For the time being, how much legroom you get on a flight will remain an airline-specific issue. The Federal Aviation Administration will not force carriers to maintain a “minimum seat pitch,” responding to a passenger rights group lawsuit their claims do not require a rule change.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) won’t step in to require airlines to maintain a minimum seat space across carriers, putting the latest chapter in a three-year legal battle to rest. In a letter from the aviation safety executive director to FlyersRights.org, the authority declined to act on an airline seat pitch requirement.
In 2015, FlyersRights.org submitted a petition to Congress demanding minimum seat pitch requirements as part of a new “Passenger Bill of Rights.” This kicked into action two rounds of court battles between the nonprofit organization and the FAA, leading to the decision.
After the U.S. Court of Appeals remanded decision making authority to the FAA, the aviation rulemakers considered the demands based on three points. Creating a minimum seat pitch rule would be based on “the immediacy of the safety or security concerns…the priority of other issues the FAA must deal with; and the resources we [the FAA] have available to address these issues.” After additional consideration, the administration decided the request “does not merit rulemaking at this time.”
In their decision, the FAA cited “several videos” of evacuation testing, which they claim prove narrower seat pitch does not prevent flyers from evacuating within 90 seconds of an emergency landing. Despite noting concerns of seating capacity, evacuation testing and human panic, the government body still declined to take further action.
“The FAA has no evidence that a typical passenger, even a larger one, will take more time than a couple of seconds to get out of his or her seat, or that such a time will approach the time necessary to get the emergency exits functional,” the FAA wrote in their letter. “The FAA also has no evidence that current seat issue sizes are a factor in evacuation speed, nor that current seat sizes create a safety issue.”
Responding to the letter, FlyersRights.org attorney Andrew Applebaum expressed disappointment in the decision to NBC News. They maintain a goal of establishing “a moratorium on further seat size shrinkage.”
“Over the last 20 years the average American passenger has grown taller and larger,” Applebaum told NBC News. “And that makes it more difficult for passengers to evacuate from the airplane.”
The decision is the latest in an extensive line of debate over how much space should go between seats. In 2017, then-CEO of Spirit Airlines Ben Baldzana wrote an editorial defending his airline’s tightening of seats to 28 inches of leg room.