July 29 (UPI) — A judge ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to investigate whether airlines that have shrunk the size of and distance between seats are creating a safety hazard for passengers.
Friday’s decision came after an airline passenger advocacy group, Flyers Rights, petitioned the FAA to investigate whether airlines had created a health or safety hazard by systematically moving seats closer and closer together to pack more people onto flights, CNN reported.
The FAA declined and the group filed suit in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia. Writing for the majority of a three-judge panel, Judge Patricia Millet called it the “mysterious case of the shrinking airline seat” and said passengers are entitled to demand the FAA examine the potential health and safety risks of being smushed into a seat, sometimes for hours on end.
In addition to the discomfort many passengers feel when wedged into an airplane seat, Flyers Rights said long periods of little or no movement can cause a condition known as deep vein thrombosis, during which a potentially fatal blood clot can form in a person’s extremities.
Flyers Rights pointed to data showing the average width of an airline seat has declined from 18.5 inches in the early 2000s to 17 inches in 2005. Meanwhile, another measurement, the pitch of seats, has decreased from 35 inches to 31 inches. Pitch describes the distance between one point on a seat and the same point on the seat behind it.
Earlier this year, American Airlines announced a plan to decrease that amount to 29 inches in the last several rows on some of its Boeing 737s, a change that would allow the airline to add an extra row of higher-priced premium seats at the front of the cabin. After public backlash, the company agreed to maintain at least 30 inches of pitch on those flights.
Flyers Rights also pointed out that, based on increasing obesity rates, the average American is gaining in size, compounding the problem of airplane overcrowding.
“We applaud the court’s decision, and the path to larger seats has suddenly become a bit wider,” said Kendall Creighton, a spokeswoman for Flyers Rights.
A spokesman for the FAA told The Guardian the agency is still reviewing the decision and has not decided how to proceed.