In August 2018, Schumer Forced FAA To Study Seat, Legroom Standards On Airplanes—BUT The Results Of Required Study Were Due This Past October, And FAA Hasn’t Handed In A Thing

AND Those Current Tests Lack A Slew Of Traveling Variables On People with Disabilities, Kids, Pets; Senator Wants The Already-Late FAA To Fill In The Blanks Before Submitting Findings

Schumer: The Only Thing Worse Than Shrinking Seats Is Shrinking The Study To Help Stop Them In The First Place.

Just as the FAA tests airplane seat-size safety and does some experiments with certain traveling scenarios, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer—who had to force the FAA to do the study in the first place via a law—revealed it’s already months late. Schumer further said the study appears to be lacking. He added it even appears to be a letdown. Schumer validated consumer concerns that the study fails to include the disabled, kids, and even pets. And he renewed his demand that the airlines provide more legroom and stop shrinking seat width while calling on the federal aviation agency to make the now-underway study more comprehensive and to fill in the blanks. Schumer made the case for a truly worthwhile study and urged the airlines to cease the sardine-like jamming of fliers who are booking holiday flights right now. 

“The plan to help the traveling public by curtailing airlines from shrinking airplane seats and cramming people into planes like sardines needs to get off the ground already,” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. “To learn that the study I forced the FAA to compile in the first place is late, lacking and evoking a letdown to consumer advocates demands the FAA use the rest of its time to make the study comprehensive and strong. Jamming people into their seats with a myopic eye on profits over all else creates safety issues and comfort ones, too.”


Schumer said the airplane seat size study was due this pact October, but the FAA has not handed in anything to date, and have said they will try to get something handed in by the end of the year.


Schumer explained that consumer groups are worried the study is leaving out a lot of traveling variables from how seat size and emergencies impact the disabled, children, and even pets who now travel more and more with their owners.

A letdown

Schumer detailed concerns from the National Consumers League; the organization and nine other groups sent a letter to the FAA in which they expressed real concern for the way testing was being conducted as it relates to the consideration for emergency evacuations.

“Really, the only thing worse than the little-by-little shrinking of airplane seats is the apparent shrinking of the study to help combat them in the first place,” Schumer added.

Schumer’s seat-size provision was part of the larger FAA reauthorization that passed in the fall of 2018. The law Schumer authored gave the FAA a year to tackle shrinking seats and provide notice and opportunity for the public to chime in. Schumer, today, is demanding that the FAA get going on an already-late study and fill in the gaps revealed as it relates to a slew of traveling variables like how people with disabilities might be impacted, the addition of children, some who require car seat-like devices, and even pets. In the meantime, airline seats and their regular shrinking continue to be a bane for many travelers.

According to media reports, consumer groups worry airlines will use the FAA's findings to further reduce space and add more seats. Airline seat width is down as much as four inches over the last 30 years to as little as 16 inches wide. And seat pitch has shrunk from about 35 inches to 31 inches and in some cases as little as 28 inches. Schumer has long worried that without action, more inches would be cut and more passengers crammed like sardines.

Schumer also said that the airline revenue-generating tactic of charging for ‘extra’ legroom represents a clear sign that the inch-cutting has gone on far too long. With inches now equating to big dollars that have helped deliver even bigger profits for airlines, Schumer says a minimum standard is both overdue and fair. A minimum seat and pitch size standard should be made with the input of experts and consumers and based on science, passenger health, and safety, not only the maximum number of people that can be crammed into one plane, Schumer has argued. That is why he fought to include this mandate in the FAA Reauthorization bill to begin with, and why he is displeased to learn about the results being late, lacking and an apparent letdown.  

Currently, there are no federal limits on how close together an airline’s row of seats can be or how wide an airline’s seat must be; there are federal requirements for exit rows, but not for other parts of the aircraft. Each airline’s measurements can be different.

Schumer’s brand new letter to FAA administrator, Steven Dickson, regarding his concerns about the late study, appears below.

Dear Administrator Dickson:

In the face of shrinking commercial airplane seat sizes and increasing discomfort of passengers, I am troubled by Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) management of this issue. The FAA is late in issuing minimum seat size regulations and the current testing that is being done is lacking and inadequate. I request that you swiftly take steps to rectify the testing underway and to issue regulations as soon as possible in order to address this important matter for the flying public.

The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 mandated that within one year, the FAA issue regulations establishing a minimum seat pitch, width, and length that is necessary for the safety of passengers. The one year mandatory deadline passed on October 5, 2019, but your administration has not issued such regulations.

Furthermore, while testing at an FAA facility is underway to study how shrinking seat sizes impacts the ability of passengers to quickly evacuate an aircraft, I am troubled by the inadequate testing procedures that are in place. These tests use only adults between the ages of 18 and 60 and lack inclusion of children, seniors, people with disabilities, and even pets. In short, the testing conducted by the FAA does not represent real world conditions for evacuation of an aircraft.

While it is alarming that one year after the passage of the FAA Reauthorization Act, your administration has not been able to issue regulations establishing minimum seat size for safety, it is even more alarming that the FAA is not using the most basic, common-sense real world testing conditions to assess the ability of passengers to evacuate in the event of an emergency.

The FAA must do all that it humanly can to protect the flying public. To that end, I respectfully request that the agency’s testing of evacuation procedures include all demographics and real-world conditions found on commercial aircraft, and that it be completed as swiftly as possible in order to issue seat size regulations as per the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. Should you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact me or my staff.


Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator

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