The Federal Aviation Administration can no longer ignore what a federal judge called “the Case of the Incredible Shrinking Airline Seat.”
Judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Friday directed the FAA to “adequately address” a petition that raised safety concerns about the increasingly cramped conditions on airplanes.
The ruling comes as the airline industry continues to be buffeted by concerns about its treatment of customers, exacerbated by high-profile flight-related complaints.
Recent episodes include the violent removal of a passenger from a United Airlines flight and an acidic exchange on Twitter between the conservative commentator Ann Coulter and Delta Air Lines after Coulter was made to give up her preselected seat.
The court found that the petition, filed in 2015 by Flyers Rights, a consumer advocacy group, had identified a genuine safety issue caused by the combination of shrinking seats and larger passengers. The petition said the reduced space could make it difficult for passengers to evacuate in emergencies.
The petition said the distance between seats from row to row had decreased to an average of 31 inches from an average of 35 inches and that the average seat width had narrowed by about an inch and a half since the early 2000s.
The petition also noted the average American had grown significantly larger. Citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it said the average adult man was 191 pounds, a gain of 25 pounds from 1960 to 2002, and the average adult woman had gained 24 pounds, to 164 pounds, in that time.
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