It is becoming increasingly cramped for passengers on airplanes

In Europe or the USA, almost everything is regulated down to the last detail. But despite umpteen standards and DIN sizes, there is one regulation that does not exist: the minimum size of flight seats. Instead, the global safety rule applies that an aircraft must be evacuated within 90 seconds in an emergency. As long as this is guaranteed, airlines and aircraft manufacturers can determine the dimensions of the seat.

In the post-war years this was not a problem. But as early as the 1960s, the economic miracle ensured that waist sizes increased. Since then, the rich part of the world that likes to travel a lot has become more important every year.

Figures from the US health authority CDC show that between 1960 and 2002 both men and women gained an average of almost eleven kilos. Worse still is the proportion of obese people, i.e. those with a body mass index of 30 or more. 33 out of 100 adult Americans are considered to be severely overweight.

According to the German Nutrition Society, seven out of ten men and five out of ten women in Germany weigh too many pounds. 23 percent of men and 24 percent of women are considered obese.

claustrophobia in economy class

The industry has adapted to this. Clothing and shoe sizes in particular are growing with the population. The dimensions of the seats on board aircraft, on the other hand, are usually not adjusted.

On the contrary: your size has decreased. The US passenger association Flyersrights writes that modern seats are designed for people up to a height of 1.79 meters and a weight of less than 81.65 kilos. The standards date from the early 1960s.


Good old days: The business class of an Airbus A340 in the nineties

Source: picture alliance / Mary Evans Picture Library

The result: If you weigh more than 100 kilos, you will swell over the armrests in Economy Class. According to Flyersrights, the average seat pitch has been reduced from 88.90 to 78.74 centimetres. A backrest is only a little over 40 centimeters wide instead of 46 centimeters.

And of course it can always be tighter. The comparison on shows that in Europe not only Easyjet, but also British Airways and Condor are reducing seat pitches to less than 74 centimetres, preferably on short-haul routes. Other airlines such as Lufthansa, Eurowings or Ryanair offer at least 76.2 centimeters of seat pitch – that’s more than Easyjet or Condor, but is still below the average value of 78.74 centimeters determined by Flyersright.

Space is security relevant

Flyersrights criticizes the US aviation authority FAA because it has been delaying the issue of minimum size for flight seats for years. In 2018, Congress asked the authority to submit a corresponding draft law.

According to the consumer association, however, two important aspects are overlooked: On the one hand, it is about the comfort and health of overweight people – they face an increased risk of thrombosis if they have to remain wedged in the narrow rows of seats for hours.

>>>Money solves problems: The First Class bar area on an Emirates plane>>>

Money solves problems: The First Class bar area on an Emirates plane

Source: picture alliance / Flashpic

On the other hand, there is the general question of flight safety in view of the increasing overweight population. If bulky passengers can no longer get out of their shrunken seats quickly enough in an emergency and become an obstacle in the narrow space on board, then flight safety is no longer guaranteed.

“The FAA defines safety too narrowly, namely only for emergencies. They forget that an emergency evacuation can also be affected by the size of the seats,” criticizes Flightrights chairman Paul Hudson. And: “Health and comfort issues are completely excluded.”

You can listen to our WELT podcasts here

In order to display embedded content, your revocable consent to the transmission and processing of personal data is required, since the providers of the embedded content as third-party providers require this consent [In diesem Zusammenhang können auch Nutzungsprofile (u.a. auf Basis von Cookie-IDs) gebildet und angereichert werden, auch außerhalb des EWR]. By setting the switch to “on”, you agree to this (which can be revoked at any time). This also includes your consent to the transfer of certain personal data to third countries, including the USA, in accordance with Art. 49 (1) (a) GDPR. You can find more information about this. You can withdraw your consent at any time via the switch and via privacy at the bottom of the page.

“Aha! Ten minutes of everyday knowledge” is WELT’s knowledge podcast. Every Tuesday and Thursday we answer everyday questions from the field of science. Subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Deezer, Amazon Music, among others, or directly via RSS feed.

The article is in German

Tags: increasingly cramped passengers airplanes

NEXT Nike stock plummets: Nike profit falls as high costs and strong dollar weigh on | 09/30/22