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Flying this summer? You May Want to Rethink that!

Posted on August 22, 2017

Smaller Airline Seats Spell Safety Concerns

Just in time for your summer vacation, the “Case of the Incredible Shrinking Airline Seat,” has come to an airline near you.

That is what a federal judge calls a petition by the consumer group, Flyers Rights, that the court has directed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to address.

The FAA will consider whether the shrinking airline seat size jeopardizes safety after Flyers Rights pushed the issue.

Initially the FAA had denied a petition filed by Flyers Rights, which asked the agency to expand seat size arguing passengers need to be able to safely and quickly evacuate a plane in an emergency, the group argued.

At first the FAA argued that seat spacing does not affect the safety or speed of passenger evacuations.
The FAA reversed itself after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled the agency was wrong in denying the petition.

Flyers Rights is a non-profit airline consumer organization. It informs consumers what their rights are if their plane is delayed or their baggage is lost and it polls consumers on their commercial flying experience.

As many things do, the issue revolves around money. More seats in a cabin means more revenue to the airline.

How much have seats shrunk?

Just as a guideline, the average seat is now 31 inches between the backs of airline seats, down from 35 inches. Seat widths have declined an inch and a half to 17 inches, down from 18.5 inches in the early 2000s.

All of this is happening at a time when Americans are getting larger than ever. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us more than one-third of Americans are obese. Taking your Body Mass Index (BMI) will tell you if you are obese or overweight, unless you are heavy with a lot of muscle. Then the BMI is not accurate.

Many consumers add on the consumer group’s website that they have experienced claustrophobia with the reduced seat size and can no longer fly. Taller people report they too cannot fly comfortably. Some pay for a seat upgrade, some endure the pain.

A smaller space and inability to move is a noted cause of deep vein thrombosis, a potentially fatal blood clot that can occur while flying. Smaller spaces make it more difficult for passengers to quickly extricate themselves from a tight space and get to an aisle.

If the FAA enacts new standards for seating, this would be the first regulation imposed on the airline industry in the last thirty years.