Are Commercial Airline Seats Too Small?

If you’ve noticed the leg space offered by commercial airlines shrinking, you aren’t alone. According to Flyers Rights, the average width between seats on commercial airlines has shrunk from 18.5 inches in the early 2000s to 17 inches in 2005. Of course, different airlines have their own specifications regarding seat width. Nonetheless, shrinking airline seats has become such a problem that a federal court has stepped in to moderate.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for regulating a wide range of elements pertaining to commercial air travel. Currently, however, it does not regulate any major parts or components of the cabin, which includes the design and spacing of seats. Instead, the FAA has taken a hands-off approach, allowing airlines to determine their own seat spacing and format. The only requirement is that all airlines must design their seats so that passengers can easily exit within 90 seconds for safety reasons.

Last month, however, a federal judge ordered the FAA to conduct a thorough review of seat sizes on commercial airlines, to which the FAA responded by saying it is “studying the ruling carefully and any potential actions we may take to address the Court’s findings.”

This review was prompted by the advocacy group Flyers Right, which in 2015, filed a petition to the FAA to implement new laws for regulating seat space. The group said it was primarily concerned with the safety hazards associated with the ever-shrinking airline seats. With such small seats and limited legroom, the group claims it increases the risk of medical conditions like deep vein thrombosis in passengers. Additionally, Flyers Right says that increasing rates of obesity require airline seats to be larger, not smaller. The FAA rejected the petition, prompting Flyers Right to take its request to court.

After hearing from Flyers Right, federal Judge Patricia Millett sided with the advocacy group, saying that the FAA should review the current state of airline seats and leg space. This is huge news that may signal a design change for passengers.

This is the Case of the Incredible Shrinking Airline Seat,” Judge Patricia Millett wrote in her ruling. “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.”

Do you think commercial airlines have limited seat and leg space?