Who owns the American skies?

That’s the question Americans are asking Congress.

The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) reauthorization bill S. 1405 currently moving through Congress calls for the agency to establish minimum standards on seat width and pitch within a year.

So, despite the FAA’s arrogant announcement to the flying public via FlyersRights.org that it won’t regulate seat space, Congress can override in the matter.

In addition, the Department of Transportation’s inspector general is reviewing airlines’ tight seating configurations to assess if passengers can still meet the 90-second evacuation requirement in an emergency.

One would think that buying an airline ticket for a seat on a plane would include your knees – mais non! Over the past several years, passengers who do not fork out the dollars for premium seating are treated more as cattle than as customers.

It used to be just the six-footers complaining, but now it’s everyone, as lower extremities go from being squeezed to being crushed (especially when the person in front reclines the seat), losing circulation, going numb and sometimes increasing the risk of DVT.


Whole Body Tickets

The FAA has no minimum leg room standards. Pain, bruises and blood clots are not viewed as part of the FAA’s concerns.

This always surprises people, but for the airlines, tight seating means more seats per square foot and therefore more people in the cattle car. Letting people continue their circulatory functions is not a competitive advantage for coach class fares.

“We call it torture class,” Paul Hudson, FlyersRights.org’s president, recently told The Telegraph of London. “It has been going on for the last 10 to 15 years, seats have been getting smaller as people get larger. Our view is they have been shrinking seats to get more passengers on a plane to get more revenue. They are also trying to make it so uncomfortable that people will upgrade and pay far higher fares.”

“We know a substantial proportion of the population can’t get into the seats right now: They are either too tall or too wide. There are also more passengers who are elderly or disabled in some way physically.”


FAA: An Over-Accommodating Regulator and Chronic Procrastinator

Why has the FAA looked the other way? Its closeness to the industry makes the agency more agreeable to the airlines’ overblown economic arguments than to the cries of passengers.

The airlines are gambling that they can save more by cutting corners on safety, health and comfort than by paying millions in potential accident claims later.

So, the do-nothing culture at the FAA places the burden of passenger safety on the flight attendants and pilots. However, this goes back decades, when former DOT Inspector General Mary Schiavo warned about expecting the FAA to change without a deep cleaning, starting at the top levels in government.

There is something truly macabre about a government agency that ignores the public, covers up for the industry and takes action only after a disaster.


Airlines Relentlessly Cutting Seat Sizes as They Boost Their Bottom Lines

Another aspect of shrinking plane seats is safety. This aspect is too important to be left to “competition” to sort out.

An aircraft operator must show that the aircraft, emergency equipment, and emergency procedures allow the evacuation of the aircraft at full seating capacity, including crew members, in 90 seconds or less in case of an emergency.

We often say that during panic and confusion, how can people with children, elderly people and even very tall people extract themselves and leave the plane in 90 seconds, when it is barely possible to squeeze into a seat in that time, let alone extract yourself out of it?

Many of you have urged us to push for a requirement that all members of Congress fly only in coach class – as they seem to approve of any measure that inconveniences the flying public while they fly in first class.
This is a great idea if we could find a Congress member with the intestinal fortitude to introduce such a proposal.

Where is all this heading? Readers, please write us if you think you know.


Our Commentary to DOT on Emotional Support Animals

FlyersRights.org as the largest nonprofit airline passenger organization with 60,000 member supporters has been studying the issue of animals on planes for several years.

Toward that end we sent observers to a DOT advisory committee of stakeholders (airlines, flight attendants, service animal trainers, disability advocates) which attempted (unsuccessfully) to do a negotiated rulemaking several years ago.

More recently, in 2018, we conducted a survey of our members which had 750 respondents (see results at https://arrowiq.typeform.com/report/TYpcZz/kH8UcPu8nWmrgzrU ).

One of our board members is a former traveling doctor of veterinary medicine with vast experience. Some of our members have traveled with emotional support animals, and many have pets that have traveled by air.

Finally, as operating the only toll-free hotline for passenger complaints and problems since 2008, we receive calls from passengers with allergies, phobias and other concerns regarding animals in air travel.

Accordingly, based on this extensive experience, FlyersRights.org supports tightening the regulations that currently permit nearly anyone to obtain an emotional support certificate to travel with a pet for free.

We affirm the important protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Air Carrier Access Act, with due regard for non-disabled passengers including those with animal allergies or phobias.

We also support the expansion of facilities by airlines to transport pets and service animals in humane and cost-effective ways. The No. 1 priority for regulations should be the health, safety and convenience of human passengers, with due regard for humane treatment of animals.

With regard to the specific topics contained in the notice of proposed rulemaking, our comments are as follows:

1. Psychiatric service animals should be treated the same as other service animals provided that the passenger has a letter from a bona fide licensed mental health professional such as a psychiatrist or psychologist.

2. There should be a distinction between PSAs and emotional service animals, with airlines allowed to ban ESAs where they are not trained to do any specific tasks and are very often pets that are traveling free in the cabin but could otherwise be accommodated by airlines.

3. The use of pet carriers is appropriate for small dogs under 10 pounds but should not be required for larger animals or in all cases as this defeats the purpose and function of the animal for service and emotional support to the passenger. And it will often be impossible to accommodate larger animals without special space allocation or allowance for safe egress.

4. Animals serving as PSAs or ESAs in the cabin should be limited to dogs. A high proportion of passengers (about 10 percent according to WebMD) are allergic to cats, some to a life-threatening degree, and 5 percent to dogs. Other passengers (estimated at 13 percent) have animal phobias, commonly to dogs, snakes, rodents, insects and spiders. Other animals such as monkeys, miniature pigs or horses, birds and reptiles pose sanitary as well as allergy and phobia concerns. Cats are generally not recognized as PSAs and can be conveniently carried in carriers.

5. There should be a limit of one animal per passenger in a cabin at the discretion of the airline, but no more than two.

6. There should be an attestation that an ESA animal has been trained how to behave in public, and this should be kept on file with an airline to avoid unnecessary repetition.

7. Animals should be harnessed, leashed or otherwise tethered.

8. Large animals should not block egress, not intrude on other passengers’ space and should be limited by weight to about 80 pounds.

9. Veterinary forms should be required for any animal not confined to a carrier, including health and behavior questions, or the user should be required to provide insurance covering any damages to property or persons of $250,000 or more.

10. Passengers should have notice of requirements of foreign carriers re ESAs and PSAs.

Animal Welfare Concerns

As animals generally require relief and water every six hours or so and may become agitated or panicked if confined for long periods in close quarters with jet noises, their time in cabins should be limited to approximately three hours without special provisions. Moreover, veterinary space standards for transporting animals should not be violated. Finally, pet relief areas should be required at all large airports, within the secured zone within a few hundred yards of arrival gates.

Paul Hudson
President, FlyersRights.org 
Member, FAA Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee 
1440 G Street NW, 
Washington, DC 20005