If I’ve seen Melinda Ashton’s complaint once, I’ve seen it a hundred times.
“I’m a 6′ woman with long legs,” she says. “Even with the seat in front of me in an upright position, my knees are wedged. When the passenger in front of me reclines, the femurs on the ends of my legs are crushed into my hip sockets, causing considerable pain that continues after the flight ends.”
Ashton’s grievance is just one of many that I receive almost every day. She says on a recent American Airlines flight, she tried to buy an “extra” legroom seat — you know, the kind we used to have in economy class — but none were available.
“The metal bar on the seat pocket in front of me left deep dents and visible bruises on both knees that lasted for weeks. The bar itself could have caused blood clots, not to mention the inability to change position at all,” she says.
For people like Ashton — indeed, for all passengers, no matter their size — a group of advocates recently made a common-sense recommendation to the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates the safety of aircraft. Why not set a minimum seat size?
The petition for a rulemaking, made by the advocacy group FlyersRights.org, was considered by the FAA and summarily rejected.
Surprised? Neither am I. But you might be interested in why the feds decided to decline this petition.
Let’s start with the request. Here’s the full document. (It’s worth a read because it contains some details FAA refers to in its response.)
Because of limited regulations on seats, airlines have decreased seat pitch and seat width in order to fit more passengers on each plane. In some instances, galleys have been removed as well.
This decrease in seat size, coupled with the safety, health and comfort of passengers, is the reason for this rulemaking petition. FlyersRights.org petitions FAA to
1) Exercise its discretionary rulemaking authority under 49 U.S.C. § 106, to impose, within 180 days, reasonable regulations setting maintenance standards and limiting the extent of seat size changes in order to ensure consumer safety, health, and comfort.
2) Issue an order within the next 45 days placing a moratorium on any further reductions in seat size, width, pitch, padding, and aisle width until a final rule is issued.
3) Appoint an advisory committee or task force to assist and advise the FAA in proposing seat and passenger space rules and standards, with such committee having broad representation of the various interests involved and expertise needed, to include this petitioner and representatives from other airline passenger advocacy organizations, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, the Center for Disease Control, and including at least one physician, ergonomic engineer, senior citizen, disabled air traveler, overweight person, disabled person, and at least six American air travelers representing a cross section of air travelers by age, height, weight, and gender.
Weeks later, FlyersRights.org received an answer from Dorenda Baker, the director of its aircraft certification office.
Here’s its response:
We have determined the issues you raised do not meet the criteria to pursue rulemaking.