The Federal Administration of Aviation (FAA) must investigate “the Case of the Incredible Shrinking Airline Seat” after judges from a U.S. Court of Appeals sided with a fliers’ rights group last week.
Flyersrights.org, an airline consumer advocacy group, won their fight against the FAA when the D.C. District Court of Appeals decided that the government agency must readdress a petition from two years ago.
The petition asked that the FAA “set maintenance standards and limit the extent of seat size changes,” according to the court’s opinion. Flyers Rights also hoped that the FAA would appoint “an advisory committee or task force to assist and advise the Administration in proposing seat and passenger space rules and standards.”
Within the last decade, Flyers Rights argued, the distance between the backs of seats (seat pitch) has shrunk from 35 to 31 inches while the width of seats has gone from 18.5 to 17 inches. Meanwhile, the petition said, the average adult man and woman are 25 and 24 pounds heavier now than they were in 1960, respectively. The group argued that smaller seats makes it more difficult for passengers to exit the aircraft in an emergency situation.
The organization first submitted their petition to the FAA in 2015, but the government agency rejected it last year, saying that their studies proved passengers could still quickly escape with tight seating.
In court, however, the FAA could not provide modern tests and studies that supported their position. The court decided the FAA must reconsider the Flyers Rights petition.
The FAA said in a statement to the New York Times that it was “studying the ruling carefully and any potential actions we may take to address the court’s findings.”
Although Flyers Rights called the decision a “victory,” the FAA could still reject the proposal after further review. However, if they decide to do so, they must provide reports and up-to-date studies that justify the rejection.
Last year, the Senate rejected a proposal that would have established minimum seat size and legroom requirements for airlines, 42-54. Senator John Thune, who voted against the proposal, said he feared tighter regulations would result in higher costs and fewer options for travelers, Fortune reported.