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Sen. Duckworth asks FAA to examine plane seat sizes, evacuation standards

Sen. Duckworth asks FAA to examine plane seat sizes
Sen. Duckworth asks FAA to examine plane seat sizes 00:32

WASHINGTON (CBS) -- U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) are asking the Federal Aviation Administration to study whether seats on airplanes are too small.

The senators on Thursday reintroduced the Emergency Vacating of Aircraft Cabin (EVAC) Act – asking the FAA to do cabin tests with more realistic conditions.

Duckworth criticized the last study from 2019 – which used fewer passengers than a typical commercial flight and did not include seniors, people with disabilities, or any carry-on luggage.

Current FAA standards require passengers – regardless of age or ability – to be able to evacuate an aircraft within 90 seconds. But the senators said the recent simulation tests failed to take into full account whether a flight was full or mostly empty, whether any passengers had mobility issues, and other real-life conditions.

The senators cited a story by CBS News Correspondent Kris Van Cleave in their criticisms of the tests.

"Imagine being on a crowded flight when the worst-case scenario happens: the crew tells you that you have 90 seconds to evacuate—but how can more than 150 passengers on a crowded flight actually safely evacuate in less time than it takes to brush your teeth?" Duckworth said in a news release. "While we know that aviation is one of the safest ways to travel, we can't put our heads in the sand and ignore the risks that come with ever-growing numbers of passengers on each individual flight. That's why Senator Baldwin and I are reintroducing the Emergency Vacating of Aircraft Cabins (EVAC) Act to require the FAA to finally establish evacuation standards that take real-life conditions into account like the presence of carry-on bags, children, seniors and passengers with disabilities. We must act to make flying as safe as we know it can be—and as safe as Americans deserve."

"Every American should be able to fly with dignity and peace of mind knowing that safety protocols are in place that take every passenger into account," Baldwin said in the release. "That's why in the event of an emergency, it's critical the Federal Aviation Administration considers realistic circumstances like heavy luggage and passengers of different ages, sizes, and abilities when checking evacuation and safety plans are effective. Our legislation will ensure Americans and their loved ones are safe when flying because that is what they demand and deserve."  

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee) has introduced an identical companion bill in the House of Representatives.

"I have long held doubts that the FAA's 90-second evacuation standard can be met in most instances, which is why I previously introduced and passed the Seat Egress in Air Travel (SEAT) Act to require the agency to establish minimum standards for seat sizes and distances between rows of seats in order to ensure passengers can safely evacuate," Cohen, Ranking Member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation, said in the release. "The EVAC Act will ensure the FAA's emergency evacuation standards address the needs of all members of the flying public, including those with disabilities."

The FAA said the most recent tests were to determine any safety issues – not comfort – and says there were no obstacles that would pose a risk to flyers.

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