Selected items on the shrinking size of aircraft seats and leg room in economy class


Flyers Rights, the largest airline passenger non-profit organization, with over 60,000 members, that has intensively worked on the issue of legroom – including petitioning before the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). 

News Articles

2018. September 14. Kendall Creighton. A La Plane. FlyersRight

2018. July 9. Kari Paul, FAA declines to put a stop to the ‘incredible shrinking airline seat’. Market Watch.

2018. July 5. Brittany Shoot. FAA Says It Won’t Regulate Seat Size Or Legroom Despite Consumer Safety Concerns. Fortune.

2018. March 7. The Editorial Board, USA Today. Air passengers get bigger, airline seats get smaller. USA Today.

2018. February 24. Ashley Halsey III, Will the FAA come to the rescue of cramped fliers? The Washington Post.

2017. November 8. Kendall Creighton. Full Of It. FlyersRight

2017. November 6. Martha C. White. Air Travelers Resisting the ‘Incredible Shrinking Airline Seat’. The New York Times.

2017. August 20. Are airline seats going to get even smaller? The National

2017. August 10. Kendall Creighton. Planes, Veins and DVT. FlyersRight

2017. August 1. Gulliver. A judge rules on the case of the “incredible shrinking airline seat”. The Economist

2017. August 1. Kari Paul. Court orders FAA to address ‘the case of the incredible shrinking airline seat’ — this is how much they’ve actually shrunk. Market Watch.

2017. July 31. Susan Carey. Federal Appeals Court Fans Airline Seat-Size Debate. The Wall Street Journal

2017. July 28. Jonathan H. Adler. D.C. Circuit tackles ‘the Case of the Incredible Shrinking Airline Seat’ Reason.

2017. July 28. David Shepardson. U.S. government ordered to solve ‘Case of the Incredible Shrinking Airline Seat’. Reuters.

2017. July 27. Associated Press. ‘Incredible shrinking airline seat’: US court says seat size a safety issue. The Guardian.

2017. June 19. Ed Hewitt. The Airplane Seat: Narrow, Cramped — and About to Get Worse. Smart Travel.

Academic papers

Steven Lannoo, Veronique Van Acker, Roselinde Kessels, Daniel Palhazi Cuervo, and Frank Witlox (2018). Getting Business People on the Coach: A Stated Preference Experiment for Intercity Long Distance Coach Travel. Transportation Research Record.

From the middle of the 1990s, the traditional coach industry in Western Europe has been in decline. However, recent regulatory changes have created new opportunities in the sector of scheduled intercity services, resulting in fast growth of both coach lines and passengers traveling on these lines. Until now, operators have persuaded a public consisting mainly of students and people traveling for leisure purposes. In this paper we analyze whether business travelers could also be an interesting target group and what service characteristics are most convincing for them. For this purpose, we organized a stated preference experiment in which we gathered data from 63 Belgian business travelers. Analysis of the data revealed that for business travelers, price is the dominant factor in seducing customers. However, journey length, higher commercial travel speeds, ample leg space, on-board Wi-Fi and the entertainment system also play a role. Moreover, business travelers are prepared to pay for extra services. We conclude that when an adjusted service is offered, business travelers form an interesting (additional) target group for the intercity coach business. Our findings could be used by coach operators for product development and help to understand travel market segmentation, and eventually also have impact on developing a more sustainable travel policy.

P. Vink and S. van Mastrigt (2011). The aircraft interior comfort experience of 10,032 passengers. PROCEEDINGS of the HUMAN FACTORS and ERGONOMICS SOCIETY 55th ANNUAL MEETING.

One airline strategy aimed at selling more tickets is to provide a superior comfort experience. However, only a small amount of public scientific information is available addressing the passenger’s opinion on comfort. In this study, 10,032 internet trip reports were used to gather opinions about aspects which need to be improved in order to design a more comfortable aircraft interior. The results show clear relationships between comfort and leg room, hygiene, crew attention and seat. Passengers rate the newer planes significantly better than older ones, indicating that attention to design for comfort has proven effective. The study also shows that rude flight attendants and bad hygiene reduce the comfort experience drastically.

H. Hinninghofen and P. Enck (2006). Passenger well-being in airplanes. Autonomic Neuroscience: Basic & Clinical. Volume 129, Issues 1-2, PP. 80–85

Passenger well-being is influenced by cabin environmental conditions which interact with individual passenger characteristics like age and health conditions. Cabin environment is composed of different aspects, some of which have a direct influence on gastrointestinal functions and may directly generate nausea, such as cabin pressure, oxygen saturation, and motion or vibration. For example, it has been shown that available cabin pressure during normal flight altitude can significantly inhibit gastric emptying and induce dyspepsia-like symptoms when associated with a fibre-rich meal. Other aspects of the cabin environment such as space and variability of seating, air quality, and noise, also have been shown to modulate (reduce or increase) discomfort and nausea during flights. Individual passenger characteristics and health status also have been demonstrated to increase vulnerability to adverse health outcomes and discomfort.

Geoffrey Brundrett (2001). Comfort and health in commercial aircraft: a literature review. Perspectives in Public Health. Volume: 121 issue: 1, PP. 29-37

Passengers who remain seated for the bulk of a flight may risk oedema or deep vein thrombosis. This could be particularly impor tant for larger people in certain economy class seats. The absence of smoking on planes has encouraged designers to cut back on the rate of cabin ventilation and hence introduce fil tered recirculated air to the aircraft cabin. In new planes the ventilation rate is under pilot control and savings (economies) can be achieved by using decreased ventilation. A lower ventilation rate may lead to ‘less com fortable air quality’ in some parts of the plane and an increased risk of possible cross-infec tion from other passengers on the flight. Technological advances in jet engine design has permitted larger passenger planes to fly longer distances and at greater altitudes than ever before. The higher flying altitude is asso ciated with a lower cabin pressure, which has an important physiological effect on oxygen saturation in the blood of both crew and pas sengers, particularly for the very young, the elderly and those who are less fit.

Court cases

Flyers Rights Educ. Fund, Inc. v. Fed. Aviation Admin., 864 F.3d 738, 744 (D.C. Cir. 2017)

Flyers Rights’ petition for rulemaking reasonably identified a safety concern arising from the commercial airlines’ documented pattern of placing ever larger passengers in ever smaller seats with still less space between them. The petition explained why such seating constrictions could make it more difficult for passengers to quickly leave their seats and escape an aircraft in the event of an emergency. Specifically, the petition asserted that, in an emergency, decreased seat spacing would increase panic, delay access to the center aisle, and impede the escape of injured passengers. The petition also included multiple comments from airline passengers expressing safety concerns. One commenter stated that current seat spacing made it “necessary to climb onto [her] seat to get out.” J.A. 167. Another commenter asserted that, given current seat spacing, “[i]n an emergency, there is no way we would have been able to get to an exit row in less than three or four minutes[.]” J.A. 169.


The Administration failed that task here. In asserting that decreasing seat size and pitch had no effect on emergency egress, the Administration pointed to certain studies and demonstration tests. But the cited studies say nothing about and do not appear to control for seat pitch, width, or any other seat dimension. Nor do they address or control for how increased passenger size interacts with the current seat dimensions to affect emergency egress. Studies cannot corroborate or demonstrate something that they never mention or even indirectly address.


We grant Flyers Rights’ petition for review in part, and remand to the Administration for a properly reasoned disposition of the petition’s safety concerns about the adverse impact of decreased seat dimensions and increased passenger size on aircraft emergency egress. We otherwise deny the petition for review.