US Appeals Court Rules Against Minimum Seat Dimensions on Planes

"It is not 'clear and indisputable' that airline seats have become dangerously small," wrote D.C. Circuit Judge Justin Walker

Rows of airplane seats. A U.S. appeals court ruled against minimum seat dimensions on planes.
Airplane seats have been shrinking for years.

Since 2015, airline passenger advocacy group has been lobbying for the creation of minimum seat dimensions on planes. In 2018 a federal mandate was passed, which set forth a set of requirements for the FAA regarding seat size and the implications it could have on safety (e.g., conduciveness to an evacuation in 90 seconds or less). But despite the legislation and being given an additional year to establish a standard, the issue has gone largely unaddressed.

And now, it looks like it may continue to go unaddressed

Per a new report from Reuters, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that FlyersRights doesn’t have the grounds to ask the FAA to implement a seating standard because sufficient evidence that tight seating is actually a threat to passengers was not provided.

“To be sure, many airline seats are uncomfortably small. That is why some passengers pay for wider seats and extra legroom,” Circuit Judge Justin Walker wrote. “But it is not ‘clear and indisputable’ that airline seats have become dangerously small.”

“Unless they are dangerously small, seat-size regulations are not ‘necessary for the safety of passengers,’” he added.

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“Seats have continued to shrink by some airlines, and people are continuing to get larger,” Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights, has previously said. “Our estimate is that only 20% of the population can reasonably fit in these seats now. It’s beyond a matter of comfort, or even emergency evacuation, there are serious health and safety issues when you’re put in cramped conditions for hours on end.” In response to the court’s decision, Hudson says that passengers can expect seating to shrink to “torture class” in the absence of FAA intervention.

While the FAA has yet to comment on the ruling, FlyersRights now plans to petition the agency directly. That said, the fact that they’ve failed to act over the course of the last near-decade doesn’t exactly bode well for the advocacy group.


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