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Blumenthal Leads Group of Senate Democrats Urging FAA Action to Prevent Shrinking Plane Seat Sizes & Ensure Passenger Safety

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), along with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), called on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to act to prevent further shrinking of plane seat sizes and to comprehensively ensure passenger safety. Blumenthal championed a 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act provision that required the FAA to issue a rule on airplane seat size, which the agency is in the process of implementing.

“We urge the FAA to comprehensively review the safety factors impacting seat pitch, width, and length and ensure that such safety factors take into account the entirety of the American public – including children, senior citizens, individuals with disabilities, and others,” wrote the senators in letter to FAA Acting Administrator Billy Nolen, FRAeS, as part of the FAA’s public comment period which concludes today. “To prevent further harm to travelers in the interim, the FAA should immediately issue a moratorium prohibiting additional reduction in seat size.”

Airlines have been shrinking seat sizes since at least the 1990s—with seat pitch decreasing from 32 to 28 inches, and seat width decreasing from 19 to as little as 16 inches. “While there is some variability among airlines, the trend is clear – to the detriment of passengers. It cannot continue,” the senators continued.

Citing a limited 2019/2020 study conducted by the FAA and its Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI), which concluded that seat width and pitch did not appear to impact passenger safety in case of an emergency evacuation, the lawmakers called on the agency to conduct a more comprehensive analysis representative of the population as the agency considers a rule that ensures reasonable minimum seat dimensions.

“One of the most glaring flaws of the FAA and CAMI’s study is that it does not accurately account for the entirety of the flying public. All participants in the study ranged from 18- to 64-years-old and were able-bodied. This is simply not representative of the population,” emphasized the senators. “Plane travelers comprise children, senior citizens, individuals with disabilities, and more who were not given the option to participate in the study. Without input from these critical communities, the FAA cannot be sure of the impact of seat size on egress during an emergency evacuation, much less on passenger health and safety.”

The lawmakers also urged the FAA to take into account all impacts of seat size on flight safety as it works to finalize its rule, including preventing head and leg injuries in case of emergencies and avoiding blood clots on long haul flights. “Evacuations are a critical part of passenger safety – but no one safety factor should outweigh the rest,” wrote the senators. “The FAA must carefully analyze and study the broad impacts of reduced seat sizes on passenger health and safety before issuing a rule.”

The full text of the letter is available here.