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Judge orders FAA to look into “the Case of the Incredible Shrinking Airline Seat"

Perri Ormont Blumberg
August 1, 2017

Flyers Rights, a consumer advocacy group, is standing up for something all Southerners know: Flying in cramped seats is getting too darn uncomfortable.

Now, thanks to their petition addressing uncomfortable airplane seats, judges on the United States Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., have ordered the Federal Aviation Administration (F.A.A) to respond to these claims.

The petition stated that seat pitch—the technical term for the distance between the back of your seat and the back of the seat directly in front of you—has gone down from an average of 35 inches to 31 inches since the early 2000s. Additionally, seat width has narrowed by an average of 1.5 inches. Meanwhile, the average adult weights for both men and women have continued to creep up. In short, general comfort and amount of personal space on an airplane just keeps getting worse.

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The FAA previously rejected their petition in 2015. This didn’t fly in Judge Patricia Millett’s appeals court. Dubbing it "The Case of the Incredible Shrinking Airline Seat,” the three-judge panel mandated that the F.A.A must complete a new review of the petition’s request to establish a minimum airline seat size.

While the court disagreed with the petition’s claim that these shrinking seats are creating health concerns (like blood clots), they did rule that the petition was right about the issue potentially impacting emergency evacuations.

Now, the F.A.A said they are “studying the ruling carefully and any potential actions we may take to address the court’s findings.” While there is the chance the FAA could reject the findings of the petition again by providing better justification for its stance, it’s a promising step.

“This is the first case I have seen where an organization has successfully challenged the F.A.A’s basically being asleep at the switch and not fulfilling its safety responsibilities adequately,” said Arthur Alan Wolk, a lawyer who specializes in aviation law, to the New York Times. He also called the appeals court ruling “groundbreaking.” As for us? We’re keeping our sandwiched limbs crossed that a new era of roomy seats is en route to ATL, BNA, DFW, or an airport near you.