For anyone who ever felt that their airline seat was too small — and the seat in front of them too close — this court ruling is for you.
A federal appeals court on Friday ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to consider setting minimum standards for the space airlines give passengers, Bloomberg News reports.
A judge who heard the suit, which was brought by a nonprofit advocacy group called Flyers Rights, said it was the “case of the incredible shrinking airline seat.”
“... (A)ircraft seats and the spacing between them have been getting smaller and smaller, while American passengers have been growing in size,” Judge Patricia Ann Millett wrote.
Flyers Rights argued that the average seat width has fallen from about 18.5 inches in the early-2000s to 17 inches in the early-to-mid-2010s. The distance between seat rows, known as "seat pitch," has gone from an average of 35 inches to 31 inches, and as low as 28 inches at some airlines.
The New York Times reported in May that American Airlines planned to reduce the space between rows to 29 inches, but later dropped that move after employees and customers complained, according to Bloomberg.
Shrinking spaces has created a safety hazard, Flyers Rights argued, making it more difficult to exit a plane in an emergency and increasing the risk of deep vein thrombosis, a potentially fatal condition of blood clots.
The FAA replied to the ruling: “We are studying the ruling carefully and any potential actions we may take to address the court’s findings.”
However, the agency was ordered to “consider” new standards, rather than to create new rules.
Bloomberg said the FAA could conduct a review and decide not to act.