Though airlines are concerned about the possibility of seeing aircraft seat size regulated, and despite language in the FAA Reauthorization bill intended to protect consumers from inadequate cabin conditions, the industry is not ready to set its own standards in a bid to stave off disparate government intervention.
The FAA Reauthorization bill, which has cleared the House, would give the FAA one year to set minimum dimensions for “seat pitch, width, and length” as deemed necessary for the safety and health of passengers.
Regulators around the world collaborate on harmonization, and it’s probable that certain other countries would adhere to what the FAA prescribes, if the Senate retains and passes similar language as in the House bill. But the industry might also face multiple sets of standards that could become a cost disadvantage for some airlines over others. That is why self-regulating could prove advantageous to airlines, allowing for competitive variety but at the same time agreeing to minimum standards for features that would enhance safety and accessibility.
Asked by RGN about the prospect of industry self-regulation during a briefing at the IATA Annual General Meeting in Sydney, IATA Director General and CEO Alexandre de Juniac dismissed the notion saying:
Among the various missions of IATA, setting standards is a key one. But I have to say that setting standards for minimum service would be a bit…
For me to say…that minimum service should be to have a seat of 33-inch pitch or all of that stuff – it is not on. It’s the airline’s job to do it.
Of course, there are areas on which – safety, accessibility for disabled people, this type of thing – that could be regulated and on which we could have a voice.
The primary focus of airlines for now is to improve the passenger experience through seamless innovations and investment, focusing on the digitization of travel which might help address pain points along the journey and resolve air service disruptions. These initiatives are more than welcome, but they do not address shrinking lavatories or uncomfortable and inaccessible seats.
Okay, @United, we’ve gotta talk about this 737 MAX bathroom situation. THE. SINK. IS. TERRIBLE. Everything was already wet when I walked in, after two people used it, and even worse when I left. Even sprayed on the door, and my shirt. pic.twitter.com/shxPWWfb8f
— Zach Honig (@ZachHonig) June 7, 2018
Passengers have a role to play in all of this too, wherever possible choosing to fly with an airline that offers a better cabin product, even if the fare is somewhat higher. But the reality is that airlines are competing down with each other – following the path of increasing capacity and lowering airfares by adding more seats, at least for now.
The topic came up again at the AGM during the closing Q&A session with IATA’s leaders. The responses to a similar question from a reporter took a bit of a turn.
“We think these types of ideas [of minimum seat sizes] should not be implemented,” de Juniac said outright. “It’s not the role of regulators. They have so many responsibilities on their shoulders to maintain – for safety and security – but should they be regulating the space for your legs?”
Alan Joyce, CEO of Qantas, consistently argued during both sessions that airlines are pressured to offer various choices of seating by customer demand and market dynamics, and that aircraft seats are already highly regulated – in terms of their certification.
Qatar Airways CEO, His Excellency Akbar Al Baker, who appeared at the second meeting only, in his new role as Chairman of IATA, had this to say:
“I think that such kind of issues should be left to IATA as a collective organization of all of the airlines. It’s very important that these kinds of one-sided decisions are not left to any regulator but to an international body that would look at the interest of all of the airlines and not just a particular region.”
For anyone paying attention, that is indeed a 360º view of the cabin. This round and round is bound to continue as airlines seek to wait-out the resolve of lawmakers and passenger rights advocates.
- FAA quiet on seat pitch and width data as pressure mounts for standards
- Aircraft seat size in the spotlight as House passes FAA reauthorization
- FAA is no stranger to egress questions as court orders review
- Podcast 050: Flyers Rights makes the case for seat size standards
- Consumer groups seek moratorium on seat squeeze, cite safety
- Those confusing aircraft seat measurements, explained
- Seats should be 19.6 inches wide: safety report