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FAA says it won't force airlines to offer more legroom, larger seats

Tighter seating doesn't appear to hamper safety or slow down evacuations, the agency said.

Airplane seats
The FAA says it won't regulate airline seating.
Getty Images

The Federal Aviation Administration won't force airlines to give passengers more legroom and wider seats because current arrangements don't present safety issues or hamper evacuation speed, the agency said on Tuesday.

In a filing, the FAA said it couldn't find evidence that current seat width and legroom dimensions or the increasing size of passengers will slow down evacuations. The agency also said it takes more time for flight crews to open the exit door than it does for passengers to get up from their seats.

"The FAA has no evidence that a typical passenger, even a larger one, will take more than a couple of seconds to get out of his or her seat," the filing reads.

Last year, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ordered the FAA to review its seating safety rules after a group called Flyers Rights challenged the administration over concerns that tighter seating -- and bigger passengers -- might slow down evacuations. 

Flyers Rights acknowledged the FAA's decision, but didn't elaborate. 

The distance between seats, called pitch, has gone from an average of 35 inches before 1978 to 31 inches today. It can sometimes measure just 28 inches. Meanwhile, the average seat width of 18 inches has shrunk by one to two inches. 

Some airline seat manufacturers are pushing for even tighter seating. The Skyrider looks more like a perch than a full seat and has a pitch of just 23 inches.