Economy passengers can usually only dream of larger seats and increased legroom, but this may become a reality in the US, thanks to a review of plane safety rules. The Federal Aviation Administration is planning to conduct 12 days of evacuation testing in November with 720 volunteers, to work out how easily passengers could exit an aircraft in an emergency.
During the testing, it will see if the current seat sizes comply with plane evacuation requirements. In the course of a hearing with the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation, it was argued that the heights, weights and physical disabilities of passengers should be considered when it comes to redesigning airplanes to make them safer.
The November simulations will mimic real-world scenarios, so they will take place in a dark environment and half of the plane's exits will be blocked. At present, airlines must be able to evacuate passengers within 90 seconds but there are not set requirements on seat size. "Americans are getting bigger, so seat size is important, but it's got to be looked at in the context of safety," said FAA deputy administrator, Dan Elwell. “Later this year we’re going to establish the necessary seat pitch and width length based on safety."
Seat sizes and pitch varies across airlines and aircraft, and there has even been talk from some airlines of introducing seats where passengers stand upright. If a minimum seat pitch is introduced as a result of the testing, it will be great news for economy passengers as it will make journeys more comfortable.