Airplane seats never seem to stop shrinking. That may soon change. Earlier this month, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) opened up the issue of seat sizes to the public by asking for input on the minimum dimensions necessary for safe evacuation in the event of an emergency. A 90-day comment period officially began on August 3 and will remain open until November 1. Written comments can be submitted online, via mail or fax, or by hand or courier.
The request for public comment regarding commercial airline seat sizing has been years in the making. In 2018, Congress instructed the FAA to codify minimum seat dimensions within a year. Air traveler advocacy group FlyersRights.org has been pushing for minimum seat dimensions for even longer. USA Today quotes Paul Hudson, the group’s president, as saying: “Our estimate is that only 20 percent of the population can reasonably fit in these seats now. It’s beyond a matter of comfort, or even emergency evacuation; there are serious health and safety issues when you’re put in cramped conditions for hours on end.”
Though this month’s request for comment signals that the FAA may finally be preparing to establish a minimum seat size for commercial airplanes, the request clearly states that the determining factor is safety, rather than health or comfort. FAA rules state that an aircraft must be able to be evacuated in 90 seconds or less. The agency encourages commenters to review its 2022 cabin evacuation study before submitting feedback.
In addition to seat width, factors such as pitch, meaning the distance between rows of seats, will also be considered. Currently, the average pitch in economy class on most carriers is 30 to 31 inches, although some budget airlines have left as little as 28 inches for legroom. Seventeen inches is now standard for seat width.
It remains to be seen when or if the FAA will officially decide on minimum seat dimensions and what that might would mean for air travelers. Many people have met the agency’s invitation for feedback with skepticism that change is coming, or that future changes will be significantly favorable for passengers. But the fact remains that input is currently welcome, so if you have an opinion on airplane seat size, know that you can make your voice heard before November 1.