FAA Requiring Airlines to Remove Unsafe Slimline Seats from Some Regional Aircraft

The FAA has ordered removal of some seats from smaller jets because of a safety issue. They’re seats that customers generally hate, but the reason for the removal is different than why customers hate them.

Airlines use uncomfortable slimline seats with less padding to move seats closer together while maintaining a minimum amount of legroom. The safety issue that’s been identified with “‘Slim’ or ‘Slimplus’ seats made by Zodiac Seats California LLC” used on smaller planes is not how close the seats are together. Instead it’s how this specific seat creates a risk of neck injury in the event of a crash.

Videos reviewed by the FAA and Brazil’s civil aviation organization found that in a collision, a passenger might slide down the seat with the chin to hit the tray table on the seat ahead in a way that seriously injures the neck.

This issue appears to affect American, Delta, United, Republic and SkyWest operating Boeing 717; MD-90; Bombardier CRJ7, CRJ900, and Q400s; and Embraer ERJ170 and E190 aircraft.

The FAA estimates the cost of compliance with their airworthiness directive at about $900,000 … but they’re literally just estimating the cost to remove the seats and not to purchase or install replacement seats. So naturally airlines are unhappy with the costs they’re going to be forced to incur.

[T]he FAA didn’t include replacing the seats in its estimate. Airlines, including some from other countries worried about meeting the standard, complained it would be uneconomical to fly with fewer seats on their planes.

SkyWest Airlines of St. George, Utah, for example, said it would cost $250,000 to $500,000 to replace the seats on each of the 120 affected planes in its fleet. SkyWest is a regional carrier that operates feeder flights for the USA’s four biggest airlines: American, Delta, United and Alaska.

Airlines are being given 5 years to remove the estimated 10,482 of these seats currently flying on US airlines.

Zodiac, SkyWest and Delta requested that the FAA allow for modifications to the seats instead of replacement. The FAA “refused to delay the order, but said if Zodiac develops a remedy short of removing the seats, it could be approved at that time.”

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Do people really “hate” slimline seats? I know you hate them but my sense is that most people don’t even notice them. I think they’re just being accepted as the “new norm.” They do hate a lack of legroom, however.

    Personally, I haven’t had a horrible experience with a slimline. I don’t really even notice the difference anymore. I suspect that if I had to sit in one for 10 hours on an ultra-long-haul, it might be a different story.

  2. The 90 minutes I spent sitting in one of these seats flying from JAX-IAD on a United EM170 felt like I had spent three hours on the aluminum bleachers watching my son’s high school football game. Hope the only remedy is replacement.

  3. Seems that FAA approval prior to installing these seats on your entire fleet would have been prudent.

  4. There are different slim line seats. Of course we hate the uncomfortable ones. It’s all about the seat padding and the distance being flown. I can’t imagine that they wont just come up with a fix. Maybe just glue a pool noodle piece onto the tray table. 🙂

  5. Yes, I “hate” the slimline seats (and am not alone), it’s not complicated – they are effing abominations

  6. The solution is obvious and inexpensive – the airlines can just remove the tray tables, thus even saving money on fuel without the weight of all the tray tables. After all, customers don’t need a tray table with their laptops in the cargo hold or to eat a bag of 3 peanuts, a

    –Delta Investor relations, 2017

  7. @ DaninMCI — It would certainly make a worthwhile blogpost for someone to compare and contrast the different slimline seats. I suspect you are correct: they are not all created equal. Nor do they necessarily have to be. Like I recently flew Hawaiian on a less-than-one-hour interisland flight. This was as close to a flying bus as you could get: all slimlines with very little legroom. But given the short flight distance, it was completely fine. It would honestly be stupid for them to provide more comfort for such a short haul. But I would want more comfort on, say, a transcon flight.

  8. Slim lines are cra. The airlines know it that’s why they let their staff fly using upgraded seats. Force the idiots running the airlines to sit in them all in their orifices and see how they like it. Who cares about how it costs them, they didn’t cry about the costs when they switched over to them

  9. Am I the only person that actually doesn’t mind slimline seats on the American ERJ’s? I usually sit in MCE, and have no issues with legroom…

  10. The slim line seats are horrible–just too hard. Like sitting on bricks. After about 90 minutes, I was in pain from the hardness of the seat. I spent most of the rest of the flight walking up and down the aisle. I am flying less now–I check available flights in advance for any that don’t have the torture rack seats yet. I can manage flights up to 2 hours long with those seats, but otherwise, I just don’t fly if there’s no flight with decent seats.

  11. Was on SkyWest fought from Bay Area to Seattle. The leg room was awful. Person in front of me had seat reclined the whole time and flight attendant didn’t tell him to put it up at landing. Start kept hitting my knees…. I’m 48, 5’10 with longer legs than normal so I say with my knees angled to the left the entire flight… Talk about uncomfortable!!!!! To make it worse we had a rough landing and with little of any paying at all in the seats the impact crushed and tore 3 discs that had a massive herniation. During surgery the surgeon says he had to pick bone fragments from my spine. 2 years later…3 spine surgeries so far and 2 more to go I’ll opt for first class seats from now on…..

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