A federal appeals court has ordered the FAA to review seat
sizes and the distance between rows on commercial aircraft.
"This is the Case of the Incredible Shrinking Airline
Seat," Justice Patricia Millett wrote in the July 28 opinion. "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
The ruling stems from a request that the consumer advocacy
group Flyers Rights made for the FAA to set standards for seat width and pitch.
Ever-tighter aircraft configurations impact evacuation times and pose health
threats to passengers, the organization contends.
The FAA rejected the request in 2015, asserting that
aircraft makers have passed required safety certification tests for planes with
seat dimensions and maximum occupancies used by today's commercial airlines.
But the FAA hasn't released the results of those tests,
citing the proprietary rights of the manufacturers -- a decision that troubled
"The problem here is that the administration has given
no reasoned explanation for withholding the tests in their entirety, and it has
declined to file them under seal or in redacted form," Millett wrote in
In a statement Monday, the FAA said it considers seat pitch
in testing and assessing safe evacuation of airliners.
"We are studying the ruling carefully and any potential
actions we may take to address the court's findings," an agency spokesman
The ruling comes as the House version of this year's FAA
reauthorization bill includes a provision that would require the Department of
Transportation to set minimum seat widths and distances between seating rows on
commercial aircraft within one year of the law's enactment.
Over the past decade, several U.S. airlines have steadily
shrunk the distance between rows and squeezed seat width in order fit more
seats on planes.