In a case a judge jokingly called the “Case of the Incredible Shrinking Airline Seat,” an appeals court forced the Federal Aviation Administration on Friday to prove that it is safe to allow airlines to keep shrinking the size of airline seats as they please.
The ruling is a response to a legal challenge by the Flyers Rights advocacy group after the federal agency declined a request to start issuing some rules for how large an airline seat can be without posing a safety concern.
Last week, the federal appeals court in Washington D.C. ruled that the agency based its estimates on outdated data or irrelevant tests before concluding that seat spacing has no influence on passengers’ safety.
The three-judge panel send the issue back to the agency, urging it to come up with a scientifically-backed response to Flyers Rights’ request.
“We applaud the court’s decision, and the path to larger seats has suddenly become a bit wider,”
said a spokesperson for the passenger group.
Seat Spacing A Matter of Safety, Not Just Comfort
The group thinks that tight spacing between rows of seats and seats too close to one another can delay emergency evacuations in case of an emergency. Plus, reduced spacing can boost the risk of developing vein clots for travelers.
A spokesperson for the federal agency said it was reviewing the ruling and considering what steps to take next. The agency is reportedly considering establishing some rules for seat spacing to prevent future tragedies.
The airline industry has been lobbying hard against regulations on seat size. In the U.S., Airlines for America – the main trade group – refused to comment on the decision.
Airlines are tempted to reduce spacing between individual seats and row of seats to gain extra room for more seats. On some discount carriers, the distance between the back of one seat and the seat in front of it is just 28 inches which makes it incredibly uncomfortable for the average traveler.
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