NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – As fees to fly continue to rise, airplane seats continue to shrink. New pressure is now being put on the Federal Aviation Administration to do something about it, after heroic airline captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger expressed his concerns.

The retired pilot famously responsible for the “Miracle on the Hudson” tweeted his thoughts about the dangers of smaller seats.

Sullenberger cited a New York Times editorial board opinion, which questioned evacuation plans and whether or not passengers could move to get out fast enough with less space.

“People are bigger than they used to be. So we’re making the aisle smaller and the seats narrower. Sounds like a recipe for a dangerous situation,” aviation attorney and pilot Brian Alexander said.

Alexander also agreed with Sullenberger’s concerns.

Seat pitch refers to the space from the back of your seat to the back of the seat in front of you.

The FAA points out seat pitch below 30 inches isn’t common, but some low cost airlines like Spirit reportedly have a seat pitch of 28 inches for some seats.

Passenger advocacy groups have repeatedly petitioned the FAA for seat size guidelines unsuccessfully.

(Credit: CBS2)

“The FAA has no evidence showing that current seat dimensions hamper the speed of passenger evacuation, or that increased passenger size creates an evacuation issue,” the agency argued.

The FAA mandates a plane evacuation must occur in 90 seconds and says that videotaped demonstrations have proven it can be done. Every passenger CBS2 spoke with noticed the shrinking legroom.

“It’s difficult to get in and out of the seat because there’s hardly any room,” one person told CBS2’s Alice Gainer.

“I have knee replacements, cannot bend the knee so much,” another flyer added.

Alexander notes another major issue – airline passengers bringing more stuff on board which can lead to delays in evacuating because some flyers try to grab their belongings.

“The idea that you should be taking out your phone to film all this, you should be focused on saving yourself, saving others, and only that,” Alexander scolded.

Critics say the evacuation tests are also often done by simulators and need to better reflect current cabin situations in real time, using the elderly and more carry-on baggage in the cabin.

The FAA says there is no explicit limit on seat pitch, but there is a requirement for exit paths.

Comments (24)
  1. Richard Broberg says:

    Imagine a nightclub that seats 300 people, allows drinking, has maybe six exits that can each handle one person at a time, has one thirty inch wide aisle and stores gasoline and dynamite in the basement. That is your typical airliner.

  2. Ed Meyer says:

    The human femur is fairly close in size. This requires a seat and leg room to be at least 27″. None of these cheap airlines have enough room for the average person. FAA needs to stop this nonsense. At this point any flight over 4 hours in those cramped conditions is actually dangerous.

  3. The cost of air travel in real dollars today is about 1/4 the cost in 1979. We fly more people today than ever before…almost 4 times as many people as in 1979. While it may be an inconvenience, the choice we have is to drive, take a train or walk! (Or cancel the trip.) The TSA alone has now made me drive any distance under 6 hours. Quit bitching, and deal with it! There are millions around the world who would trade places with you in a heartbeat.

  4. Calvin Jacks says:

    This is a great lie. The airplanes are certified in Oklahoma. They use college students to do the certifications. These students practice leaving the airplanes During emergencies. They key word is practice. They even line up like they are in starting blocks and wait for a whistle before they go through choreographed routines to certify planes can be evacuated in a timely manner. But this is bogus. No plane can actually be evacuated in real life in 4 times the time it takes these students. That means your emergency egress certification is bogus.

  5. Jeff Phelps says:

    You won’t get me on a plane and it has nothing to do with fear of flying. I don’t have that. What I do fear is being boxed in like a sardine in a can for hours. I’d rather drive and if I can’t get there by car I just won’t go. Even when I weighed 155 lbs. at 6′ 1″ I would have been uncomfortable. Now they clearly do not want my business. I’ve flown in open aircraft with the whole sky for leg room. I could fly cross country like that. But forget cramming me into one of those match box planes. You’d think they have never heard of DVT.

  6. Billy Boyardee says:

    I hate flying, yet have to a lot of it for business. Frequent travelers who know what they are doing are for the most part not the problem. It’s those who rarely fly and then try to carry 100 lbs worth of gear onto the plane who gum things up. I am built like a linebacker with wide shoulders which are 4″ wider than any coach seat. At 6’4″ I can’t put anything under the seat in front of me, as that’s where my legs have to go. When I get a middle seat it’s never comfortable for me or my row mates. I always check my bags and put my briefcase overhead with my sport or suit coat. Nice not to have to wheel some kind of luggage through the terminal…

  7. Elizabeth Guion Salter Wood says:

    Why is there a pop up video covering a quarter of the dialogue?

  8. Charlie Harper says:

    Human greed seems to know no limits.

  9. Will Jamison says:

    I don’t understand what the reluctance is. If you make seat size minimums mandatory there is no competetive advantage or disadvantage for anyone so there is no need to keep trying to gain an advantage over a competitor by shrinking space. You gain an advantage by IMPROVING service so that the seats you have are always filled.

  10. David K Eberhardt says:

    Nothing is more disgusting than seeing people bringing so much baggage onto the flights except the shrinking leg room. Thank goodness I only piloted KC135s in the Air Force. We had plenty of leg room in the cargo area LOL

  11. One sure remedy:
    (Only revenue losses will force the airlines to adjust.)

  12. Beverley Fehrenbacher says:

    Can’t help but remember the ‘olden days’, before jets even, when the ‘aisle’ was 2 seats wide, (you could pass one another without turning sideways) and everyone was flying 1st class even if they were officially in coach.

    1. Justin Otherday says:

      And planes were usually half full, and rarely did you have all three seats across occupied. 1 or 2 to a row was the norm. Now, nearly every plane is at full capacity.

  13. Joseph McLinden says:

    In a day when technology is improving the airplanes…the insane need to pack everyone into the airplane is making air travel, especially for larger people, very unpleasant. Now, the smaller planes used for shuttle flights are flying cross-country, subjecting the passengers to a torturous, extended trip. Although airplanes can get you there faster, ANY other kind of transportation is more comfortable. It’s not just the seats! The check-in debacles, standing, holding my shoes while people around me are all trying to assemble themselves, often with no seating, is shameful. Where is the customer treated well? The bathrooms are brutal, especially for moms with kids. The (once helpful) flight attendants are no longer passenger-friendly. They have their marching orders and it doesn’t include helping you! All of this is a “fuel-to-space” equation; end of conversation. The flying public deserves better for their hard-earned dollars.

  14. John Gray says:

    Ah, Sullenberger’s no longer a pilot and seeing the flying experience from the other side, lol.

  15. Great idea Anton. Curious how that would play out. Some 2nd order effects might include them charging more, splitting families, how many seats to allocate to ‘tall folks’, etc. But I like it. Sully is right that it is a safety issue. And not simply for tall people (Think ‘large’ people, etc). The way I think about it, we’re already doomed in most cases. Due to panic mostly. Shrinking seating 1-2 inches over the years has probably made this more risky, but seems very difficult to measure. More ‘realistic’ testing, what Sully asks for, seems to make a lot of sense, regardless of this seating space issue (which is a total scam, btw).

  16. Mace Fourier says:

    Take 3,000 real people chosen at random in a large diverse state like New York or California and stage an evacuation drill on an actual aircraft. Then you will see the problem is real.

  17. Wm Layer says:

    There is not enough leg room in coach, the airlines know this, but are focused on turning aircraft into a flying subway at rush hour. The FAA is going to have to set regulations for seating as the airlines in the revenue grab are not going to do it.

    1. Jerry Jones says:

      You will be the first complain when the cost doubles to accommodate your new regulations and will blame the airline’s greed instead of yourself. Operating aircraft isn’t cheap. Don’t like you seat size, upgrade and pay for it.

  18. Mike Lacey says:

    The FAA will wait for a tragedy to force them to act. That’s not what they are there for. They should be looking at trends that impact safety to head problems off. But they will leave that to the proverbial 20-20 hindsight to resolve. A few hundred passenger fatalities will eventually do the job they should be doing right now.

  19. Jimmer Jim says:

    Charge by the pound

    1. Mistah Potatohead says:

      I would gladly pay by the pound as long as I got seating large enough for my wide butt, shoulders, and long legs.

  20. Anton Mikofsky says:

    seat all passengers by their HEIGHTS

    1. Phil Rosenkranz says:

      After a through fondling, the NSA already has our inseam length!

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