A federal appeals court on Friday ordered the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to investigate smaller airplane seats after an advocacy group claimed small seat sizes are unsafe.
The court’s order follows the FAA refusing a request from the Flyers Rights passenger group to write rules regarding seat size and space between rows and seats.
Three judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the FAA needs to review the group’s request.
Judge Patricia Millet, who wrote for the three judges, pushed back on the FAA’s claim that seat size did not affect a passenger’s ability to evacuate the plane in an emergency scenario. She said the FAA cannot make such a claim without evidence.
“We applaud the court’s decision, and the path to larger seats has suddenly become a bit wider,” Flyers Rights spokeswoman Kendall Creighton said in a statement to Fox Business.
The Flyers Rights group claims smaller seats that are close together could affect passengers’ ability to get off of a plane in an emergency, as well as increase the risk of passengers developing blood clots.
“We are studying the ruling carefully and any potential actions we may take to address the court’s findings,” FAA spokesman Greg Martin said in a statement to Reuters.
Airline seat sizes have become increasingly smaller in recent years. The average seat width has decreased from eighteen inches to 16.5 inches over the past ten years, according to Reuters.
The matter could lead to a showdown in Congress, with the House considering legislation that would make the FAA set a minimum seat size on planes and minimum distance between rows.