Nearly a dozen consumer and air passenger rights organizations are calling out the Federal Aviation Administration, saying the agency's current testing standards for evacuation are obsolete and put passengers at risk.

Earlier this month, CNN reported the FAA plans to run tests in November to see if current seat configurations are safe for modern passengers. The issue made headlines after lawmakers raised concerns about people getting bigger while airlines continue to shrink the size of seats.

A letter sent Monday to FAA Administrator Steve Dickson and U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao states the current tests rely on standards determined in the 1990s.

"Airline travel has changed significantly over the last 20 years, with shrinking seats and record passenger loads, a high influx of carry-on bags, scattered seating of families, ubiquitous electronic gadgets and cords and even on-board animals," said William J. McGee, aviation adviser for Consumer Reports, in a release Monday. "It is critical that the FAA's methodology changes as well, so that this vital testing accurately reflects real-world scenarios, where the stakes are often life-and-death."

According to the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, the agency is tasked with reviewing any changes to passenger seating configurations including seat width, padding, reclining, size pitch, leg room and aisle width. The same section also charges the FAA with making changes based on "passenger demographics" and requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act that effect emergency evacuations.

The groups said the November tests need to be updated to include the following factors:

  • Record-high passenger loads 
  • Tighter seats and larger passengers
  • Increased amount of carry-on baggage
  • Passengers taking baggage during evacuations
  • Parents separated from children
  • Distractions and obstacles created by passenger electronics
  • Makeup of test participants
  • Passengers with disabilities

According to the letter, the groups says the FAA has given no indication that it will update the standards before the November tests.

"We hope you agree that it is essential that FAA tests not simply rubber-stamp airlines’ current and future safety-questionable seating configurations for purposes of meeting the FAA’s 90-second evacuation threshold," the letter reads.

The letter was signed by the National Consumers League, Business Travel Coalition, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Reports, EdOnTravel.com, FlyersRights.org, Travel Fairness Now, Travelers United and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund.

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