FINALLY! FAA’s Report Of Evacuating Modern Plane Cabins

by SharonKurheg

Waaaaaaay back in late 2018, Congress passed a law that required the FAA to create minimum seat standards for pitch, width and length for passenger safety, since there were (and, so far, still are) no such rules on the books. The only way to do that was to see if a typical plane full of typical people could evacuate said plane in 90 seconds or less (the current standard under federal law), if there was an emergency.

The FAA delayed their testing for quite some time. Finally, about a month after the deadline, in late 2019, they conducted evacuation testing to decide if passengers were able to exit planes in a safe and timely manner during an emergency.

And then we waited. And waited. And…waited.

Finally, over TWO YEARS later, the FAA made the testing results public. The original report is dated January 2021, but the FAA didn’t mention why it took until April 2022 for it to surface. Anyway, the testing team discovered that the cabin configurations currently flown by U.S. carriers – smaller pitch, narrower seats and all, do not impede evacuation progress for 99% of the American population.

In these tests, seat size and spacing did not adversely affect the success of emergency evacuations.”

The FAA did note in a separate report, dated March 31, that the tests only used able-bodied adults who were under the age of 60. So they used no senior citizens, no children, and no disabled individuals in their tests, even though every single flight on earth nowadays has several people in each of those demographics.

“As a result, they provide useful, but not necessarily definitive information, regarding the effects of seat dimensions on safe evacuations for all populations,” FAA administrator Steve Dickson wrote to lawmakers in letters dated March 31 (Dickson has since left that position. March 31 was his last day.).

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) wholeheartedly agreed. He even said in a statement that the participants in the evacuation study were not representative of the flying public.

I am disappointed but not surprised that the flawed study came to the foregone conclusion the airline industry dictated. I repeatedly called upon the FAA to reexamine its study parameters and take into consideration the time it takes for elderly travelers, children and people who have disabilities to safely evacuate aircraft. The flying public cannot rely on the results of this study nor should seat sizes be based solely on the study’s results. I look forward to participating in the FAA’s forthcoming public comment period and hope the input is taken seriously before the FAA makes its final determination on minimum seat dimensions that are necessary to ensure passenger safety.

The FAA still plans to conduct a review to set minimum standards for seat width and the space between rows on commercial aircraft. No word if they will take ALL passengers into consideration. After all, a typical plane has pets in carriers, and small children included in the mix. Nowadays, it could potentially have people who can’t follow directions because they don’t understand English or have intellectual/psychological disabilities, people who exclusively use a wheelchair for mobilization, elderly people who move very slowly, and/or people who greatly exceed typical weight and/or height demographics, etc. Chances are good that several passengers on any given plane may fit into one or more of those categories. And let’s not forget the people who will be in the middle of using their computers, or eating, and will have their lap trays down. Or the ones who will insist on grabbing their carry-on luggage in the overhead or below their seats, or who would take the emergency as an opportunity to start videotaping with their phones.

As recently as September 2020, an audit suggested that the FAA wasn’t prepared to update evacuation rules – including rejecting the idea of setting minimum standards for airline seats and legroom as a safety measure, especially in light of the demographics of today’s typical flyer (as opposed to those of 1991 – the last time they did a major revision…after a major airline accident).

“The FAA is the global gold standard for aviation safety and we appreciate their comprehensive review of existing aircraft standards, which affirmed the highest level of safety onboard our nation’s commercial airlines,” the lobby group Airlines For America said in a prepared statement.


Feature Photo: Andrewmarino at en.wikipedia, Attribution, via Wikimedia Commons

Want to comment on this post? Great! Read this first to help ensure it gets approved.
Want to sponsor a post, write something for Your Mileage May Vary or put ads on our site? Click here for more info.

Like this post? Please share it! We have plenty more just like it and would love it if you decided to hang around and sign up to get emailed notifications of when we post.

Whether you’ve read our articles before or this is the first time you’re stopping by, we’re really glad you’re here and hope you come back to visit again!

This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


Christian April 7, 2022 - 3:33 pm

So, the FAA ran tests that they knew were absolutely faulty and now they’re patting themselves on the back? Lovely.

CHRIS April 7, 2022 - 4:10 pm

*paid for by Airlines4America


Leave a Comment