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Airline seats too small? The FAA may soon change that

·Senior Reporter
·4-min read

Financial expert Jeff Macke once said of the airlines, “The more agony you’re in, the more profit they make.”

It’s no secret the airlines have been “optimizing profits” for some time now, with charging for everything from checking luggage to being able to have an assigned seat.

In addition to additional charges, the airlines have been trying to squeeze more people into planes, and that has meant making seat width and “pitch” — the term used for distance between passengers and the seats in front of them, aka, legroom — smaller.

But relief may be coming for weary travelers, with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) seeking commentary on proposed rulemaking for creating minimum seat dimensions and pitch length across all U.S. airlines.

Over the past decade pitch length has shrunk from 35 inches, to 31 inches, with some airlines like Spirit (SAV) taking that down to even 28 inches. This is happening along the same time as Americans have been becoming bigger, with an FAA study finding that the average male has gained 15 pounds and 2 inches of waist size, while the average female has added 16 pounds and 3 inches of waist size.

The rulemaking is only seeking commentary “necessary for safety of air passengers” in light of an emergency evacuation, but this hasn’t stopped thousands of people from commenting on seat sizes. (You can view and post comments here.)

The Points Guy senior writer Ethan Klapper told Yahoo Finance that regardless of the agency's intent, "It will likely become a battle between the airline industry, which wants to pack more seats into planes because that lowers costs for them, and consumer groups, which have long complained about passenger comfort issues on aircraft."

And case in point, as of midday this afternoon, the agency website had over 9,500 comments.

“I'm 6'4" tall and finding a place for my legs under the se[a]t in front of mine is nearly impossible. Because of the small seating area, I find it necessary to wear compression over-the-calf-stockings to keep the blood flowing, as I contort my legs to fit,” said a commentator for Scottsdale, Ariz. “PLEASE make the seats wider, taller, deeper and farther from [t]he one in front of mine, so the larger folks can once again enjoy flying.”

Passengers take their seats before take off in a Boeing 737 MAX aircraft operated by low-cost airline Gol at Guarulhos International Airport, near Sao Paulo on December 9, 2020, as the 737 MAX returns into use more than 20 months after it was grounded following two deadly crashes. (Photo by NELSON ALMEIDA / AFP) (Photo by NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP via Getty Images)
Passengers take their seats before take off in a Boeing 737 MAX aircraft operated by low-cost airline Gol at Guarulhos International Airport, near Sao Paulo on December 9, 2020, as the 737 MAX returns into use more than 20 months after it was grounded following two deadly crashes. (Photo by NELSON ALMEIDA / AFP) (Photo by NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP via Getty Images)

The Airlines for America, a trade group representing US-based airlines, told Yahoo Finance that while it welcomes the FAA’s new rulemaking, the current situation is actually not a safety concern.

This hasn’t assuaged the concerns of many commentators on the agency website. “A seat that's too small, especially one where the armrests significantly encroach on personal space, makes it very difficult and uncomfortable to get into/out of the seat,” said acommentator from Davenport, IA. “I worry that this will significantly impact my ability to quickly evacuate the aircraft in case of emergency.”d that all U.S. carriers meet or exceed federal safety standards regarding seat size, and the FAA continues to approve seat configurations before they go into service.

This hasn’t assuaged the concerns of many commentators on the agency website. “A seat that's too small, especially one where the armrests significantly encroach on personal space, makes it very difficult and uncomfortable to get into/out of the seat,” said a commentator from Davenport, Iowa. “I worry that this will significantly impact my ability to quickly evacuate the aircraft in case of emergency.”

The FAA will continue to receive written public comments until November 1, at which point it will then issue rules shortly thereafter for minimum dimensions for passenger seats.

Pras Subramanian is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. You can follow him on Twitter and on Instagram.

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