July 30, 2017
Federal Court Orders FAA to Review Airplane Seat Sizes

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This past Friday, the three panel Federal Appeals Court in D.C. ordered the FAA to review seat size and legroom on commercial aircraft. Various citizens groups have lobbied the FAA in the past to regulate minimum airplane seat sizes, and the FAA has refused to do so. This week’s court decision will force the FAA to conduct safety tests to make sure that passengers would be able to evacuate efficiently in an emergency situation, given how seat sizes have been shrinking while Americans have been getting larger over the years.


The advocacy group Flyers Rights petitioned the FAA back in 2015 to require a minimum seat size on aircraft. When the FAA rejected its request, the group sued and just won its case. Flyers Rights’ main argument was that decreasing seat sizes coupled with fatter Americans leads to health problems-like blood clots in people’s legs and the inability to evacuate in a timely manner in an emergency situation. To clarify, the order only requires the FAA to conduct new safety tests. It doesn’t require them to regulate seat sizes or act on the results of the new tests.


Why the FAA Shouldn’t be Regulating Seat Size

Everyone complains about smaller seats on airplanes, and for good reason. Let’s face it, flying Economy class in the US sucks these days and nobody likes being cramped in a small seat for hours at a time. But the solution isn’t more government mandates.


Airlines are trying to add more seats onto planes to sell more tickets (by reducing seat sizes). When there are more passengers on a plane, the airline can spread out the cost of the flight among more passengers, thereby lowering the price of its tickets. This is exactly what low-cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier do. They fit as many flyers as possible onto the plane and charge as little as possible for the ticket. Competition from these low-cost carriers has forced legacy carriers American, Delta, and United to match their low prices-a win for consumers.

What if you hate being cramped into the back of the plane like a can of sardines? You have the option of purchasing an Economy seat with additional legroom on nearly every airline. At the end of the day, you get what you pay for and nothing is free. If you want to get to your destination as cheaply as possible, you’re going to get a smaller seat. If you’re willing to pay a little more to have a few inches of extra legroom, you can do so.


Requiring minimum legroom won’t help consumers. If airlines can fit less seats onto the plane, they’ll just charge more for Economy tickets to make up the lost revenue. This will just hurt the poorest travelers who need cheap fares to fly. Passengers who can afford to fly at those higher prices already have the legroom they want-they’re the ones buying extra legroom seats in Economy.


Fly for Free Instead

If you’re smart about your credit card points earning strategy, you’ll be able to fly in Business or First class for free a lot of the time anyway, and at the very least you’ll have free access to those extra legroom seats in Economy. For example, if you have United Silver status (the lowest elite tier), you have access to Economy Plus seats for FREE. Delta and American offer similar perks. Airlines will reward you with a lot of perks if you fly them with any kind of regularity. That’s just the start, you can fly Lufthansa First Class one-way for just 40,000 miles, you can fly ANA First Class for 90,000 miles roundtrip, and there’s so many similar ways to fly in premium cabins using credit card and loyalty points that’ll enable you avoid this whole restricted legroom mess altogether.


H/T: CNN Money