It has been proposed that the FAA Reauthorization legislation include a provision mandating its regulation of the size of seats on commercial aircraft. The power to regulate the safety of seats is already extant both in statutory authority and exercised action, but perhaps not in the consumer oriented fashion desired by the proposer. If the FAA is empowered to establish the dimensions of seats, such decisions could easily impact the level of airline fares, most likely raising the charges to passengers.
The senior US Senator from New York frequently expresses opinions about, writes legislation about and takes proper initiative on AVIATION SAFETY. Sen. Schumer announced that he will introduce legislation mandating the FAA to regulate seat-size standards for commercial airlines. His statement indicates that leg room or “seat pitch” and “seat width” are the focus of his concerns. Here are relevant quotes from the article about the Senator’s concept:
“’One of the most vexing things when you travel on an airplane is there’s almost no legroom on your standard flight,’ Schumer said. ‘There’s been constant shrinkage by the airlines.’
‘It’s no secret that airlines are looking for more ways to cut costs, but they shouldn’t be cutting inches of legroom and seat width in the process…It’s time for the FAA to step up and stop this deep-seated problem from continuing.’
Currently, there are no federal limits on how close an airline’s row of seats can be or how wide an airline’s seat must be.
Schumer pointed to a practice used by some airlines in which passengers are charged more money for seats with extra legroom. He says that exemplifies the problem.
‘It’s just plain unfair that a person gets charged for extra inches that were once standard,’ he said.”
The FAA has abundant statutory authority to establish and implement safety standards for commercial aircraft (14 CFR Part 25). Part of the obligation of a TC applicant must show
- that the seats, berths, safety belts, and harnesses all meet very specific safety standards (§25.785);
- not suffer serious injury in an emergency landing as a result of the inertia forces
- occupant of a seat that makes more than an 18-degree angle with the vertical plane containing the airplane centerline must be protected from head injury by a safety belt and an energy absorbing rest that will support the arms, shoulders, head, and spine, or by a safety belt and shoulder harness that will prevent the head from contacting any injurious object
- see also AC 20-146
- that there are no more than three seats abreast per aisle (§25.817);
- that the width of the aisles meet certain specific standards (§25.815 );
- that the egress routes, exit seat row and the exit door provide safe evacuation (§25.803- 25.813), which includes a demonstration of the seat configuration/aisle/exit to escape within a time limit;
- see also AC 25.803-1
- that the seats are made of flame retardant materials (§25.853);
That list shows that the FAA actually does examine the distance between seats for safety, not comfort purposes.
The human form involves a great number of dimensions which vary in an infinite set of passenger “models.” Attempting to determine comfort with that breadth of variables and almost random distribution of what comfort means is literally impossible. It would require omniscience to write a legislative standard for regulatory implementation.
One suggestion for the Senator: the existing Part 25 standards and associated Advisory Circulars are based on “average” passenger weights. Perhaps NY’s aviation Senator could ask the FAA to recalculate that number.
If the FAA is mandated to prescribe the size/width/pitch/comfort of the seats on commercial aircraft, that regulation will likely impact fares. By basically dictating the number of seats on a specific aircraft type, that standard will impact the economic capacity of that seating configuration. Eliminating airline competition as to cost effectiveness will not lower the price for seats and will likely raise the prices.
The correlation between the number of passengers on a plane and the fare levels is part of the history of the Domestic Passenger Fare Investigation (CAB 1976). Dr. Kahn’s frustration with the failure of that well-crafted economic model was one of the reasons cited for the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 and that historic legislation established that no US government should regulate the routes, fares and services of the air carrier. If the Schumer amendment is enacted the policy of 1978 would be eroded.
A little research would have indicated that the FAA already regulates all aspects of passenger safety on aircraft. If the Senator insists that the width or pitch of the aircraft chairs need some comfort standard, maybe the bill should direct the DoT to do so as part of its consumer protection powers.