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Airline seat size: Will FAA bring relief to squeezed flyers?

Airline seat size: Will FAA bring relief to squeezed flyers?

In 2014 I first wrote right here concerning the challenge of extremely shrinking plane lodging with “Think airline seats have gotten smaller? They have.” Utilizing archived knowledge, I detailed how each legroom (as measured in seat pitch) and luxury (as measured in seat width) have each been steadily reducing because the 1980s. Within the 4 years since that column was extensively disseminated, circumstances have solely gotten worse.

Initially Ppublished in USA At the moment 5:00 a.m. ET Nov. 15, 2018

Subsequently the current headlines declaring that Congress had addressed airborne seat shrinkage appeared like welcome information. However the underlying points are rather more complicated. And it’s approach too quickly to have fun extra legroom in an business that’s actively squeezing us into more and more cramped quarters.

Excellent news/dangerous information

Tighter seats ultimately caught the eye of 1 group of frequent flyers poised to do one thing about it: members of Congress. Thus H.R. 1467, the Protected Egress in Air Journey (SEAT) Act, started making its means via the legislature two years in the past. Ultimately it generated help from each events and in each homes of Congress, and final month it was included within the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act signed by President Trump.

When the invoice turned regulation, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), a co-sponsor, declared victoryby stating, “Safety must never take a backseat, much less a shrunken seat, to profits.” Quite a few articles have been written suggesting the FAA will now clamp down on airways cramming extra seats into cabins.

For the report, on behalf of Shoppers Union I publicly supported the SEAT Act in testimony earlier than the Home Transportation Committee final yr, in articles, and in public statements comparable to this: “The bill establishes minimum dimensions for airline cabin passenger seats, which is important for passenger health and safety, as well as comfort.”

The consolation concern is clear for anybody who has flown in financial system class in recent times, notably in center seats. However tight seats are also a well being situation due to the specter of clotting and deep vein thrombosis. And naturally there’s a security consideration, since packed seating could make emergency egress harder.

Click here to subscribeInch by inch

Amongst U.S. airways, variations nonetheless stay in economy-class seating requirements. JetBlue, for instance, gives 34-inch pitch in coach on its Airbus A320, and that’s with out having to pay for “Even More Space” seats. On the opposite finish of the “ouch scale,” critics have lengthy pointed to Spirit Airways, the extremely low-cost service providing a knee-busting pitch of simply 28 inches. However different home airways aren’t a lot better today. Actually, Spirit’s seat width of 17.75 inches truly measures up nicely towards the Massive Three of American, Delta and United.

Final month, in asking “Is Amtrak becoming like the airlines?” I famous the financial system/coach sections of the Massive Three had shrunk to simply 30 to 31 inches in seat pitch, and 16.6 to 17.eight inches in width on Boeing 737s, workhorses for home service. This compares with 1985, when Shopper Reviews discovered the tightest pitch on some airplanes in home service was 32 to 34 inches, and most plane provided far more legroom.

That Congressional listening to I referenced above occurred on Might 2, 2017; the very subsequent day, headlines blared that American (and probably United) was contemplating decreasing legroom by up to 2 inches within the financial system sections of its Boeing 737 MAX jets, creating pitch of simply 30 inches, and even 29 inches in some seats. That information certainly got here to move, at the least partially: In accordance to each American and SeatGuru, the airline’s 737 MAX at present provides 30 inches in Principal Cabin financial system class.

And the enlargement of home primary financial system courses, which lately unfold from the Huge Three to JetBlue and Alaska, means home airways are definitely not keen to improve seat consolation on their very own – regardless of the destructive implications for consolation, well being and security.

Security questions

Again in March I addressed this crucial security difficulty with “Is it time to update airplane evacuation tests?” I identified the FAA’s “90-second rule” for evacuating business plane has been in place since 1967, however hasn’t been up to date in 51 years in response to an array of things, together with the introduction of widebody, twin-aisle airplanes; record-high passenger masses; report numbers of carry-on luggage due to ubiquitous checked baggage charges; and common People turning into each taller and heavier. And naturally, tighter airplane seats.

Thus far these arguments haven’t swayed the federal government company charged with defending flyers. In July, Bart Jansen famous right here that an FAA official said there’s “no evidence” seat dimensions “hamper the speed of passenger evacuation, or that increasing passenger size creates an evacuation issue.” This isn’t heartening information for shoppers, notably since in December 2017 this similar U.S. Division of Transportation – which oversees the FAA – shut down with out prior discover all public feedback on a collection of shopper points the airline business had criticized.

Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights.org, just lately said: “Unless the FAA changes its current position that existing shrunken seats are safe, that there are no significant adverse health effects, that it has no jurisdiction to regulate seats due to health effects anyway and that any matter of comfort is none of its business, there will likely be no change. The FAA could even set seat size standards so low that it encourages further shrinkage.”

Others share such cynicism, together with journey columnist Joe Brancatelli: “The FAA is the same agency that approved existing seats with as little as 28 inches of legroom. What makes you think they’d become consumer-friendly now? And do you really think they’d force airlines to rip seats out of planes?”

So it’s a two-front struggle for advocates involved concerning the security problem: convincing the FAA to re-evaluate present seat requirements, and never to permit even additional seat shrinkage.

Click here to subscribeRecommendation for reserving seats

What follows are some key reminders for passengers involved concerning the seats they ebook.

• There’s no scarcity of web sites providing recommendation on how to safe the most effective airline seats for these involved about tight quarters. However notice that insurance policies differ extensively by airline.

• Unassigned seating. On airways with unassigned “open” seating – resembling Southwest – the hot button is to prioritize your boarding; for those who don’t mechanically qualify for early boarding (frequent-flyer elites, handicapped, households with youngsters, army, and so forth.) then choices embrace buying upgraded boarding. Checking in early – up to 24 hours prematurely – will assist, however isn’t a assure for prioritized boarding.

• Assigned seating. With most airways, the perfect technique for securing seats is to ebook early and choose prematurely. However keep in mind that some airways might not present all out there seats throughout reserving in an try to “upsell” you to premium seats at a better value. For these not in premium courses or ineligible for precedence boarding, reserving early and checking in early are key. However beware you could be pressured to pay extra, since many reserving techniques at the moment are designed this manner.

• Many airways present seat pitch and width dimensions on their web sites; some additionally embrace seat maps and information on Wi-Fi, leisure, facilities, and so forth. These embrace American, Delta and United.

• For comparability functions, take a look at the seat maps part on SeatGuru. The location offers detailed knowledge that many airways don’t, together with places of bathrooms, galleys and exits.

• An necessary reminder: Inside a given plane mannequin, such because the Boeing 737, there might be quite a few collection, variants, varieties and sub-types. For instance, SeatGuru offers six totally different seat maps for Delta’s Boeing 757s and 6 for Delta’s Boeing 767s. Pay specific consideration to variant numbers (e.g., 757-200 vs. 757-300) and designations reminiscent of “-ER,” which point out plane primarily used for prolonged vary overwater and long-haul flights, typically with totally different seating configurations. Some variations might sound delicate, however they are often vital in the event that they have an effect on your particular row or seat.

• One other necessary reminder: Even when you discover the precise iteration of the plane scheduled to function your flight, keep in mind that airways reserve the fitting to change out airplanes – dubbed “substitution of equipment” of their Contracts of Carriage – at any time, for a number of causes. (This shouldn’t be confused with airline “change of gauge” practices, by which two several types of airplanes function separate legs underneath the identical flight quantity.) Contemplate this disclaimer from United’s contract, that “irregular operations” might embrace the next: “Substitution of aircraft type that provides different classes of service or different seat configurations.” This provides context for final month’s incident when a United flight from Chicago to Chattanooga skilled an plane swap after which turned again midair, producing the headline: “United pilot to passengers: We’re turning around because our plane’s too big.”

Congress made it clear the FAA wants to set and implement extra smart seating requirements. The approaching months will decide if that mandate will probably be heeded.

Invoice McGee, a contributing editor to Shopper Reviews and the previous editor of Shopper Stories Journey Letter, is an FAA-licensed plane dispatcher who labored in airline operations and administration for a number of years. Inform him what you consider his newest column by sending him an e-mail at journey@usatoday.com. Embrace your identify, hometown and daytime telephone quantity, and he might use your suggestions in a future column.

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