency exits to begin functioning and for the line that begins forming in the aisle to clear."
Since the deregulation of the airline industry in 1978, seat width and pitch has shrunk. Last year, however, American Airlines reversed its plan to reduce seat pitch on some aircraft to 29 inches after customers protested.
Hudson has said that if “the FAA still refuses to do anything, we may file a court appeal by August 1."