Are Cramped Airline Seats Actually Making Flying More Dangerous?

Getty Images

Between the seat wars of 2014 and the ongoing push (literal push) by airlines to cram more seats onto airplanes, one thing's for sure: less space is inevitable. But with little room comes great responsibility -- which makes you wonder, are all these extra seats still safe?
Last Tuesday, a meeting of the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection (ACACP) was held to discuss just that. The lack of space on planes isn't just a problem for your legroom -- now it's a government concern. Here come the feds with their measuring tapes.

As airlines push the limits of what's physically possible to lower prices, the Department of Transportation has deemed it necessary to investigate and determine whether it needs to regulate the seating standards further. During the recent meeting on the subject, the DOT committee weighed health and safety concerns against economic and cost concerns, hearing from a number of experts on each topic.

At the start of the hearing, Charles Leocha, Travelers United Member and the consumer representative on the committee, pointed out there are specific guidelines to ensure dogs and horses have enough space on planes, but no guidelines for actual human beings exist. Who's in charge of this stuff, anyway?

One big takeaway: airlines need to do more realistic evacuation tests. Cynthia Corbertt, a human factors researcher with the FAA, claimed safety tests are run on planes using 31 inches of space between each row of seats. However, some budget airlines offer as little as 28 inches. Although it's only a 3-inch difference, no one has accounted for how the space reduction affects airplane evacuation. When lives are at risk, saying, "It's just a few inches!" isn't cutting it.
Other concerns included the likelihood of developing health problems, like deep vein thrombosis as a result of sitting too long, along with increases in air rage. Speakers offered solutions, such as requiring airlines to publish seat size so passengers can gauge whether or not they can realistically fit. The committee didn't announce any official decisions, but will factor all these points into its deliberations. 
While airlines like Southwest are taking steps to offer wider seats, Leocha pointed out that other airlines (including international ones) are thinking about implementing standing seats. The idea is that less space = cheaper fares. But there has to be a breaking point for this nickel-and-dime game. What's next, seats strapped to the wings?

If you're interested in all the wonky details of the committee meeting, knock yourself out and listen to it all here.

Kara King is a Thrillist intern and SoCal native. She is still trying to make sense of this strange, worldwide phenomenon called “weather.” Follow her attempts to live without all that sunshine at @karatillie.