Could the US government force airlines to make seats wider?

The FAA is calling for feedback on airline seat sizes, which many people feel do not reflect current body shapes.

By Bloomberg News, August 4 2022
Could the US government force airlines to make seats wider?

The Federal Aviation Administration is calling for comments on airline seat sizes, which many argue aren’t inclusive to all body types.

Members of the general public will have 90 days to give feedback on the minimum seat dimensions necessary for passenger safety.

Some are using the survey to advocate for inclusive seating for all body types. The FAA specifically asked for feedback regarding how seat sizes impact disabled people’s safety, as well as people over age 60 and children. The mandate does not include passenger comfort.

The width of the average economy seat on major US airlines varies between 17 and 18.5 inches, with premium economy seats at a slightly more generous 18.5-19 inches.

Karlijn Burridge, a fellow with the Obesity Medicine Association, says her patients' safety is affected by seat sizes.

“They report physical pain, severe bruising, and a fear of not fitting into a seat or being able to use the bathroom while on a flight,” Burridge said. “Many people will avoid flying all together, if they can help it, because of these issues.”

An FAA study released in January 2021 said even the most cramped seat designs have no impact on emergency evacuation. The average weight of a study participant was 88.5 kilograms, or around 195 pounds.

The issue of whether plus-sized people’s comfort impacts how safe they are in seats is unlikely to prompt FAA to enact changes.

“The FAA encourages commenters to review the cabin evacuations study, and provide information about the minimum dimensions of passenger seats that are necessary for safety,” a spokesperson said.

Flying has long been a point of stress for fat people, who are often made to navigate anti-fat bias in the process.

Paul Hudson, the president of the advocacy group, told USA Today the group estimates only 20% of travelers can comfortably fit in current seats.

Many airlines suggest customers purchase a second airplane seat for comfort, which is costly – the average price for a domestic airline ticket was $445 in April 2022.

“When it comes to plus size travelers and fat travelers, not only is it a comfort issue, it's a safety issue,” said plus-size travel advocate and blogger Annette Richmond, who is hopeful that the FAA will listen to calls she and others have been making for years.

“It seems like maybe their time is finally up and it is time to start listening to the public and make the seats more accommodating to more people,” she said.

“Whatever measurements they have now, aren't working for most of us.”

This article is published under license from Bloomberg Media: the original article can be viewed here

29 Jan 2012

Total posts 163

Definitely a subject needing investigation. IMO, US domestic economy seats could be 20% wider with pitch increased from 31 to 37, especially for passengers requiring the extra room on those 4-5 domestic routes. Airlines will see red with this of course, but then again the average passenger over the past 5 decades since the introduction of the 707 has increased in size on a global scale and to counter this airlines simply charge the percentage to cover the increased real estate required to achieve this. 

Am sure most passengers would not have an issue with this, especially when they feel the circulation return to their feet while on those long routes being traveled. This also applies to US First class domestic seating, not much better then economy when it comes to width and pitch. Shall we look at american First Class and United Basic economy seating as a perfect example. Health before profits!

I cannot see what your point is.  Better seating IS AVAILABLE.  Its just that seemingly you and most others expect that the obvious cost of this should be borne by someone other than yourselves. If you took out one seat across on each plane (in Coach) that is about 30 seats or 17% of the load.  :Likely that would reduce revenue by 12 or 13%.  Given that airlines are fortunate if they make 5% profit on revenue the numbers just don't stack up unless fares are increased.  No-one will chose one airline over another (that is more expensive) just to get those extra 3 or 4 cm.  

ITS OUR FAULT  not the airlines.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1201

So, if the airlines were forced to widen seats and change a 737 to 5 abreast, are you saying you'd be happy for the fare to increase 16% to cover the 30 seats removed or do you think the airlines are a charity and would just wear the loss??

06 Feb 2021

Total posts 57

A lot of passengers are already paying more, in many cases well over 16% more, simply because they can no longer stomach flying in the cramped conditions that have become the norm for those in " coach."  Premium Economy, where it is offered, is now the most profitable section of the plane for the airlines in terms of revenue per square foot, often double the economy fare, for 15-20% more space. It is also often the fastest section of the plane to be fully booked, so clearly there are plenty of potential flyers at a higher price. On flights where there is no PE, which at this stage is still most, anyone who doesn't want to fly in economy has to pay for business class, at a price multiple times the economy fare.  The airlines are not charities, but the reality is they've squeezed the space per passenger down for years without considering that a significant number will pay more, for a better, more comfortable, experience. 

ian J. Seat width has not changed for narrow body B737s/A319/20/21s EVER.

The only way to increase seat width without going to 5 across is to make armrests & aisles narrower. Narrower aisles won't work as fat people won't be able to fit. Go on a diet fattys.


this will never work as massive price increases on all fares. To be any wider on B737s or A319/20/21 economy would have to go from 6 across to 5 across. Also seat pitch is not a very good measure of legroom, as it all depends on the thickness of the seat back, which varies by up to 4 inches(10cm) Fat people need to get thinner. What a stupid % quoted. Nothing like 20% ...

the group estimates only 20% of travelers can comfortably fit in current seats

suggest it would be more like 99%

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 662

Hmmm.  Certainly an interesting take by the Obesity Medicine Association, but perhaps the solution is to replace the last row of (typically) 3 seats with two (2) purposely made 'bariatric' seats for those pax with genuine obesity challenges, and allow them to board the flight first as is often allowed for others pax with mobility issues (including by own aged parents).  

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 May 2019

Total posts 39

Nice idea but the most common US domestic plane is a 737 (a 1960's design) and its fuselage is smaller than an A320 and thus seat width is governed by the available space inside the airframe. Cannot see this getting much traction. I can see there being a zone with fewer seats across for those who are on the larger side.... 

11 Sep 2018

Total posts 17

At what stage does equality come into play, if an obese person gets a bigger seat, why shouldn't a thinner person. If a thinner person has to pay for excess baggage, should this be standardised against the weight of the person? Buy a second seat or lose some weight, there's the options. Plane travel has never been more affordable and open to all demographics, airlines are in it to make money and until you bring out a government operated Not for Profit airline i don't think there'll be much leeway here.

06 Feb 2021

Total posts 57

The FAA has been dragged kicking and screaming to finally get involved in this, they were told, bluntly, to investigate this issue and rule on it three years ago.  Unfortunately, too many close connections between the regulator and the industry meant nothing happened.   Given airlines have already placed orders for aircraft that won't be delivered for several years, obviously any mandated change needs to be several years ahead, however it should not take forever.  With respect to all those 737's and other narrow bodies flying, there should be a directive that say within 2 years 20% of the airlines fleet has to be converted to 3 - 2 seating, (as on an Airbus A220,) and those planes must be used on the longest flights offered by that carrier, and the percentage changed over is then ramped up to be completed say within ten years.  

Prices will have to increase, possibly resulting in less people flying, but maybe that's not such a bad thing given the current environmental issues, or the problems caused by over-tourism in some places.  

Ian J 

Are you crazy ? Not one in USA wants to pay more & what environmental issues ? Are you suggesting people should rive instead of flying.

28 Mar 2018

Total posts 27

Many of my flights have been with my brother in law who lives with Down Syndrome. He can only sit with cross legged as his feet don't touch the floor. (Dangling legs for many hours is painful.) 

Navigating the aisles, accessing the toilets or adopting a safe brace position when his feet don't reach the floor are issues when flying with him. 

I suspect the range of solutions may end up being more than wider seats. 


09 May 2020

Total posts 562

Bigger seats=fewer seats per plane= more expensive seats


Just pay extra for bigger seats as you can now. It’s called premium economy or business 

22 Sep 2017

Total posts 72

Without mandating a particular seat size, I would like to see a requirement for travel agents and web sites to show the seat dimensions (pitch and shoulder width) when booking and searching. This would help enable customers to ensure the product is fit for purpose in their specific cases.


seat pitch doesn't tell you the amount of leg room. eg. 2 identical aircraft with the same seat map & seat pitch could have vastly different amounts of legroom. It's all about the seat back thickness, not seat pitch. Aircraft with super slim seat backs have much more legroom. There's up to 10cm difference between super slim seat backs & the thickest. Also travel agents have enough crap to put up with now. Terms & conditions should be summarised. Ever printed out the ts & cs for a qantas ticket ? about 10 pages of microprint.

21 Dec 2012

Total posts 38

what is the scope for making armrests with narrower bodies to account for the wider bodies between them?

(Personally I'd be much happier with greater room for knees, the stuff that usually makes people wider is able to be squished into tight spaces - whereas femurs don't really squish)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

27 Aug 2014

Total posts 40

Correct that bigger seats will only happen through regulation, as otherwise competitive pressures dictate cramming everyone in.  ie lowest common denominator, or "race to the bottom" if you like.

In the meantime, if you need it, buy a bigger seat or go by bus.

Etihad - Etihad Guest

21 Jul 2019

Total posts 160

Perhaps the U.S. gov't should address the actual unstated problem: that the majority of Americans are obese. This is tinkering around the edges, window-dressing, dodging the problem [pick your own metaphor]. The fact is, larger seats have always been available for 70+ years. You just have to pay for it. Gov't policy should fight obesity, not normalize it! That's not being a 'fat-shamer' or elitist; that's just being plain old sensible and health conscious.


12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1501

"The mandate does not include passenger comfort." - thus we already agree that flying in those seats is uncomfortable and we already agree that no-one cares about this. Now we talking about safety and physical pain while using those seats. Yes, aviation has changed in last 3 decades and IMHO changed in wrong direction.

Hi Guest, join in the discussion on Could the US government force airlines to make seats wider?