If you've ever flown in any class but first, you know just how cramped air travel can feel. And, if you usually fly economy, it may seem like the seats shrink every single time you board a plane. That overly confided feeling is exactly what prompted FlyersRights.org, the world's largest airline passenger non-profit organization, to challenge the Federal Aviation Administration at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit over a year ago. According to USA Today, the judge ordered the FAA to "provide documentation to back up its argument that it shouldn't regulate seat size." Last week, it provided such evidence and said it would not regulate airline seating. That means those economy seats will most likely continue to shrink.
According to a 2017 Bloomberg report, it's not just in your imagination that seat spacing continues to shrink. 34 to 35 inches of legroom used to be standard in economy, now 30 to 31 inches of legroom is common. According to Bloomberg, many major carriers have even squeezed legroom down to 28 inches on some short and medium flights.
When FlyersRights.org took the FAA to the U.S. Court of Appeals last year, the organization showed that cramming seats close together in this way could be a safety issue in cases of emergency evacuations. It also mentioned the possibility of passengers developing blood clots in the smaller seats. After the organization raised these concerns, the court ruled that FAA was using outdated and unreliable tests and reports for seating.
On Tuesday, July 3, however, the FAA presented a new report that shows there is "no evidence" that seat sizes affect how quickly passenger can evacuate a plane. Armed with results from these new evacuation tests, the FAA has officially declined to regulate airline seat sizes. Bad news for our backsides, but the debate might not be over.
We reached out to FlyersRights.org for comment and will update this piece as we learn more.