Words by Chris Leadbeater
It is one of the great bugbears of modern air travel – the amount of space available to passengers as they fly from Airport A to Destination B.
And with airlines ever keen to squeeze inmore paying customers, the size of the seats that we squash ourselves into for our trips through the sky has become an increasingly contentious topic.
So much so that a US pressure group has filed a petition demanding legislation that could set legal limits on just how small and narrow carriers are allowed to make their seating.
FlyersRights filed its official demand to America’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on August 26.
“Petition for Rulemaking: Limitation of Seat Size Reductions” lays out a list of requests which, although they would initially only come into force in the US, would – if adopted – have considerable implications for the rest of the airline industry.
FlyersRights does not specify what it considers a fair size for a seat, but it does ask for “a regulation mandating minimum seat width and seat pitch for commercial airlines.”
“Seat pitch” (the space between your seat and the same point on the chair in front) has arguably become a more controversial matter than seat width in recent years, with ever slimmer gaps between rows sparking arguments about available leg-room – and whether it is rude to recline your seat when it eats into the personal space of the passenger behind.
The issue has even caused the rise to prominence of the “Knee Defender” – a device that can be clipped to the rear of the seat in front, preventing the occupant from leaning it back. Many airlines have now banned use of the product after a raft of confrontations which put flights at risk.
Last September, a United Airlines service from Newark (in New Jersey) to the Colorado capital Denver had to make an emergency landing in Chicago following a dispute between two passengers over a discreet deployment of the gadgets .
Based in Sarasota, in Florida, FlyersRights – which claims to be “the largest non-profit airline consumer organisation representing airline passengers”, with “60,000 members and supporters” – hopes that its petition will help prevent future such disagreements by setting clear rules on the shape and scope of airline seating.
The petition points out that while specific rules are in place on aviation requirements such as seat belts and headrests, “so far, the only limitation placed on airlines by the FAA regarding seat space is limiting the number of seats in an aircraft based on the number and size of emergency exits.”
“Because of limited regulation on seats, airlines have decreased seat pitch and seat width in order to fit more passengers on each plane,” the petition continues.
Paul Hudson, President of FlyersRights, says that the request is long overdue.
“We filed the petition in August to have the FAA set minimum seat and passenger space standards,” he explains. “The reason is that airlines are aggressively reducing seat size and legroom, while the average passenger is substantially larger and older, leading to increased health and safety risks – and comfort and conflict issues due to overcrowding.”
The FAA will make a decision on the petition by February 26 next year.
Seat width and seat pitch vary markedly between airlines, and between makes of plane – but less “generously proportioned” seats are generally installed by low-cost airlines.
The average seat width in economy class cabins is 17-18 inches (43-46cm), while seat pitch tends to float between 30 and 32 inches (76-81cm).
The Boeing 737-800 which is the mainstay of Ryanair’s fleet offers a standard seat width of 17 inches (43cm), and a seat pitch of 30 inches (76cm).
By contrast, the Airbus 320 used by easyJet is more forthcoming on width – 18 inches (46cm) – but more miserly on pitch (29inches/73.5cm). The British Airways Boeing 737-400 offers a seat width of 17 inches (43cm), but a roomier seat pitch of 32 inches (81cm).
This article was written by Chris Leadbeater from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.