As airlines have sought to cram more seats onto each plan in recent years, passengers have lost inches of elbow and leg room.
Now, as the Federal Aviation Administration considers new safety standards, the agency is giving the public a chance to weigh in on regulations around minimum seat dimensions. U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York cautioned that if flyers don’t make their voices heard during this public comment period – which ends Nov. 1 – seats could potentially get even more cramped.
“They're taking a proposal from the airlines to reduce seat width and length,” Schumer said at a press conference on Sunday morning.
There is currently no minimum requirement for seat size on airplanes. The average amount of space between a seat and the one in front of it – also known as seat pitch – was once 35 inches, but shrunk over time to 31 inches, according to the group Flyers Rights, which advocates for roomier accommodations on planes. Bargain airline Spirit offers the least amount of legroom, with a seat pitch of just 28 inches, according to the advocacy group.
The Federal Aviation Administration has already received more than 12,000 public comments on the topic. Many said seats are already too small to accommodate some passengers.
“Our tall family of four have inseams between 34 and 38 inches,” one commenter wrote. “We have found that as airlines reduce the pitch, our legs fall asleep quickly from being forced into unnatural positions.”
Schumer said it’s an issue he’s been trying to address for years.
“When talking to travelers on airplanes, the number-one complaint I get is how cramped the seats are,” Schumer said.
The FAA has cited a study that will inform its regulations that found that current seat dimensions don’t impede passengers’ ability to evacuate in an emergency. But Schumer said if the FAA gets enough comments urging them to stop seat shrinkage, they just might consider giving passengers a bit more space.
“These comments matter,” he said.