Flying coach is a ‘life-and-death’ concern

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As if there weren’t enough reasons to despise flying coach, a new report says it could put you in danger in case of an aircraft emergency.

A US Court of Appeals judge has ruled that the amount of space given to some passengers in coach now constitutes, “a plausible life-and-death safety concern,” according to The Daily Beast’s investigation into the case and current federal aviation regulations. The website determined the Federal Aviation Administration’s tests for safe exit in an emergency do not account for the current space between rows on most flights.

The suit in a District of Columbia circuit court was filed by the group Flyers Rights.

In bringing the case, Flyers Rights documented what this contraction of space means in actual inches. Two measures are particularly critical in deciding the ease (or otherwise) of evacuation: the dimensions of the seats themselves and the extent of the space between seat rows, measured from the top of one seatback to the next, called pitch. Flyers Rights said that in coach the pitch has decreased from an average of 35 inches in the early 2000s to 31 inches today—and in an increasing number of cases it has now shrunk to 28 inches. In the same period average seat width has shrunk from 18.5 inches to 17 inches.

Seats are now so close together, according to Flyers Rights, that they render the “brace for impact” position depicted in airline safety manuals ineffective, thereby subjecting passengers to head trauma.

The Daily Beast also reported that neither the FAA or Boeing knows how long it would take for passengers on a full 737 — the most common aircraft, and one most used for cramped Coach accommodations — to evacuate the plane, making the case of airline safety even murkier.

The FAA has until December 28th to respond to the judge’s ruling, but it has cast another shadow over airline travel today. Beyond all of the frustration over boarding and getting bumped off planes, the tighter passenger spaces may truly pose a risk to humans.

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