A recent federal court ruling has confirmed what those of us who travel frequently already know: the passenger seating space on airplanes is shrinking.
A lawsuit brought by a group called Flyers Rights challenged the Federal Aviation Administration’s failure to consider regulations to address minimum standards for passenger seating. The passenger space issue involves two basics of airline travel — the width of the seats themselves and the seating “pitch,” which is the distance between the rows of airline seats on a plane. According to Flyers Rights, the width of the seats has declined from 18.5 inches in the early 2000s to 17 inches now. And the airlines are constantly reducing the “pitch,” too — from 35 inches to as low as 28 inches. Narrower seats, and tighter “pitch,” allow airlines to cram even more seats onto planes.
Because nobody really cares about passenger comfort on planes, the Flyers Rights lawsuit was argued to the court as presenting a safety issue. Flyers Rights contended that the combination of shrinking seats and expanding passengers would make it harder to evacuate passengers in the event of an emergency and might also cause more passengers to develop deep vein thrombosis and blood clots because they can’t move their legs. The federal court hearing the case ordered the FAA to at least consider these issues and decide whether to issue new regulations.
Anybody who travels much knows these passenger space issues deep in their bones. Most flights these days are totally full, and it’s not difficult to feel like a sardine as you wedge yourself into your narrow seat, put your carry-on under the seat in front of you and thereby restrict your leg room, and then find your legs clamped when the person in the next row up “reclines” their seat by a few inches, directly on top of your kneecaps. And the cramped feeling is exacerbated when, as is often the case, the person sitting next to you is overflowing their designated seat space. If, like me, you typically work on a plane and need to retrieve things from the carry-on under the seat, you need to make many minute adjustments, and cram your face against the seat back in front of you, just to reach your carry-on and get out pen, paper, and reading material.
It’s hard for me to believe that any actual study would show that an airplane is as readily evacuated with narrow seats and 28 inches of space between rows as it would be with wider seats and 35 inches of passenger maneuvering room. But forget the safety issue for a minute — I’m wondering whether any airline will start marketing itself as the humane airline that actually offers more leg room for those of us in coach.
Hey, a traveler can dream, can’t he?