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Are Airline Seats Too Small? Here’s Your Chance to Weigh In

The FAA has issued a call for comments regarding the size of (shrinking) airline seats

by Lark Gould

October 3, 2022

Photo: KonKapp/Adobe Stock

Are airline seats getting smaller? It’s becoming a problem for anyone who flies these days. But for the FAA and the U.S. airlines they monitor, the problem is not one of comfort. Rather, safety is at the center of concern and whether economy-class seats—which have contracted as much as seven inches over the past few decades while the waistlines of travelers have expanded by more than two—are too small to enable a 90-second evacuation requirement.

The FAA issued a call for comment in an effort to run a 90-day survey with U.S. flyers to determine whether the measures of airline seats should be regulated. Written comments must be received on or before November 1. But it won’t be the first time shrinking airline seats have caught the attention of Congress and the FAA.

The agency was called upon to take action after an American Airlines flight bound from Chicago to Miami in 2016 caught fire on the runway and had to be evacuated. In that incident it took more than two minutes for passengers to exit the burning plane. Although the FAA standard was 90 seconds, the agency claimed the seat size was not necessarily a factor in obstructing the evacuation and showed no interest at that time in regulating what an airline seat size should be.

Meanwhile, seat pitch has slimmed some five inches during the last 30 years—from around 35 inches to 30, and even down to 28 inches for some notable discount carriers, all allowing airlines to pack in more passengers. Average economy-seat width is 17 inches, even 16 inches on some aircraft. Consumer advocacy group estimates only a quarter of adult U.S. flyers actually fit in those seats properly. Some airlines are looking at the SkyRider, a saddle seat introduced in 2018 by Aviointeriors with a pitch of only 23 inches, as a way to go. What will be the FAA’s response following the call for comments? Will mandated airline seat dimensions finally be implemented? Time to squeeze in and stand by.