The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will conduct evacuation tests to determine whether airline seats are too cramped to sufficiently evacuate passengers in the event of an emergency this fall.
According to Reuters, the tests will involve 720 people over the course of 12 days in November.
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“Americans are getting bigger and seat size is important but it has to be looked at in the context of safety,” Deputy Administrator Dan Elwell said at a U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing on Thursday. “We are going to get you an answer on seat pitch.”
This week’s news comes nearly one year after congress passed the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 requiring the FAA to set minimum seat standards for pitch, width and length for passenger safety.
Seat pitch, or the distance from one seat back to the next, has shrunk by three to seven inches on U.S. airlines since 1970, according to FlyersRights.org. Today, seat pitch on some low-cost carriers is as tight as 28 inches.
There are currently no requirements on airline seat size. However, carriers are required to be able to evacuate passengers from the aircraft within 90 seconds. If the FAA’s upcoming tests lead to regulations on seat size in the future, passengers could potentially see airfares climb as carriers may be forced to reconfigure their aircraft to create adequate space for safety.
In an interview earlier this year, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz said that U.S. carriers are nearing a breaking point in terms of seat size, hinting that passengers might soon begin to fight back and fly airlines with larger seats.
More recently, Association of Professional Flight Attendants (AFPA) president Lori Bassani compared shrinking airline seats to a “torture chamber.” “People are having a hard enough time…getting in and out in a normal process, but in an evacuation, it’s going to be almost impossible,” she told congress.