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Aug 2, 2017

US court case may force tight airline seating review

Do bigger passengers in smaller seats reduce air safety in an emergency evacuation?

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

Add 195 adults more than 180 cms tall, and weighing over 100kgs and set fire to this jet

Like a knife taken to a clam shell, pressure is being applied to America’s FAA to unequivocally show that the twin trends to smaller seats but larger passengers are not compromising safety standards that apply to the evacuation of burning or sinking airliners.

Common sense says that safety is likely to be compromised. Commercial interest for airlines, and their at times captive safety regulators says this is a proposition that is not only outrageously true, but one that needs to be stomped upon as hard as possible.

To understand how this issue has burst into flames once again, and might see the fire or contagion spread even as far as the generally cosy relationship between major carriers and CASA try these two reports for the US in recent days.

Runway Girl Network has been beavering away at the issue for a long time. The question that leaps from this updated post from RGN is whether the FAA or Federal Aviation Administration has been trying to fob reporters off with vague and misleading statements.

This report can be usefully followed by today’s new story in Aviation Transport World or ATW which includes the following steaming horse sh*t from the lobby group Airlines for America.

An A4A spokesperson told ATW: “The FAA has affirmed that all US carriers meet or exceed federal safety standards and we continue to believe that there is no need for government to interfere with the market-driven solutions that are delivering a better, safer and more comfortable flight experience for everyone who takes to the skies.

The offensive section is italicised. The ruthless confiscation of passenger amenity by US carriers is abundantly apparent to anyone who flies in America, and this sort of corporate lying is totally unacceptable.

The ATW article serves as a reminder that when it comes to evacuation safety standards in airliners everything depends on the continued relevance of the original certification tests.

It is far too convenient for plane makers and regulators to accept formulas for extrapolating from original tests to produce favourable declarations about denser or tighter seating arrangements.

It is obvious that people are getting larger while seats get smaller, and that these factors are coming together to make it less likely to escape from a burning jet.

It is very convenient for airlines and plane makers to point to a favourable extrapolation to ‘prove’ that a single aisle jet that once was operated with only 144 seats is just as safe in the event of an emergency evacuation as one with 180 or even 195 seats, which means cost metrics look better because those expenses are divided by a higher number of passengers.

But at its heart, this is also a very dangerous approach to passenger safety in an emergency. This is an issue that is even more critical than airlines shrinking toilets to dimensions in which passengers may not be able to attend to the basics of good hygiene.

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20 comments

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20 thoughts on “US court case may force tight airline seating review

  1. ab@1stjet.com.au

    so on what aircraft are seats smaller, than they used to be ?
    Not on any B737, 747, 757, 767 or A318, 319, 320, 321 in economy, they’ve always been 3-3 seating, except in the very early days of the 737-100, Boeing proposed 2-3 seating, but don’t think any were fitted out like that.
    Some airlines have 10 across in B777, but they are mostly LCC’s. Most airlines have always had 9 across either 3-3-3 or 2-5-2. Similarly some airlines have 9 across in A330 in economy, but again mostly LCC’s like Air Transat, whereas most airlines have 2-4-2. So (mostly) the myth of smaller seats, is just that a myth, like human caused global warming. The stupid thing about leg room on aircraft is, most idiots talk about seat pitch. Seat pitch is only a measure of legroom, when the seats are exactly the same. In USA there are plenty of jets plying the skies that are 20 to 30 years or more old, with old fashioned bulky & heavy seats. New slimline/spacesaver seats are much lighter & have much thinner backs, by as much as 4 inches, meaning 2 identical aircraft with the same seating configuration & same seat pitch, can have as much as 4 inches difference in legroom. Stop using seat pitch as a measure of legroom … IT’S NOT !!!!!

    1. Sue B

      The 787 was supposed to be 8 across 2-4-2 and it’s almost all 9-across now. Qantas thinks 9-across is going to be okay for 17hours to London! They think an extra inch of legroom will deceive passengers into thinking they are comfortable.
      I have flown on an Emirates 777 and they are NOT 9-across they are 10-across, and so are most other 777s being flown. 17″ is not comfortable for anything longer than a couple of hours of flying, and that’s what these seats are. They make the ARMRESTS narrower and shorter to create the illusion of space but you are still sitting on top of any seatmate and you have nothing to perch your arm on as well!
      So to sum up: seat pitch is only half of the problem, squishing an extra passenger in every row is (to my mind, and I have long legs) a much bigger issue.

    2. JW (aka James Wilson)

      Ab@1stjet.com.au:

      Here’s a sample of airlines that operate or will soon operate B777s with 10-abreast seating in Economy:

      Aeroflot, Air Canada, Air France, Air New Zealand, Alitalia, American Airlines, Austrian, Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, China Eastern, China Southern, Etihad, Emirates, Japan Airlines (domestic), Jet Airways, KLM, LATAM Brasil, Philippine Airlines, Qatar Airways, Saudia, Swiss, United.

      Some of those are definitely better than others, but I doubt that any of them are considered to be LCCs!

    3. PaulM

      Err, have you flown on an Emirates 777? 10-across, and hardly a LCC.

  2. comet

    Imagine a 787 Dreamliner burning on the runway, packed full of fat passengers wedged tightly into narrow 9-across seating, with splintered plastic composite walls cracking and melting as the resins and glues that hold it together produce thick black clouds of toxic fumes.

    In this situation, fat people have to try to jump over other fat people to get out, some of whom will be incapacitated.

    This is a far cry from the original certification tests, where notably slim Airbus and Boeing employees make an orderly evacuation from wide and spacious seats.

    The certification is a farce.

  3. Dan Dair

    Anyone unfamiliar with such circumstances should Google;
    the loss of British Airtours B737, G-BGJL at Manchester, UK.

    54 people died on the runway of an aircraft that never left the ground.
    There were some ‘mitigating’ circumstances but in the end, real people in a real situation, were unable to evacuate the aircraft in a safe & timely fashion.
    And that was in the days before they started ‘packing-them-in’.!

    The 130 seat B737-200 had three exit doors per side.
    The latest models have four exit doors per side, but between 188 & 220 passengers are supposed to escape through them.
    A 33% increase in the number of doors, but a generally larger increase in the number of passengers carried, makes a repeat of the consequences of the Manchester incident a strong possibility.???

  4. BARLEY

    solution is simple. When you make a airline booking, you have to enter your weight. If say over 100kgs, you MUST either buy 2 economy seats or 1 business class seat.
    Easy !!!

    1. Xoanon

      Why should larger people be victimised for the shortcomings of airlines, who’ve failed to provide seating accommodating the general range of human sizes? Not to mention an element of racism, given some ethnic groups are naturally larger than others. Stop blaming the victims!

      1. BARLEY

        Xoanon
        it’s not racism or discrimination. If you’re fat you should pay more. You are basically freight. The more you weigh the more fuel the aircraft burns to carry you !!!
        Some airlines already charge passengers by weight.

        1. Dan Dair

          BARLEY,
          There’s a substantial difference between someone who’s larger than average & someone who’s morbidly obese.

          Larger than average covers an enormous range of human beings, from those literally just above the average, through to those who are particularly large. I would suggest that in the current climate of modern high-fat diet & general lack of exercise, people are generally larger than they ever were.
          The airlines are ‘obliged’ to reflect this in their seating arrangements, simply because they are providing a service for their customers, who are the people previously described….. But they choose not to do that.?

          I assume by your attitude that you’re slim. Good for you, but do you object to being squashed-in with a couple of ‘fat’ people on a flight.?
          Well you too are a victim of the airlines policy of making seating smaller.!

          If you (& others who have voiced such opinions) don’t like it, you should pay extra & upgrade to a more spacious seat for yourself.

          (Incidentally, the latest research suggests that being overweight is not a particularly unhealthy state to be in. It is being unfit that makes you likely to die prematurely.
          Access to non-judgemental exercise, would allow overweight people to improve their standards of health, even if they never got any thinner.!!!

          1. BARLEY

            being overweight leads to early death. What dodgy research are you looking at.

            So you’re saying you want to pay more to have less seats across in a B777(9 not 10) & an A330 (8 not 9) ? that would lead to big price increases of a minimum of 10-12.5%. Do you really want to pay more ? Doubt it. you want business class seats at LCC type fares. THAT JUST DOESN’T WORK.

          2. Dan Dair

            Barley,
            OK, so you ‘know’ something & no amount of research or investigation by scientists (or anyone else) is going to convince you that what you ‘know’ may actually be flawed.?
            (I’m not in the slightest bit surprised at your attitude as I now know you’re a global-warming denier.!!!)

            I didn’t say anything other than, YOU TOO are a victim of the decision by airlines to make the seating on aircraft tighter.
            If you don’t like the status-quo, stop whining about other people’s issues & do something about your own.?
            Stop flying & take the train
            or pay extra for a seat where the ‘tubbies’ can’t impinge on your personal space.?

  5. comet

    Mr ‘Ab@1stjet.Com.Au’ said:
    “So (mostly) the myth of smaller seats, is just that a myth, like human caused global warming.”

    Here we go. Tighter seating is a myth. Science is a myth. The world was created in 6 days. Gotcha. I think I know where you’re coming from. Hmmm.

    1. BARLEY

      FACT 1 – seats on most of the worlds fleet on single aisle jets haven’t got any narrower, that’s all B737/747/757 7 all A318/19/20/21’s.
      the only aircraft in question are B777’s & A330’s on some dodgy airlines – is that it ?

      Man made global warming is one huge scam & anyone who still believes it, should not be allowed to hold money(will want welfare yesterday as they’ll lose any funds they have today) or breed. Wanna buy a bridge in Sydney ?

      1. comet

        BARLEY said:
        “Man made global warming is one huge scam…”

        Oh no. It’s another one. Or is he the same one, saying the same things under a different name?

        I hope you’re one of the first to volunteer yourself to be a passenger for the 9-across 17-hour flight on a Boeing 787. Hopefully you’ll be wedged shoulder to shoulder with a scientist for 17 hours.

      2. PaulM

        Have you ever been on a 747. Definitely twin, not single, aisle. Is this another inconvenient truth?

  6. Ben Sandilands

    On reflection, I should have drawn attention to people getting bigger through improved health and nutrition as well as through the unfortunate increase in unhealthy living and rising incidences of type two diabetes and morbid obesity.

    I was 182 cms and around 78-85 kilograms for most of my ‘fit’ adult days. Had I been born in 2003 rather than 1943 I’d probably have been three cms taller and a few kilograms heavier if I’d heeded 21st century good health advice, which I did and for very long time with 20th century advice.

    People are getting bigger through both good habits, and unfortunately, poor habits in many cases. But the material issue in air transport, is that as people get bigger for whatever reason, the airline cabins are being configured in most cases with seats that are noticeably smaller even to those of us born in the 20th century. It was in the 20th century that almost all the safety metrics embraced by the airliner certification processes were fixed.
    Therefore the question is whether those 20th century standards, some dating back to the first 707s and DC-8s are losing relevance to 21st century passengers. Will they adversely affect safe exit as the regulations originally intended, from a burning jet? Can the airline industry have its cake and eat it, by smarter design? It has been widely predicated since about 2005 that the next all new generation of 737-10 or A321 sized single aisle jets will in be quasi widebody designs with high wings and tapered tear drop shaped fuselages made possibly by next generation composites or alloys, and with a third set of main doors, rather like those on many metro carriages, to speed faster embarking and disembarking, thus improving turn around times, as well as making getting on and off a little bit more ‘civilised’. It’s not therefore all doom and gloom when it comes to the competing demands of operational efficiency and passenger comfort, but a strong, robust, discussion of the brute force impetus just to keep squeezing more into existing designs, and relying on extrapolations to claim they are ‘safe’.

    1. Dan Dair

      Ben,
      “the next all new generation of 737-10 or A321 sized single aisle jets will in be quasi widebody designs…..”

      As usual, I bow to your superior knowledge.!!

      It is worth mentioning though,
      that Boeing are showing no signs of actually making (as opposed to talking about… of which they’re doing a lot) an all-new B737 replacement
      AND that all the time Boeing don’t do anything about the failure of the B737 to displace the A320 as the ‘first-choice’ in that market-sector,
      Airbus are unlikely to want to spend unnecessary cash to bring-forward any hard-plans to replace their ‘320.?

      It might well be 10 years or more, before we see any of these ‘quasi widebody designs’ in service.?

      1. Dan Dair

        It is also worth backing-up Ben’s point about ‘big & healthy’ passengers,
        by reiterating the often-seen visual joke,
        with the ‘wimpy’, normal-sized bloke sat in the middle seat of an airliner, with two enormous blokes (often, though not necessarily a pre-requisite, All Black* forwards are used for this role) sat either side of him. A small fight for the armrest may then ensue….. but not for long.!
        (*other sporting teams featuring large, healthy men are also available)

  7. Tango

    So let me lay out my problem.
    First I have always been heavy for my stature. Dense (physically not mentally).
    I started out worked construction , 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, zero fat.
    I weight 175 lbs, I am 5 feet 8.5 inches.
    I could and did prove I could jump in a pool, sink to the bottom with full lungs (proven to the swim te4ach by then exhaling for a significant period of time.)

    I maintained my weight at 190 lbs which is rated as overweight but fine with my body type.

    THen a combination of age and a reutuirpes dis, (which rquir3ed survbery) turned me from an active heavy worker (I logged on weekends to heat our house as well as worked 10 hour days) into only being allowed 25 lbs max and severe pain.

    I have been able to overcome the severe pain, I have worked my way back to doing ok, what I could not do anything about was age and the less exercise (want to spend the rest of your life in a wheel chair, abuse a back that had 75% of the material removed in a disk)

    I am now fighting to get below 240 lbs. I cannot eat anything with sugar in it, I have to severely restrict intake and there are days I still gain weight (and I pedal two days a week with 22 miles each day when I can, weather and the back permitting)

    So if anyone wants to tell me or anyone else its their fault, I will be happy to risk my damaged back and punch them in the face.

    I have a brother who got caught up in a different medical condition and gained a lot of weight. Nothing to do with how he eats, all to do with metabolism.

    So bring it on, and I hope the worst for people like the uber snooty and conceited BARLEY. You are indeed a fool, climate change is real, we can help it throttle back – and I hope you too have a life threatening medical emergency that leaves you on deaths door for the rest of your life in the most miserable of condition. A nice heart attack and a stroke sounds about right.

    In the meantime I will loose weight, its going to take time, there are good days and bad ones, unlike Barley, I am not hopeless let alone clueless.