“The FAA has no evidence that there is an immediate safety issue necessitating rulemaking at this time.”
That’s the bottom line from the Federal Aviation Administration in response to a well-organized effort from a group called FlyersRights to more closely regulate seat pitch on U.S. airlines.
In a multi-page letter, the FAA dismissed every safety concern lodged by FlyersRights. It concluded that evidence failed to show a measurably increased safety risk due to diminished seat pitch. Generally, the FAA does not regulate seat pitch. It does, however, mandate that an aircraft be evacuated within 90 seconds during an emergency, even if half the exits are blocked. In response to evacuation videos submitted by aircraft manufactures, the FAA determined rapid evacuations are still easily achievable.
But Andrew Applebaum, a spokesman for FlyersRights, told NBC News:
Over the last 20 years the average American passenger has grown taller and larger and that makes it more difficult for passengers to evacuate from the airplane.
He also adds the evacuation videos did not factor in the presence of carry-on bags, which are more prevalent in an era of checked bag fees. It seems to me the problem is less with the bags themselves, but the fact that passengers may take them along…
It’s true that Americans have grown wider. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) claims over 70% of American adults are overweight or obese. But FlyersRights has no “smoking gun” that more rotund Americans sitting in smaller seats evacuate more slowly. It’s all speculation.
Why Legacy Airlines Support This Regulation
You might think carriers like American, Delta, and United would be strongly against any FAA regulation of seat pitch. Think again.
While not publicly advocating for it, legacy carriers view this as a game of chess. Their legroom is not (currently) as tight as ultra-low-cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier. If regulations prevent Spirit from executing their business model (less seat pitch = lower fares), legacies stand to be the beneficiaries.
But airlines should be careful what they wish for…
I’m not sure prohibiting airlines from further reducing seat pitch will make any difference in terms of onboard safety. As I alluded to earlier, the biggest fear I have during an evacuation is that many passengers will attempt to take their carry-on bags along. That certainly slows down the evacuation, putting the lives of others needlessly in danger. Before regulating seat pitch I’d rather see draconian fines, similar to the fine for smoking in lavatories, for passengers who fail to leave carry-on items behind in the case of an evacuation. View from the Wing disagrees.
— Chris Manno ✈️ (@Chris_Manno) September 9, 2015
image: Jordan Masters