FlyersRights.org, the largest airline passenger organization, filed a rulemaking petition with the FAA on October 5, 2022, the 3rd anniversary of the ignored Congressional deadline for the FAA to set minimum seat standards. FlyersRights.org’s rulemaking petition proposes seat dimensions that accommodate 90% to 92% of the population.
The rulemaking petition covers the 4 major reasons for rulemaking:
(1) emergency evacuations,
(2) often fatal deep vein thrombosis DVT,
(3) the brace position in crash landings, and
(4) personal space intrusion.
As each year passes, seat sizes shrink while passenger size increases. The FAA has not begun the rulemaking process, only requesting comments from the public on one safety aspect, emergency evacuations.
The 26-page rulemaking petition contains nearly 200 footnotes to ergonomic, demographic, medical, safety studies, reports and statistics. It exhaustively proves that half of adults can no longer reasonably fit in most airline seats. It proposes a moratorium on further shrinkage and minimum seat width of 20.1 inches (vs. current 19 to 16 inches) and seat pitch (leg room) of 32.1 inches (vs. current 31 to 27 inches). Forty years ago, when passengers were 30 pounds lighter and 1.5 inches shorter, seat pitch was 35 to 31 inches and seat width 21 to 19 inches.
As a formal rulemaking petition, there is an expected 60-day public comment period. The FAA will have 6 months to rule on the petition, after which time a court appeal is possible.
Paul Hudson, FlyersRights.org President, member of the FAA Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee and the Emergency Evacuation Rulemaking Advisory Committee, commented: “The FAA and DOT can no longer deny, delay, and delegate away its responsibility to ensure airline seat safety. It has now been seven years since FlyersRights.org’s first seat rulemaking petition. Meanwhile, seats have continued to shrink and passengers have become larger and older. Tens of thousands of public comments have been filed in support. But the FAA, airlines, and Boeing continue to oppose any safe seat rule.
“This continuing opposition seat regulation has now crossed a new line, veiled contempt for the bipartisan 2018 Congressional mandate signed into law by President Trump. The FAA claims in court that the seat law requiring minimum seat dimensions is ‘optional’ if it continues to believe it is unnecessary. It is now clearly time for Secretary of Transportation Buttigieg and President Biden to act: Order FAA to end its endless delay and opposition.”
“Stop airline seat shrinkage now!”
The FAA, in Flyers Rights Education Fund v. FAA in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, argues that the 2018 law requiring it to set minimum seat standards is ambiguous and optional. Section 577 of the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act states that the FAA “shall issue regulations that establish minimum dimensions for passenger seats…including minimums for seat pitch, width, and length, and that are necessary for the safety of passengers.”
Flyers Rights filed a mandamus petition in January 2022, requesting the court to set a deadline for the FAA’s minimum seat size rulemaking. The case went to oral arguments in September 2022. The FAA denied 2015 FlyersRights.org’s rulemaking petition twice, in 2016 and 2018, denying any relationship between seat size and emergency evacuation times. The D.C. Circuit faulted the FAA’s first denial for relying on secret data to reach its conclusion that seat size does not and would not matter for emergency evacuations. In 2021, the DOT Inspector General found that the FAA had falsely claimed that the secret evacuation tests conducted by airplane manufacturers had tested for shrunken seats, when in fact, only one test was conducted at 28 inches or lower.
The petition can be viewed here.