There is no public data on FAA regulations for minimum space between seat rows to allow a passenger to adopt the brace position. The DOT does have requirements for seats used by flight attendants, which specifically delineates what it calls the head strike zone, the space that must be kept clear so that in the event of an impact the occupant’s head avoids contact with an adjacent seat. The zone must extend for at least 35 inches from the axis of the seatback and seat cushion_not from seatback to seatback. No coach seats have met that safety standard since the early 2000s.


Last week, an investigative report by the Daily Beast revealed that economy-class seats are so tight that crash test dummies were consistently breaking seatback video screens with their heads during simulations.

This troubling report also noted that no coach seats today comply with Department of Transportation regulations for the brace position.

FlyersRights has been raising the alarm for years about shrinking seats, leg room and airlines’ relentless mission to cram in as many people onboard as possible.

Back in the early 2000s, the average seat depth or pitch was about 35 inches.

Today, it’s down to 31 inches at best, and in some cases, as small as 28 inches.

So, we take some consolation that, at last, tight pitch is getting the attention it deserves regarding compromised safety during an evacuation.

A ‘life-and-death’ concern

This new-found attention comes after FlyersRights’ win in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia back in July, 2017.

The three-judge panel ruled that the amount of space given to some passengers in coach now constitutes “a plausible life-and-death safety concern.”

The court also determined that the FAA’s tests for safe exit in an emergency are not up-to-date regarding the smaller space between rows.

Does not look very safe –
Coach seats are so tight that FAA dummies crack the seatback video screens with their heads during crash simulations, according to DOT documents. Seats and leg room on airplanes have been shrinking with airlines trying to cram as many people as possible. No coach seat stands up to DOT regulations for the brace position.

Rigged evacuation certification test process
For years FlyersRights has contended that the densification of airline seats has rendered the “brace for impact” position, as depicted in airline safety manuals, unachievable.
Currently, passengers are not able to lean forward to hold the brace position and would hit their heads on the seatback in front of them during a crash, resulting in traumatic head and neck injuries.
The report also revealed that neither the FAA nor Boeing knows how long it takes to evacuate a full 737 – the most common aircraft, with the tightest coach accommodations.

This is about flight safety, but also points to a larger issue involving Senators and Congressmembers likely knowing the evacuation certification test process is a charade that is basically rigged and doesn’t represent a real cabin configuration or a real evacuation.