U.S. government ordered to solve 'Case of
the Incredible Shrinking Airline Seat'
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[July 29, 2017]
By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. aviation
authorities were ordered back to the drawing board on Friday to solve
what a federal appeals judge called "The Case of the Incredible
Shrinking Airline Seat."
Judge Patricia Millett told the Federal Aviation Administration to take
another look at an advocacy group's assertion that shrinking airline
seats are imperiling passenger safety.
The judge rejected the FAA's argument that seat size was unimportant to
getting off the plane in an emergency.
"That makes no sense," she wrote for the three-judge panel, likening the
rationale to doing "a study on tooth decay that only recorded
participantsí sugar consumption" but did not look at brushing and
All three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of
Columbia Circuit agreed the FAA must conduct a new review of the request
for regulations setting a minimum airline seat size, but Judge Judith
Rogers dissented from part of the court's rationale.
Airline seats have steadily decreased in size over the last several
decades. Economy-class seat pitch has decreased from an average of 35
inches (89 cm) in the 1970s to 31 inches (79 cm), and in some airplanes
to 28 inches (71 cm).
Average seat width has narrowed from about 18 inches (46 cm)to 16.5
inches (42 cm) over the last decade.
Critics accuse the airlines of being more interested in profit than
passenger health and safety.
FAA spokesman Greg Martin wrote in an e-mail the agency "does consider
seat pitch in testing and assessing the safe evacuation of commercial,
passenger aircraft. We are studying the ruling carefully and any
potential actions we may take to address the courtís findings."
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A woman uses her laptop on a flight out of John F. Kennedy (JFK)
International Airport in New York, U.S., May 26, 2017. Picture taken
May 26, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
An airline trade group declined to comment.
Seat pitch is the distance from one seat to the same spot on the one
in front or behind.
The ruling was limited to the question of whether smaller seats and
larger passengers could have an impact on emergency egress. It did
not require the FAA to look at the impact on comfort and health.
A U.S. House of Representatives bill under consideration would
require the FAA to set minimum seat sizes on U.S. airlines and a
minimum distance between rows to "protect the safety and health of
Last month American Airlines Group Inc said it would reduce leg room
by one inch to 30 inches instead of two as originally planned on
some seats in its Boeing 737 MAX jets.
United Airlines President Scott Kirby told a congressional hearing
in May the airline had yet to decide whether to cut pitch to 29
inches in some seats. Nearly all United seats have at least 31
inches of pitch.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Howard Goller)
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