FAA ordered to review airplane seat space rules

A consumer rights group says shrinking seat space endangers passenger safety.

Airplane seats have been shrinking, and now the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been ordered to re-review whether seat size should be regulated. 

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., ordered the FAA to investigate what Judge Patricia Millett called "the case of the incredible shrinking airline seat," the order says.

“As many have no doubt noticed, aircraft seats and the spacing between them have been getting smaller and smaller, while American passengers have been growing in size," Millett wrote in the opinion. 

The court's decision comes after the advocacy group Flyers Rights petitioned the FAA in 2015 to make rules about the minimum requirements for seat size and legroom, saying the shrinking space passengers have is endangering their safety, health and comfort (more on this below). 

The FAA denied the petition. 

But the federal appeals court ruled last week the FAA didn't have a reasonable basis for refusing the petition, saying the agency relied on outdated or irrelevant tests and studies to decide seat spacing was about comfort, not safety. 

And because of that, the judges sent the issue back to the FAA, saying it must come up with a better response to the group's concerns.

Flyers Rights, a nonprofit, called the ruling "a victory." 

The FAA, in a statement to Fortune, said "We are studying the ruling carefully and any potential actions we may take to address the court’s findings." 

You can read the court's 23-page opinion here

Here's how much seats have shrunk

Airlines have been making seats smaller in recent years to pack more seats on the plane, and as a result make more money, CNN Money says

Flyers Rights' 2015 petition said seat pitch (how much legroom you get) has gone from an average of 35 inches to 31 inches, with legroom space being as narrow as 28 inches. 

Meanwhile, the average seat width has gone from 18.5 inches to 17 inches. 

You can see how each airline compares when it comes to seat pitch and width on the website SeatGuru

Flyers Rights argues the average economy class airplane seat is designed for someone who is between 5-foot-9 and 5-foot-10, and is of average build. That's smaller than many Americans, with the group noting since the 1960s, Americans have gotten taller and wider

Larger people and smaller seats puts travelers' safety at risk, the group argues. This can slow how fast people can exit in an emergency, as well as puts passengers at an increased risk of blood clots (which can be deadly), soreness and stiffness, the petition said. 

The FAA said in its statement to Fortune it does consider seat pitch when making sure people can exit a plane quickly and safely. 

CNN Money says no airline regulator in the world has made rules about seat size requirements. And if the FAA ends up setting standards for seating on commercial airplanes, it could be "the most significant government airline action since the industry was deregulated in 1979," The Consumerist says.

This issue could also end up in Congress. The Hill says the U.S. House is considering a proposal that would make the FAA set requirements for seat sizes and legroom on airplanes. 

Next Up

Screen Shot 2020-10-29 at 3.19.05 PM

This video of the Lowry Hill Tunnel walls being cleaned is oddly satisfying

The tunnel will be closed overnight Thursday for cleaning.

gray wolf

Gray wolf removed from the endangered species list

A decision on whether they can be hunted in Minnesota will come later.

covid saliva test

Minnesota opening its 7th saliva testing location in St. Paul

The tests are free and open to anyone regardless of if they have symptoms.

pete stauber - qunn nystrom CD8

Election 2020 preview: Minnesota's 8th Congressional District

It's a race between incumbent Rep. Pete Stauber and Democratic challenger Quinn Nystrom.

coronavirus, covid-19, icu

Minnesota's COVID-19 hospitalizations increase by 27.5% in 24 hours

Bring Me The News confirmed that the dramatic increase is not a numbers error.

fire, flames

Lives saved as passerby, city workers rescue from 3 from Golden Valley fire

The Golden Valley Fire Department responded to the fire Wednesday morning.

Caribou Coffee Holiday 2020

Caribou Coffee rolls out holiday cups, menu early

The holiday season is underway at some Twin Cities stores, with a nationwide rollout planned for Nov. 5.

Malik Beasley

Charges: Timberwolves' Beasley pointed assault rifle at family on a home tour

The family was on the Parade of Homes tour when Beasley allegedly pointed the gun at them, telling them to get off his property.


Sexual assaults on airplanes are becoming more frequent

Sexual assault reports on airplanes are up 45 percent this year.

As United scandal unfolds, what are the rules about bumping people from flights?

GoMN has taken a look at the rules surrounding flight overbooking and "involuntary" bumping.

Governor Tim Walz

Businesses, churches sue Gov. Walz over coronavirus orders

The lawsuit claims the orders "selectively" shut down the economy and violate their rights.

Staying in an Airbnb can help you earn free flights or drinks with Delta

Delta is offering SkyMiles to people who stay at an Airbnb.

Sun Country will start charging you to put bags in the overhead bins

The airline announced new baggage prices – and they may make you mad.