FAA ‘Not Required to Make Changes to Airline Seats, Sizes’: US Appeals Court

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By NTD Newsroom
March 6, 2023Courts
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FAA ‘Not Required to Make Changes to Airline Seats, Sizes’: US Appeals Court
An interior view of an American Airlines B737 MAX airplane is seen at Dallas-Forth Worth International Airport in Dallas, Texas, on Dec. 2, 2020. (Cooper Neill/AFP via Getty Images)

A U.S. appeals Court has rejected a request to order the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to ratify minimum requirements for seat size and spacing between airline seats.

According to the ruling by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, there is no clear and indisputable evidence that tight seating could prove dangerous to passengers, albeit being uncomfortable.

The March 2 ruling followed a request by advocacy group, FlyersRights.org, which the court said had no right to force the FAA to adopt seating rules.

In 2018, Congress issued a one-year ultimatum to the FAA to implement measures for minimum seating dimensions, including pitch. Congress stipulated this as necessary for the safety of passengers.

Despite no such rules currently prevailing, airlines are obligated to adhere to emergency measures, which stipulate that passengers must be evacuated within 90 seconds if necessary. The reconfiguration of aircraft, however, could prove problematic and costly.

The claim by FlyersRights that tight seating could potentially implicate passenger health by increasing the risk of blood clots, as well as materially slowing emergency escapes, was rejected by Circuit Judge Justin Walker, stating that no compelling evidence of either exists.

“To be sure, many airline seats are uncomfortably small. That is why some passengers pay for wider seats and extra legroom. But it is not ‘clear and indisputable’ that airline seats have become dangerously small,” Walker wrote in a three-judge panel, Axios reported.

He added that unless seats are dangerously small, seat-size regulations are not necessary for the safety of passengers.

According to Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights, the court’s decision ignored Congress’s intent for the consideration of minimum seating standards, adding that passengers could expect seating to shrink to “torture class” if the FAA failed to act.

A petition against the ruling is being brought forward. The group’s lawyer, Michael Kirkpatrick, said that “even rules codifying the status quo would stop seat dimensions from getting even smaller.

The FAA did not comment on the matter.

Airline trade groups have also voiced their disapproval for any seating size rules. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, along with several U.S. senators, issued a proposal to the FAA last November to ban airlines from further shrinking seat sizes and leg room.

According to FlyersRights, the average seat pitch has shrunk by as much as four to seven inches, to as little as 28 inches (71 cm). Seat width has also decreased since airline deregulation in 1978.

Passengers, however, have gotten larger instead.

The case is In re Flyers Rights Education Fund Inc, D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 22-1004.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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