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FAA Won't Legislate Seat Pitch

The FAA announced yesterday that they have no evidence that decreased seat pitch and/or the increase in size of the average American passenger negatively affects the ability to evacuate an airplane in an emergency (here is a link to a LA Times article about this.) Basically, the FAA says that since there is no safety hazard with tight seats, they don't want to wade in to what they see as part of the competition between various airlines.

BTW, credit to David in Seattle who predicted this in another thread.

Posted by
3042 posts

I wouldn't have expected otherwise. The agency has several different mandates. Passenger comfort isn't one of them.

Posted by
3477 posts

The FAA is supposed to test evacuation times whenever an airline changes their seat configuration. The problem I have with their testing is that they use what, for lack of a better term, are professional evacuation testers. A plane full of regular air travelers will never equal those during an actual evacuation in speed or orderliness.

Posted by
4908 posts

Kinda like the forced-landing simulations we saw in the movie "Sully." It's one thing if you know ahead of time and get to practice, it's another, I assume, in a real emergency with real travelers.

Posted by
1005 posts

The House passed a bill that would require the FAA to legislate seat size:

USA Today article here

I suggest you write to your senators favoring this legislation.

Posted by
3477 posts

Unfortunately that bill, as it stands, sets no minimum requirements for seat size. That means the airlines could argue successfully to get the FAA to set the minimums to what they are today or even less. Meaning no improvement for passengers.

There are other parts of the current bill that also don't help the passengers at all and are aimed mainly at helping the airlines hide fees until payment time.

Posted by
3176 posts

I suggest you write to your senators favoring this legislation.

Agreed but.....it makes me wonder how much good that will do.

Delta's HQ is in Georgia. Are Georgia Senators/Congresspeople getting huge campaign support from Delta? United's HQ is in Illinois. Are Illinois Senators/Congresspeople beholden to the generous campaign gifts from United Airlines? Same with American Airlines. This is an election year. I don't see these politicians going against the airlines that support their expensive campaigns.

Also, this is not just a US problem. What are European governments doing about the reduction of space and the adding of more and more seats?

In April, Airbus unveiled designs which offered airlines a new
11-abreast seating configuration on board its A380 “superjumbos” which
would add an extra 35 to 40 economy class seats.

A more recent Airbus design did away with cushions, tray tables and
legroom entirely, in favour of seats that resemble bicycle saddles.
While Airbus told Telegraph Travel that it was "unlikely" the seats
would ever be used on passenger planes, almost 90 per cent of readers
said they would never travel in such a way.

Monarch Airlines: 28" (with an "extra legroom" option of 32 ins for
a fee) legroom, 17" seat width

Thomson: 28" legroom, 16.5-17.2" width

Thomas Cook: 28-33" legroom, 16.2-18.5" width

EasyJet: 29" legroom, 17.5" width

Ryanair 30" legroom, 17" width

Aer Lingus 31-32" legroom, 17" width

British Airways 31-34" legroom, 17-18" width

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/news/Which-airlines-are-the-worst-for-legroom/

Posted by
1246 posts

OK, but in genuine safety terms how much does this matter? Most aeroplanes land where they are meant to and even if it crashes it doesn't make much difference what the seat pitch is if you are blown up or fly into a mountain. There are rare occasions where it does matter how fast one can get out of your seat and evacuate the craft, such as the well-known motorway and river crashes, but they are certainly not that common. I definitely want a bigger seat because it would be comfier, but I would be kidding myself to think it makes a safety difference for most flights and the FAA seems to agree.

Posted by
546 posts

@Nick...Decisions about safety should never be made because something is unlikely to happen they should be made because something CAN happen and the configuration of the aircraft does certainly affect emergency exit times. The FAA has unfortunately been the creature of the Airline industry for almost it’s entire existence and usually only enacts new rules under duress or as a result of a terrible accident...after the horse left the barn.

I remember as a young man I worked for Sundstrand Data Control, the company that then made Flight Data and Voice recorders as well as the movie and music entertainment systems and the head up cockpit display. It was widely known that the design engineers of the DC 10 had warned the FAA repeatedly about the distinct possibility of the catastrophic failure of the planes cargo doors. Douglas Pooh poohed the whole thing and the FAA refused to order a re-design. Not long afterwards a Turkish Airlines DC 10’s cargo doors blew out shortly after takeoff decompressing the plane pulling the entire passenger floor down severing all control lines. The jet tumbled end for end into the ground killing all aboard.

Then the FAA made Douglas redesign the doors.

Don’t for a minute think the FAA has the passengers best interest at heart or knows what it is doing.

Posted by
5664 posts

http://fsims.faa.gov/WDocs/8300.10%20Airworthiness%20Insp%20Handbk/Volume%202/2_077_00.htm

  1. PARTICIPANTS.

    (1) Representative Passenger Complement. In a full-scale aborted takeoff emergency evacuation demonstration, the operator must
    assemble a representative passenger complement. Before conducting the
    demonstration, the operator must ensure that the participants meet the
    appropriate criteria. If participants do not meet the criteria, the
    operator must repeat the demonstration.

(b) The "life-sized dolls" referred to above must be carried by
passengers to simulate infants two years old or younger.

(c) No employee of a certificate holder or manufacturer may be seated
next to an exit.

(d) Because of child labor laws in some localities, it may not always
be possible to have children between the ages of three and 11
participating in full-scale evacuation demonstrations. In these
situations, a proportional mix of the overall passenger complement may
be substituted.

(f) The operator may not practice, rehearse, or describe the
demonstration for the passengers, nor may any participant have taken
part in this type of demonstration within the preceding six months.

The amazing part to me is that the aircraft has to demonstrate evacualtion in 90 seconds. On typical flights it take 90 seconds just to get the first few rows of premium class passengers off the plane. Those of us in the back are lucky to get off within 15 minutes of door opening. Of course, in an evac, all doors/hatches open and passengers are not suppose to take their carry-ons. Leave the wheelies in the overhead and run.

Posted by
1820 posts

So are you willing to not whine when airfares go up?

We are getting what we have shown we want by our actions. Anyone remember "more room in coach"? It was an attempt but American Airlines to give us the room we claim we wanted. However since they had fewer seats AA charged a few $ more. When it came time to buy instead of paying for the space we went with "less space, but cheaper". AA Went back to more seats and cheaper fares.

And as for safety. This is an agency that's still letting you hold a 23 month old on your lap. Seat pitch is probably much less of an issue than projectile kids.

Posted by
951 posts

So are you willing to not whine when airfares go up?

For more space, one vote "Yes". I already pay more for seats with more legroom, and look at a host of factors besides price when purchasing air travel (schedule, airports involved, airline, aircraft type and seating layout, on-time performance.) But I realize I am not the norm (in many ways, my kids would say!)

Posted by
1217 posts

And as for safety. This is an agency that's still letting you hold a 23 month old on your lap. Seat pitch is probably much less of an issue than projectile kids.

The longstanding reason for that is that flying is statistically far safer than driving to the same destination is, and by allowing lap babies, it helps keep trip costs low enough to shift a good number of families to flying rather than driving and saves X number of lives every year.

Posted by
1820 posts

So wouldn't that "longstanding " FAA excuse for lap kids be true for seat pitch. Aren't you statistically safer on Spirit then in the car driving to see Mickey Mouse?

Posted by
3176 posts

And as for safety. This is an agency that's still letting you hold a
23 month old on your lap.

Thank you for saying this! This is YOUR responsibility, parents!

Please....your arms will be USELESS to protect your child if the plane goes through severe turbulence. It's basic physics. Your child's head & neck could smash into the bottom of the overhead compartment right above your heads. Your arms do not have the protection of a safety seat and a seatbelt.

From Consumer Reports:

Why You Should Never Fly With a Baby on Your Lap

Saving money on an extra seat isn't worth the risk

Posted by
6778 posts

This is the key take-away from the article:

"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. In other words, the FAA says seat sizes do not impede the need for passengers to jump from their seats and make their way to an exit. The agency said it has videos available that demonstrate this."

Posted by
3477 posts

Agnes,

So the excuse for smaller seats with less legroom is so that the emergency exits don't get too crowded too fast?

/s

Posted by
6778 posts

I quoted a part of the article that no one alluded to (regarding FAA's rationale), I did not make an excuse. It's obvious that airlines will continue to segment the market and maximize profits (by tinkering with seat sizes and bundled/ unbundled amenities) but FAA sees its mandate as far more narrow. To each his own to decide whether FAA's rationale is compelling or not. I would not hold out any hope for meaningful regulation of airlines anytime soon, there is no appetite for it at either among Congress and the Executive Branch (DOT and FAA). Not even when it comes to transparency and clarity in fare advertising (especially on third party comparison sites), which clearly protects consumers.

Posted by
6182 posts

Mark, jokes are always dangerous in social media! :)

The FAA and DOT can only do what the laws passed by Congress, signed by the President, allow them to do. They don't get to venture into areas of passenger comfort, whether they think it would be a good idea or not. They have to approach things from safety standpoint only. I'm not sure there is even a requirement to have seats at all, if passengers could be kept strapped in, standing up. If you've ever flown in a plane with web seats, you know how bad it could get.

Posted by
951 posts

This is still only a bill, not a law. But in apparent opposition to the FAA's statement from a couple weeks ago, the House has added a mandate to a bill for the Agency to, indeed, step into the airline-seat-size business. Here's a link to an article in Air Transport World that states this seat provision mandate was added to the FAA's re-authorization bill. As the article points out, the FAA still states seat size is not a safety issue.

Posted by
7205 posts

And I cringe every time I see a FA demonstrate the use of the flotation device... because I know that if we ever actually have to use them there's going to be at LEAST 1 idiot who puts it on and inflates in while still in the plane. Yep - that's a recipe for disaster in itself.

Posted by
5105 posts

First...

And I cringe every time I see a FA demonstrate the use of the flotation device... because I know that if we ever actually have to use them there's going to be at LEAST 1 idiot who puts it on and inflates in while still in the plane. Yep - that's a recipe for disaster in itself.

I flew home from Europe earlier a few days ago, on United. As part of the safety video, they instruct passengers to put on their flotation vest, head for the exit, and then inflate it before exiting the aircraft. Lots of people going to be killed with great advice like that...

Second....stop hoping the FAA will get you a bigger seat. Never going to happen, evah.

You want a bigger seat? Stop telling the airlines that's exactly what you want.

Posted by
12400 posts

The one air carrier that I flew with surprisingly wide seats was Jet Blue some years back. Admittedly, very comfortable. The seats in Economy for trans-Atlantic flights are pretty much the same ie, sardine can, regardless of air line,at least i don't notice much difference as I did with Jet Blue.

With these sardine can seats, hopefully, I have no sitting behind me. The last three flights going over and back, I've lucked out, when at check-in I tell them an isle seat towards the rear would be most preferable. I don't book the seat on-line, in advance, when buying the ticket. I wait until check-in to get my seat.

If the flight is not over 11 hours non-stop, I can 'grin and bear" it in that sardine can seat, make the best of it (comfort hardly factors in here), and sleep.