Congress has rightly directed FAA to establish minimum plane seat dimensions necessary to stop shrinking seats and help passenger safety — USA Today.
This Thanksgiving weekend, turkeys aren’t the only things getting stuffed.
Flyers who can’t pay their way out of the pain of economy class will be stuffed into shrinking seats whose width and “pitch” — airline lingo for the space between a point on one seat and the same point on the seat in front of it — have shrunk dramatically in recent years.
And if passengers really want to experience what the stuffing feels like inside the turkey, all they need to do is squeeze into one of the newer bathrooms on the major carriers. One American Airlines pilot described the lavatory as “the most miserable experience in the world. … I can’t turn around in it.”
Hardly spacious to begin with, airline lavatories on some newer jets have been cut to 24-26 inches wide, down from about 34 inches, according to news reports. Several of the airlines have used the space to squeeze more seats and passengers into economy class.
AIRLINES FOR AMERICA: We give flyers unprecedented choice
How tiny are the toilets on the Boeing 737 Max and other newer jets? We asked around, and it’s hard to get a straight answer from the airlines:
►United would only say its lavatories are “industry standard.”
►Delta emphasized its “large overhead bins” and “increased space” above passengers’ heads.
►Southwest wouldn’t talk about dimensions per “contractual terms” with the lavatory manufacturer, but the airline said it didn’t use the space for more seats.
►An American spokesman says lavs in its newest planes are 2 inches smaller than in older ones, while CEO Doug Parker said in March that the lavs “are large enough for people to use them,” adding that they’re “real estate. We need to figure out the best use of the real estate.”
This holiday, a record number of travelers expected to fly from last Friday to next Tuesday — 30.6 million, an increase of about 1.5 million over the same period last year — will be competing for that shrunken space. Don’t expect any relief from empty middle seats or fewer people lining up to use those cramped bathrooms.
Shrinking seats and less legroom aren’t just a holiday problem. They’ve been a nuisance for flyers in recent years, as airlines have reduced seat pitch from an average of about 35 inches to 31 inches on the major carriers, and seat width from 18 to 17 inches.
At the same time, as you’ve no doubt noticed, Americans have grown larger: About 70 percent are overweight or have obesity, and that’s not counting Thanksgiving dinner.
Some passenger advocacy groups, such as Flyers Rights and Travelers United, have been battling to get the Federal Aviation Administration to recognize seat size as a safety problem. In July, the FAA said there is “no evidence” that seat width and pitch, combined with larger passengers, slow evacuations.
If it’s a comfort issue, that’s between airlines and their customers. But safety is the FAA’s business, and Congress finally realized that. In a law enacted last month, it directed the FAA to establish within a year the minimum seat dimensions necessary for passenger safety — a directive the agency should take seriously.
Thanksgiving travel is a big enough hassle without putting the big squeeze on flyers.