AFAR: Are Airplane Seats Too Small? The FAA Launches Review and Gets an Earful

August 12, 2022 Media

On behalf of passenger legs and backs across the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration announced on August 3 that it was seeking public comments on whether the agency should set minimum dimensions for airplane seats—not only the space between rows, or seat pitch, but the width and length of the seat itself. The FAA is focusing on the safety of these layouts, mainly the ability of fliers to get in and out of their seats in the event of an emergency. Under current rules,, airplane makers must prove that a full planeload can be evacuated in 90 seconds.

Whether the FAA’s latest move will lead to some long-awaited standards is anyone’s guess. Passenger advocates were concerned when the FAA submitted a letter to Congress in March, suggesting that simulated aircraft evacuations conducted in 2019 and 2020 showed seating “did not adversely affect the success” of these tests. “I don’t understand how the FAA, which is responsible for our safety, is saying this isn’t a problem,” says William McGee, senior fellow for aviation and travel at the American Economic Liberties Project and author of the book Attention All Passengers. Setting a minimum on seat pitch might be a start, he said, but “in the past, the can always gets kicked down the road.”