Something specious in the air

Passengers get a victory. Sort of.

An appeals court in Washington, D.C. ordered a federal agency — in this case the Federal Aviation Administration — to stop doing nothing.

Hey, a victory is a victory.

“A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled Friday that the FAA offered a ‘vaporous record’ of evacuation tests with ‘off-point studies and undisclosed tests using unknown parameters’ in justifying not regulating seat size. The court ordered FAA to provide a ‘properly reasoned’ explanation of its evacuation standards. This is the case of the incredible shrinking airline seat,’ Judge Patricia Millett wrote in the 23-page decision.”


The petition, brought by, an airline consumer organization, related to the size of seats on airplanes, which in case your diet’s going better than mine — thus haven’t noticed — has been shrinking lately.

Flyers Rights gave the court evidence that the average width of airplane seats has declined from 18.5 inches in the early 2000s, to 17 inches by about 2005. The shrinking seats have been primarily driven by long-haul airliners that added an extra seat in each row. While seats are shrinking, they’re also squeezing closer together. The average pitch between seats “has decreased from an average of 35 inches to 31 inches, and in some airplanes has fallen as low as 28 inches,” the decision reads. Seat pitch is a measurement of the distance between one point on a seat to the same point on the seat behind it.

An inch here, an inch there, and pretty soon you’re talking about Deep Vein Thrombosis.

And the airlines want to make the seats even smaller.

Keep in mind, the court isn’t making FAA officials institute standards on seat sizes — certainly not because of comfort concerns — ruling, somewhat maddeningly, that your inability to type on your laptop because the passenger in 15B has reclined his seat into your sternum is not in the FAA’s “wheelhouse.” The court didn’t even authorize the agency to develop, much less issue, voluntary guidelines. It just wants officials, especially when it comes to evacuations, to stop being duplicitous pricks about denying the potential problem of cramming so many of our fat asses into such small rows.

(I may be paraphrasing that last part a little.)

To illustrate her point, the judge employed science, which, for you Trump fans, was a discipline taught in American schools some years back.

“The Administration’s rationale also blinks reality. As a matter of basic physics, at some point seat and passenger dimensions would become so squeezed as to impede the ability of passengers to extricate themselves from their seats and get over to an aisle.”

So, of course, the current administration has decided the best way to deal with the FAA is to privatize it.

The proposal is included in Trump’s 2018 budget, which would cut funding for the Transportation Department by 13 percent. The move would address two themes at the core of White House strategy: contracting the size of the federal workforce and putting a costly federal program in private hands.

Instituting budget cuts, reducing oversight, and contracting out key security and maintenance requirements in an industry already bursting at the seams to the aviation equivalent of Blackwater/XE/Academi and The Corrections Corporation of America, what could possibly go wrong?

The bathrooms on American’s 737 Max jets will also be smaller, one person familiar with the planning said.
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