The policy of airlines opting to physically hurt their passengers with tighter, tinier seats to improve accounting metrics isn’t meeting any regulatory resistance, but what if the safety issues were highlighted?
When you next jam yourself into such atrocities as 9 across in a 787 or A330, or 10 across in 777, look around as ask whether your would be among those to burn to death in a dire emergency involving an evacuation from afull flight in whatever you are seated in.
The debate about tiny tight seating has largely been lost to date because the argument that the passengers are to blame by insisting that a cheap fare is on the whole their paramount consideration is a compelling statement of the obvious.
There has been some resistance in Europe, where Lufthansa and British Airways decided that they should screw down their premium regional business class cabins in their single aisle jets to the same lack of legroom as their economy cabins.
But overwhelmingly, safety authorities are impervious to calls that some minimum seating space requirements need to be set by government, despite the trans border nature of flying in many parts of the world, where the rules are often made by different sovereign powers who are parties to the air traffic agreements applying to all the flag carriers competing for traffic between various countries.
Most of the flights that operate international services to Australia aren’t flown by Australian carriers.
This report, on the seat law proposals of American Senator, is but one of many appearing it the US, where an aging and increasingly obese population is being shoved into ever tighter cabins, a trend that is also apparent in Australia and in full service as well as low cost brands of airlines.
Progress might however be made if the safety aspects of tight cabin configurations were the focus of consumer agitation. Those of us who fly regularly, if as little as possible, know that the claims about a full flight meeting the standards set in the type of jet evacuation test during certification are problematical.
That test is passed prior to type certification by a trained cabin crew getting everyone out of the jet inside 90 seconds with only half the exits working. The words ‘out of’ are important. Cabin crew are trained to throw people down slides if necessary to ensure they leave the jet before it quite possibly explodes in flames. They are trained to do this in the dark, in cabins that may be full of smoke, and the certification test in done without prior crew knowledge as to which exits will actually be allowed to function normally once the evacuate order is given.
Evacuation tests, which are increasingly rare in airliners these days, often ended with people being taken away in ambulances with broken legs or other sometimes quite serious injuries.
In real life, evacuations generally take longer than 90 seconds, because people block aisles grabbing bags, or even if has been suggested, taking selfies, and doing other idiotic things. In the last year for example a more than half empty British Airways 777 on fire at Las Vegas took about four times longer to evacuate than the regulations for certification stipulated, as measured by the copious social media of the event taken not just by passengers on that 777, but airport runway monitoring cameras and those used by travellers sitting in nearby jets awaiting takeoff or pushback.
However in the case of the high density configurations now appearing on many once spacious airliners, no cabin evacuation certification test was actually done in real life, because the jets concerned were derivatives or stretches of the original design.
Airbus and Boeing have been able to assure the regulators that derivatives of airliners can use modelling based on the original designs to demonstrate, or for those whose bodies are on the line, faux-demonstrate that the stretched cabins and the rearranged doors and exits would have allowed the same safety outcomes.
The risk is that they won’t perform as modeled in a real crash, notwithstanding the exceptional improvements that have been made in the safety of scheduled airliner operations world wide.
It is impossible today to reach the aisle of many full airliners in 90 seconds in normal operations upon landing, never mind make it to in a dire emergency.
As all airlines always say in their various press release statements after an incident, the safety of our passengers is our number one concern.
In relation to high density seating they need to be asked to prove it, in real life. The way to do that is with full, original model type tests, of their highest density single aisle and wide body airliner models.
That notable photo of ‘no shopping being left behind’ in an emergency evacuation of a Cathay Pacific 747 at Shanghai in 2011 is shown below.
Ben Sandilands has reported and analysed the mechanical mobility of humanity since late 1960 - the end of the age of great scheduled ocean liners and coastal steamers and the start of the jet age. He’s worked in newspapers, radio and TV in a wide range of roles as a journalist at home and abroad for 56 years, the last 18 freelance.