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Date: 16/11/2015

Minimum seat size demanded for US planes

passenger in seat on plane

Flying often means being squashed into an uncomfortably small seat and it seems that seat sizes are getting smaller as airlines try to squeeze more customers than ever before onto their planes. Depending which airline you fly with, you could find yourself without a whole lot of leg room.

Taking action

Step up Florida-based group FlyersRights, a pressure group that has filed a petition to demand legal limits for how small and narrow airline seats can be. The group filed its demand with America's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on 26th August 2015, with a long list of requests that could have serious impact on the airline industry as a whole.

While not specifying its definition of 'fair size', the group does request 'a regulation mandating minimum seat width and seat pitch for commercial airlines'. Over the last few years seat pitch ‒ the space between your seat and the one in front ‒ has become a major bone of contention as airlines introduce slimmer gaps between rows, leaving many passengers struggling for leg room.

Airline seat widths

Fly with Ryanair on a Boeing 737-800 and you can expect a seat width of just 43cm (17 inches) and pitch of 76cm (30 inches); meanwhile, if you jet off with British Airways on its Boeing 737-400, you will enjoy a 43cm (17 inches) seat width and slightly more leg room, with a pitch of 81cm (32 inches). Japanese airline Nippon Airways takes the award for the smallest seats, on its Boeing 777-200, with a width of just 40.5cm (16 inches) and pitch of 79-81cm (31-32 inches).

New rules

Based in Sarasota, FlyersRights bills itself as 'the largest non-profit airline consumer organisation representing airline passengers' and hopes its petition could help to lay out clear rules for the size and shape of airline seats in the future. Despite rules already existing in relation to headrests and seat belts, there are no limitations on seat space other than limiting the number of seats on a plane in relation to the size and number of emergency exits.

The president of FlyersRights, Paul Hudson, says: "Airlines are aggressively reducing seat size and legroom, while the average passenger is substantially larger and older, leading to increased health and safety risks - and comfort and conflict issues due to overcrowding." A decision from the FAA is expected by 26th February 2016.

While this will initially only affect legislation in the US, a successful petition could change the legal limits for airline seat sizes worldwide.