Consumer groups call for moratorium on smaller airplane seats pending FAA safety review

November 2, 2022

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown,, (202) 207-2832

Advocates caution that out-of-date emergency evacuation testing standards could put flyers at risk 

Washington D.C.— A coalition of six consumer advocacy organizations yesterday filed comments in response to a Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) inquiry regarding minimum passenger seat dimensions. The groups called for the FAA to prohibit airlines from installing smaller seats in commercial jets while the agency reviews and updates its decades-old emergency evacuation testing standards.

“Airlines have a profit incentive to cram more people on their planes,” said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League, which organized the letter. “This trend has created a dangerous environment that could impede safe evacuation in the event of an emergency. The FAA has looked the other way for decades as the airlines have increasingly prioritized their bottom lines over passenger safety.”

U.S. law requires air carriers to ensure that they can evacuate their aircraft in 90 seconds or less. In an alarming number of real-world emergencies in recent years, evacuations took between two and five minutes, even though every airline has certified that their planes comply with federal standards. Despite this, the FAA continues to rely on emergency evacuation testing standards that reflect what flying was like in the 1990’s, not the environment that passengers encounter today.

To address the insecurity of current flying conditions, the consumer groups called on the FAA to take immediate action, including:

  • Instituting a moratorium on the further shrinking of passenger seats. Airlines have reduced the sizes of seats to record lows, having shaved off several inches from when the federal government last updated U.S. evacuation standards.
  • Updating federal evacuation standards to reflect the modern cabin environment, accounting for smaller seat sizes, increased baggage around the cabin, and the proliferation of personal electronic devices.
  • If necessary, provisionally requiring that airline seats be no smaller than 32 inches in pitch (commonly referred to as legroom) and 20 inches in width. These dimensions would ensure that seat sizes are not smaller than the typical minimum dimensions that airlines utilized in the early 1990s.

“In addition to hampering evacuation speeds, it’s important to consider how diminished seat sizes impact traveler health, even when there is not an emergency,” said John Breyault, Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud at NCL. “Cramped airline seating increases the risk that passengers will experience deep vein thrombosis and pressure sores. Current seat sizes make flying more dangerous and often embarrassing for many passengers, particularly those with disabilities or those who are too large to safely fit into the seats.”

In addition to NCL, the letter was signed by the American Economic Liberties Project, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Ed Perkins on Travel, and U.S. PIRG.

To read the coalition’s full comments to the FAA, click here.


About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit