FAA to look at airline seat sizes following years of complaints

WASHINGTON — After years of complaints from airline customers about seat space, the Federal Aviation Administration is now stepping in to see how much space you should have when flying.

Complaints about jam-packed flights and shrinking seat sizes were enough to prompt Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., to get the FAA to look into it.

“They're not maintaining passenger comfort. Passenger comfort is a thing of the past,” Cohen said.

As a result of his bill, the FAA now plans to set a minimum seat size after testing how fast passengers can evacuate a plane, saying it must be done within 90 seconds.

The group Airlines for America told Channel 2 Washington bureau reporter Blair Miller that it's trying to maximize personal space in the cabin while keeping safety top priority.

Cohen takes issue with that.


“The public is not being put first. The public is being treated like a FedEx package, but FedEx treats their packages better,” Cohen said.

For perspective, a typical chair in most offices is about 20 inches across. In 1985, that was the seat size for most airlines.

Since then, seat sizes have dwindled, in some cases down to 17 inches, which is about the same width as a computer keyboard.

Charles Leocha is with Travelers United and works with federal agencies on customer complaints.

He told Miller that the airlines are raking in billions of dollars because of the smaller seat sizes and says it's long overdue for the FAA to step in.

“The FAA has a lot to deal with right now. They've got to deal with reality,” Leocha said.

That reality: Seats are getting smaller while Americans get bigger.