getting around

‘I Didn’t Pick This Height’

Photo: Matt May/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Did you know that there is no federal standard regulating minimum seat dimensions on passenger airplanes? And that the Federal Aviation Administration is currently soliciting public comment on the matter? Well, both things are true. “The ghost of shrinking airplane seats is back,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote in a statement on Sunday. “The good news is we’ve vanquished this specter before.” In 2018, Congress directed the FAA to come up with some rules around seat size, and now, a mere three years later, the agency has solicited public comment on how you feel about sitting with your knees pressed into a fellow passenger’s back while you try to watch Moana.

The comment page, with over 13,000 contributions, is home to a number of strong and well-reasoned arguments about why seat size matters: More seat room means greater accessibility, greater comfort, and greater likelihood you’ll actually be able to store your bag above the place you’re sitting instead of in the way back near the bathrooms. But there are also some weird ones — it is, after all, a public-comment page, one of the most vivacious places on the internet. Let’s run through a few of them:

“I don’t want to sit on the lap of a stranger (again) because there’s not enough room to move by,” writes one commenter. The “again” is intriguing. How many times did this person sit on the lap of a stranger?

Others used the opportunity to talk about sitting in a more general sense: “I object to the seats being able to lean so far back. If you are in the middle seat and the one in front of you leans all the way back, there is no way you can get out,” a person named Shirley writes. Another commenter, Lydia, shares the sentiment: “By the way, just eliminate reclining seats.” (Shirley, Lydia — I completely understand, but that is not what we’re here to discuss.)

Then there is the tall-person-rights contingent. Kevin writes: “I am a rather tall person — I stand at 6’3” — so the current standard of 31–32” is rather tight. I would like to see at least an additional 1” to 2” to provide me with the necessary room to move within the cabin.” He ends on a very fair point (“I didn’t pick this height”) and a potential solution (“Airlines should be required to waive the charge if the passenger is taller than 6’5.”). A commenter named Mark appeared to use the forum just to brag about how tall his sons are: six-foot-five and six-foot-seven.

There was also the plight of the long-armed: “At 5’10” I also have long arms,” one commenter writes. “Narrowing the seats means i have no space to rest my arm other than my lap … Last week I flew direct from NYC to San Diego on a plane with smaller seats. On the flight out I accidentally turned off the volume for my neighbor’s TV with my arm on the arm rest.”

A commenter named Jan submitted her views in the form of a poem:

“First of all it is too difficult to find the site to complain about the small seats on airplanes.

Second of all, flying has become incredibly uncomfortable in these small seats.

They make me NEVER want to fly on a domestic flight again.

I am 5’ tall and less then a hundred pounds and can’t fit in these seats.

It is like flying in a sardine can.

In this day and age of Covid passengers are too close together.

It is also unhealthy to sit in such a cramped position for so many hours.

It’s shameful and inhumane to expect the public to tolerate such conditions.

Enough is enough and I am officially registering this complaint.”

You have until November 1 to leave your own comment.

‘I Didn’t Pick This Height’