Advocates for airline travellers have called for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to mandate minimum seat sizes in hopes of halting the trend toward ever-smaller seats, but some observers say that the demand could actually backfire, AFAR reported October 8, 2018.
The FAA reauthorization bill recently passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump authorized the agency to establish “minimums for seat pitch, width, and length … that are necessary for the safety and health of passengers.”
But as travel industry expert Christopher Elliott noted: “The FAA is not there to ensure your comfort, they’re there for safety. If [airlines] can evacuate an airplane in 90 seconds with a 28-inch seat pitch, they’ll set the minimum to 28 inches.”
Ninety seconds is the standard that FAA has set for passengers to be able to exit their seats in an emergency. Critics contend that the airlines have gamed their testing of the safety standard by using test subjects who are younger and fitter than the average air traveller.
“Unless the FAA changes its current position that existing shrunken seats are safe, that there are no significant adverse health effects, that it has no jurisdiction to regulate seats due to health affects anyway, and that any matter of comfort is none of its business, there will likely be no change,” said Paul Hudson, president of . “The FAA could even set seat size standards so low than it encourages further shrinkage.”
The FAA says it is unlikely that the minimum seat pitch will be set to less than 27 inches. But that’s still less than the tightest seats currently installed by discount airlines operating in the U.S.