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FAA Regulations Make Flying Coach a ‘Life-And-Death’ Concern

by Countable | 9.29.17

What’s the story?

A judge with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has said the "densification" of seats in coach now poses “a plausible life-and-death safety concern.”

The judge’s remarks come in response to litigation by the non-profit activist group Flyers Rights.

The case, and associated Federal Aviation Administration regulations, are investigated in a report by The Daily Beast.

Why does it matter?

The airline industry is supposed to run tests on whether passengers can effectively evacuate a plane during an emergency. With airlines packing seats tighter and tighter, however, the online outlet found the tests were "woefully out of date."

How out of date? The Daily Beast noted that:

"No coach class seat meets the Department of Transportation’s own standard for the space required to make a flight attendant’s seat safe in an emergency."

"Neither Boeing nor the [FAA] will disclose the evacuation test data for the newest (and most densely seated) versions of the most widely used jet, the Boeing 737."

Flyers Rights is asking the FAA to place a moratorium on all "further reductions in seat size, width, pitch and padding and aisle width" until an advisory committee, or task force, can create new standards for seat and passenger space.

The court has given the FAA until December 28th to respond.

Flyers Rights argued that seats in coach are now so close together that the "brace for impact" position illustrated in airline safety manuals would actually cause “blunt trauma impact when a passenger’s head strikes the seatback in front of them.”

The measurement of the space from the top of one seatback to the next is called "pitch." Flyers Rights, as explained by The Daily Beast, said that “in coach the pitch has decreased from an average of 35 inches in the early 2000s to 31 inches today—and in an increasing number of cases it has now shrunk to 28 inches. In the same period, average seat width has shrunk from 18.5 inches to 17 inches.”

The FAA’s evacuation tests, The Daily Beast explained, were put into place before airlines began shrinking legroom and don’t reflect how the "size of passengers has simultaneously increased." Or, as the court pointed out, “a pattern of placing ever larger passengers in ever smaller seats with still less space between them.”

Paul Hudson, the president of Flyers Rights, called this shrinking of pitch

"A Titanic waiting to happen."

An FAA spokesman told The Daily Beast that it couldn’t comment on how various airplane manufacturers test for seat densities, but that the companies "have demonstrated full-scale emergency evacuation of airplanes with seat pitches as low as 28 inches. In no case did the seat pitch have an effect on the outcome of the test."

And while the FAA argued in the court case that pitch had no impact on evacuation, it did acknowledge that "increased passenger width had the greatest effect on exit speed of all the variables tested."

Citing "the proprietary nature of the date," neither the FAA nor Boeing will release the results of evacuation tests specific to the latest 737s. However, Boeing told The Daily Beast,

"The public can be assured that Boeing substantiates the evacuation capability of our airplanes using the maximum allowable number of passengers, which is significantly higher than what airlines typically use in their operations."

What do you think?

Is shrinking seat space a "life-and-death safety concern"? Should the FAA and Boeing share their test data? Does the FAA need to create a committee to set new standards for seat and passenger space? Hit the Take Action button, tell your reps, then comment below.

—Josh Herman

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(Photo Credit: gchutka / iStockphoto)

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Leave a comment
(88)
  • Ticktock
    09/18/2017
    ···

    Recently I had a friend that flew to Germany. Part of the trip was on US carriers another part on European carriers. He was astonished at the difference in cost and comfort. He stated that the European carriers were less expensive and were more confortable than the US carriers by far. He stated that US carriers weren't as courteous, he was packed in like a sardine and were more expensive. The European carrier was courteous, he was comfortable and were less expensive. Here in the US it's all about the Stockholders. The US carriers are greedy. We are paying more for less value and safety.

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  • Loretta
    09/18/2017
    ···

    Again we are faced with corporate greed vs public safety and consumerism. I suggest you think about this more than you thought about health care. Start protecting the correct "base". The American Public!

    Like (36)
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  • Janene
    09/18/2017
    ···

    It's time the FAA regulated seat size to 18 inches and a minimum of 35inches of leg room. The current shrinking standards are a risk not only for passengers health due to lack of ability to move (blood clots), but in case emergency egress is necessary the lack of room slows down evacuation which could be deadly.

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  • SDChrist
    09/19/2017
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    Baaaahhhh 🐏 seriously, it's insanely tight on flights now and I'm a small woman. I can't imagine a normal sized man's level of discomfort. It is all about shareholder value and CEO salary in the USA. Profits over people, always.

    Like (19)
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  • Eileen
    09/18/2017
    ···

    I fly a lot! There is barely room to get out to go to the restroom in a leisurely pace let alone an emergency! Add to that the fact that the seats are smaller and Americans are not! I have had more of other people's bodies in my seat, on my arms and touching my legs in the past year and I pick window seats where I can squish up against the window! New and larger seats and more leg room is needed!

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  • Chris
    09/18/2017
    ···

    We need to force the FAA to assess and better regulate the airlines' packing in of smaller seats and flyer safety.

    Like (14)
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  • J. scott
    09/19/2017
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    This is true. US Carriers are stuffing more folks into smaller and smaller seats and if that's not enough they are using commuter jets on long flights not just into smaller commuter airports.

    Like (13)
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  • I.Got.an.Idea...
    09/18/2017
    ···

    If there is documentation that demonstrates that any current plane in operation, does not provide the necessary capacities and tolerances for the safety of its passengers, then each of those planes should be taken offline immediately. This will bring the appropriate modifications now, rather than years from now, after tragic events prove that the current systems are faulty and the airlines and lawyers have made massive profits off the deaths of many innocent victims.

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  • Mary
    09/19/2017
    ···

    Airlines and FAA will find that their attempts to further squeeze airline customers into inhumane conditions (such as overcrowding of coach/economy cabins) will reap the whirlwind. This cannot end well. One accident where hundreds die will bring down airlines and damage the entire industry. Caution to the state senators and representatives: use judgement on this it you don't want to be a witting party to future disasters. More accountability to come.

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  • Abbi
    09/19/2017
    ···

    This is why I don't fly. And just because they fly coach doesn't mean they deserve this, not every one can afford first class! Airlines need to be regulated better to ensure safety and comfort.

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  • Karen
    09/18/2017
    ···

    Another reason not to travel by airplane unless one flies first class. Just read that if one travels via American or United, if your carry on luggage can't fit under your seat, you'll have to pay to have it stored in the overhead bins. I guarantee you the other airlines will do the same. These airlines nickel & dime us the least they can do is provide us with a comfortable seat & leg room.

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  • Keith
    09/19/2017
    ···

    Having safer conditions for travel (I would add sporting and entertainment venues) is better for everyone. I realize that airline companies need to make money, so the more people on a single flight, the more money they can make without having the overhead of using multiple flights for the same number of people. But I know people who work in this industry. Unhappy and uncomfortable passengers make for a miserable flight for both those passengers and the flight crew. I know enough about business to know that happier employees provide better service. And better service brings in more business. So while regulations may provide a temporary inconvenience for the companies, it will, in the end, be better for business.

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  • KansasTamale
    09/18/2017
    ···

    The airline industry has gotten so greedy & money grubbing that they have given NO CONSIDERATION TO SAFETY FOR PASSENGERS AND WORKERS. The shrinking seat space has been & continues to be a "life-and-death" safety concern. I started flying with students to foreign countries in 1973. Flying was a very upscale affair. Everyone used Sunday manners & attire. The seats were spacious & comfortable. Today a passenger feels like he's stuffed in a sardine can. Of course the FAA and Boeing Should share their test data. The fact they don't, makes them look guilty of creating a Titanic effect in planes. The FAA needs to create a committee to set new laws for safety.

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  • Alan
    09/19/2017
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    How can there even be a question that safety testing needs to be transparent to the public it protects - or does this testing protect someone other than the public?

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  • Sharon
    09/22/2017
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    If tests and data involve public safety, they should be shared. Not only should they be shared, they should be carried out and/or replicated by independent researchers. Government regulatory standards should be updated regularly to keep pace with changing variables, including medical research. Corporations - driven by profit - should not be their own police. I don't think that's ever been effective.

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  • Tracey
    09/19/2017
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    The lack of space and restrictions on movement can be life threatening now for those with health issues. I hate to fly now due to the cramped conditions and crappy food.

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  • Michele
    09/19/2017
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    The FAA needs to get serious about customer safety. The airlines are making more profit than ever. Can we stop the Capitalist greed and get back to basics like safety first.

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  • Joanne
    09/22/2017
    ···

    America has become the world capital of greed, stockholders, big money, corporate lobbyists, big pharmaceuticals, big corporations taking over, political parties agendas. The average Americans safety, health and wellbeing isn't even thought about.

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  • Linda lee
    09/19/2017
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    Come on. People don't have room to move, relax nor change positions frequently as physical therapists recommend. In a crisis, these already jammed up passengers could easily be hurt. Wait till tests are performed recommending new guidelines, then legislate to follow them.

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  • operaman
    09/18/2017
    ···

    As the public clamor for cheaper air fares, they themselves create the horrible flying accommodations. Stop flying and observe the fares falling. Ask grandma or grandpa about flying in the 1950s. Clean aircraft, wide seats and leg room, beverages and food were provided. And I hate to say, smoking was permitted. Unfortunately, the Government wants super trains, but provide ghetto service.

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