The FAA Wants Your Input on Airline Seat Sizes

It's a part of efforts to regulate minimum safe seat sizes on aircraft.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is seeking comment from the public on airline seat dimensions.

The regulator is working to determine the minimum seat dimensions needed for passenger safety. The effort comes at the direction of Congress, which ruled that the authority should provide regulations on the matter as part of the FAA’s Reauthorization Bill in 2018.

Airlines make more money when they can fit more seats on a flight, so there’s a strong incentive to pack passengers in as tightly as possible. However, go too far, and it becomes difficult for passengers to escape in an emergency. Excessively small seating could frustrate evacuation efforts and put lives at risk, so the FAA is eager to get it right.

Primary dimensions of interest are seat width, seat length, and seat pitch. The latter is the all-important measurement from row to row, which has the biggest impact on legroom. The agency is also interested in comments on how other seat dimensions may have an impact on safety during an evactuation.

The FAA is taking comments from the public in addition to doing its own research. The regulator worked with the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute across 2019 and 2020 to investigate a range of emergency evacuation situations. In these tests, seat size and spacing did not have a major impact on evacuation outcomes.

However, the FAA noted that the tests relied on “able-bodied subjects under 60,” and thus were not representative of the entire flying population. The hope is that the broader public can help enlighten the FAA on any edge cases it may have missed.

The request for comment will shortly be published on the Federal Register. Once live, members of the public will then have 90 days to make submissions to the FAA regarding the issue.

Everyone has an opinion on airline seating. Most of us would say that there’s not enough legroom in coach. Others rage at the indigity of having to fight a random member of the public for their fair share of the arm rest. Some areas are more contentious, though. Arguments over the morality of reclining one’s seat tend to get fierce and heated at the best of times.

When it comes to emergencies, though, safety trumps all othef concerns. If you’ve noticed an issue in aircraft seating that could hold up a safe evacuation, now’s your chance to bring it to the attention of those that can do something about it.

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