The FAA has launched an investigation.

By Stacey Leasca
October 01, 2019

As any frequent flier can tell you, airplane seats are getting uncomfortably small. However, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) wants to test whether or not the new seat sizes are becoming unsafe for passengers as well.

FAA deputy administrator Dan Elwell told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation that the organization will test if passengers can safely exit a plane with the newly compacted seat configurations. This test is a quick turnaround for the organization. Just one year ago it declined to regulate airline seat sizes. At the time, the FAA said it had “no evidence that current seat sizes are a factor in evacuation speed. ”

"Americans are getting bigger, so seat size is important, but it's got to be looked at in the context of safety," Elwell said during a September subcommittee meeting. The group will be looking to find out how both seat size and pitch affect safety, he noted.

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According to Elwell, the group plans to test seat safety using 720 volunteers representing a “good demographic sampling” including children and animals. Rep. Steve Cohen from Tennessee, who sits on the subcommittee, pushed Elwell on just what that sampling would look like, noting it was key to represent all sizes and disabilities. The group will work together over the course of 12 days to test different emergency scenarios.

In the end, Elwell said, the group aims to determine “what, if any, regulatory changes are necessary to implement the requirement.”

However, the findings may end up being bad news for passengers.

“A bad outcome would be for them to keep the seats essentially as they are or even allow them to shrink further,” Paul Hudson, president of the consumer organization Flyers Rights, told The Washington Post. “A good outcome would be for them to require the seats and passenger space be sized in order to accommodate the demographic profiles that we now have.”

But, it appears even lawmakers are on the side of passengers wanting larger seats. As The Washington Post noted, Rep. Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon, who happens to be the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said he’d like to give airline CEOs a taste of their own medicine.

“I want to get the CEOs here someday, and I’m going to get some of those seats,” he said. “And I’m going to put them in them, and we’re going to keep them here for four or five hours and see what they think about what they’re doing to people.”

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