December 16, 2022

Amid Holiday Travel Season, Duckworth Highlights New Legislation to Ensure Real-Life Conditions Like Seat Size are Considered in Aircraft Emergency Evacuation Standards


[CHICAGO, IL] – As the holiday travel season continues and millions of Americans are set to board crowded flights in the next few weeks, today U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) highlighted her new legislation to prioritize passenger safety. At O’Hare International Airport, Duckworth spoke on the importance of her recently introduced Emergency Vacating of Aircraft Cabin (EVAC) Act, which would ensure the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) do more to prioritize passenger safety by appropriately considering seat size, carry-on baggage, people with disabilities, seniors and children in its emergency evacuation standards. Joining Duckworth to show their support for her legislation today included Captain C.B. “Sully” Sullenberger, Association of Flight Attendants United AFA Chicago President Scott Pejas and Allied Pilots Association Communications Committee Chairman Captain Dennis Tajer. Photos from today’s event are available here.

“Imagine being on a crowded flight when the worst-case scenario happens: the crew tells you that you have 90 seconds to evacuate—but in the chaos and terror of this emergency, can more than 150 passengers sandwiched into crowded rows actually safely evacuate in less time than it takes to brush your teeth?” Duckworth said. “The flying public deserves better. That’s why I introduced the Emergency Vacating of Aircraft Cabins Act to require the FAA to finally establish evacuation standards that consider not just seat size, pitch and configuration, but other real-life conditions like the presence of carry-on bags and passengers of different heights, weights, ages and abilities.”

“As one of the few people who has had to command the evacuation of an airliner after an emergency landing, I have seen firsthand how challenging it can be,” Sullenberger said. “These safety improvements are long overdue. This bill improves passenger and crew safety by making aircraft evacuation standards better reflect the reality of emergency evacuations, and will save lives when seconds count.”

Recent FAA simulations to determine the impact of smaller seat size and smaller seat pitch on passengers’ ability to safely evacuate within 90 seconds were limited to test subjects who were all adults under age 60. Additionally, according to CBS News, the tests did not include the presence of obstacles like carry-on baggage that could slow down an evacuation, and were conducted in groups of just 60, while Boeing 737 MAX 8 seating capacity, for instance, ranges from 162 to 178. Then-FAA Administrator Steve Dickson even conceded the tests “provide useful, but not necessarily definitive information.”

The EVAC Act would direct the FAA to issue a rule establishing evacuation standards that take into account certain real-life conditions including:

  • Passengers of different ages, including young children and senior citizens
  • Passengers of different heights and weights
  • Passengers with disabilities
  • Passengers who do not speak English
  • Passengers who cannot speak, are non-vocal or non-verbal
  • Presence of carry-on luggage and personal items like purses, backpacks and briefcases
  • Seat size and pitch
  • Seat configuration, location, and other obstacles in pathway to exit

Duckworth introduced this legislation in the Senate with U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). An identical companion bill was introduced in the House by Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN-09), who authored the law that led the FAA to conduct these simulation tests.

This legislation is supported by a broad coalition: the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), Transport Workers Union of America (TWU), Allied Pilots Association (APA), Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger,, AARP, American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), National League of Cities, Paralyzed Veterans of America, National Association of the Deaf, Judith Heumann, World Institute on Disability, Autism Society of America, Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), American Foundation for the Blind, Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF), Muscular Dystrophy Association, All Wheels Up, Amputee Coalition, Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, United Spinal Association, ALS Association, Access Ready and American Council of the Blind.