Flying coach is so cramped it could be a death trap

As airlines pack seats tighter than ever, the tests supposed to show that passengers can get out alive in a crash are woefully out of date. The FAA won’t make the results public, and a court warns there is “a plausible life-and-death safety concern.”

For years the airlines have been allowed to steadily shrink the size of coach class seats and the space between seat rows without regulators considering the impact of this on safety. A Daily Beast investigation has found:

• The tests carried out to ensure that all the passengers can safely exit a cabin in an emergency are dangerously outdated and do not reflect how densely packed coach class seating has become—or how the size of passengers has simultaneously increased;

• No coach class seat meets the Department of Transportation’s own standard for the space required to make a flight attendant’s seat safe in an emergency;

• Neither Boeing nor the Federal Aviation Administration will disclose the evacuation test data for the newest (and most densely seated) versions of the most widely used jet, the Boeing 737.

In a case brought by the non-profit activist group Flyers Rights and heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a judge said there was “a plausible life-and-death safety concern” about what is called the “densification” of seats in coach. The court ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to respond to a petition filed by Flyers Rights to promulgate new rules to deal with safety issues created by shrinking seat sizes and space in coach class cabins.

Furthermore, the court complained that the FAA had used outdated studies to argue that no change was needed in the way emergency evacuation tests are carried out—and, at the same time, had refused to release details of the test results because they involved proprietary data.

The Daily Beast has since examined more than 900 pages of Department of Transportation documents and FAA regulations that address the way airplane cabins are configured to ensure rapid evacuation in an emergency. All of the tests designed to achieve the fastest possible evacuations were devised decades before the appearance of budget airlines greatly increased the density of seating and, in particular, before the size of seats shrank and the space between each row of seats similarly shrank.

Read more at The Daily Beast.