FAA Seat Suit Lacked Sincerity

There has been all sorts of talk about the failure of this law suit to demand a higher minimum legroom standard from the FAA on commercial passenger flights. But it was doomed to fail with an agency like the FAA. And why it failed is important to understand if we are to improve the situation at Sea-Tac. It’s all about sincerity. And that law suit, like so many attempts to achieve justice these days, failed because it was insincere.

That law suit (cleverly, they must’ve thought) argued that the tiny seats would be a threat to ‘safety’. So as a response the FAA did what it does so well… it ran some tests. The FAA is great at doing tests! Dotting all the ‘i’s and crossing all the ‘t’s. It loves process. And studies. And results. And the hard results (according to the FAA, of course) is that the cramped leg room doesn’t impact on ‘safety’… ie. the ability for people to get out of their seats and head quickly (but calmly!) to the nearest exit.

What those clever, clever protesters apparently neglected to notice is that going up against the FAA is like playing against the casino–they own the table! They ran the tests. They evaluate and publish the results. It’s their show. And if the protesters had anywhere near the experience with the FAA that we do, they might not have chosen such a ‘clever’ strategy.

Of course, the protesters have a totally valid complaint. Everyone knows that the seats are ridiculously cramped and simply unfair to the traveling public. But their legal team didn’t sue based on ‘fairness’. Fairness is not recognized as grounds to sue the FAA. And unfortunately, you can’t go before a Federal judge and say, “Look, I’m not quite sure which law applies here, but this situation is unfair. Fix it.” You can only get a ruling on the specific grounds you bring with you. Their legal team knew they had no case by bringing before the court the real reason they were suing. So they manufactured one. They were insincere.

Many movements, especially with regard to social issues, follow this sort of plan these days. They use some goofy loophole or find some arcane detail in the law to win the relief they desire, but not what they are legally asking for in their lawsuits. From immigration to gay rights this has become common place. But I do not think one can win with the FAA like that. Because as I said, unlike many government agencies, they are the casino.

I don’t know exactly what it will take to get more leg room. But the lesson I think I’ve learned about Sea-Tac is that one needs to be sincere. If we are going to be successful in fighting for what is simple fairness, we have to be willing to be sincere. And that suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucks. Sincere is slow. Sincere means changing hearts and minds. Sincere is punishing.

We cannot look for legal loopholes or count on some Deus Ex Machina from on high to save us. Ironically, such beliefs only take longer to achieve results than if we work to muster ground support now and not rely on those ‘shortcuts’. If we are to have relief, we have to be willing to earn it–by generating enough genuine support from the public to make it in the interest of the Port to deal with us fairly. We have to be sincere.

PS: Years ago, I had a friend who worked for Boeing and she gave me all kinds of information on how planes are built and sold. For example, did you know that literally every commercial airplane is virtually custom made? An airline can specify thousands of parameters for every plane it orders. As a former engineer, to me the truly amazing thing about Boeing is that they offer an essentially bespoke airplane, but send them out the door as efficiently as if they were Model-Ts. Leg room is just one. And if you wanted to purchase a 777 of your own, you can specify your own seating plan based on the number of inches you choose to allow each passenger. You just plug in the number of rows and so on and the ‘configurator’ tells you how many inches each passenger gets. She used to give me a sheet showing how much leg room each airline offered. I used that as my ticket selection guidebook for a number of years.

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