Finding safe solutions to cramped planes

Global Business

Finding safe solutions to cramped planes

Planes across the world have become more cramped and crowded in recent years. Now U.S. regulators are trying to determine whether those packed planes, are affecting passenger safety.

One entrepreneur thinks he’s found a way to address passenger comfort.

CGTN’s Hendrik Sybrandy reports.

On October 28, 2016, an American Airlines Boeing 767 was accelerating for takeoff in Chicago when its right engine caught fire. The takeoff was aborted. It took two minutes, 21 seconds to evacuate the plane, in part because some passengers insisted on grabbing their carry-on luggage. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration requires that aircraft be evacuated within 90 seconds in case of an emergency.

“I don’t believe we can meet the standard anymore of 90 seconds which has been deemed to be critical,” said Peter DeFazio, Chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, during a hearing in September.

DeFazio helped push for tests being conducted this month at an F.A.A. facility in Oklahoma which will study whether jam-packed planes slow down evacuations.

“People are getting bigger, they’re carrying more stuff with them,” said Mike Boyd, an aviation consultant who heads Boyd Group International. He said that contributes to the sense of crowding on flights that are now more than 80% full globally. He pointed out the distance between rows of seats on planes has narrowed in recent years. It’s a safety issue for the government, but also, he argued, a comfort concern.

“You’re sitting in a 29 inch seat pitch,” Boyd said, referring to the separation between rows. “I mean you’ve got to have your acrobat suit on to get seated. So that’s what’s really driving it.”

“They’ve gone and compressed more and more people in less and less space and they’ve bottomed out,” said Hank Scott, Molon Labe C.E.O. “And the people have said no more.”

Scott thinks he’s found a solution to the space issue, one that came from personal experience.

“I just was constantly in the middle, getting squished and I thought there has to be a better way,” he said.

Scott developed a middle airplane seat that sits slightly lower and behind the adjoining seats and is almost 13 centimeters wider. He said the middle seat offers more room for the shoulders and fewer “elbow wars.” He added the staggered layout has drawn interest from a number of airlines and he thinks it could become the industry standard.

In the meantime, the F.A.A. is looking at whether there are simply too many seats on airplanes by relying on those evacuation tests, 60 volunteers at a time.

Money will be paid to the first ones off the planes to simulate the panic of a real emergency. More seats typically mean more revenues for airlines. Boyd said it’s about finding the right balance.

“It’s been tried where airlines have taken seats off the airplane, given you more legroom. Nobody cares,” Boyd said. “They will still book the lowest fare out there.”

The U.S. Congress said it wants minimum standards for seat sizes and distance between rows which, along with innovations like the middle seat, could smooth out the flying experience and make emergencies more survivable in the future.