Airline airplane seats
Airline seats. Arnd Wiegmann/REUTERS

This summer a federal court ordered the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to look into shrinking seat sizes in coach on airline carriers and determine its effect on passenger safety. In the court case a judge called the situation “a plausible life-and-death safety concern.”

Safety testing for the airlines is outdated and that no airline has coach seats with enough space to meet the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) guidelines for flight attendant safety, a new investigative report by the Daily Beast Wednesday discovered.

Flyers Rights, an advocacy group for airline passengers brought the suit against the FAA. The group said that the smaller seat space can lead to longer evacuation times. The space between rows has shrunk from 35 inches to between 28 and 31 inches, according to CBS News.

“The biggest concern is that you won’t be able to get out in time before you’re overcome by smoke or fire,” said Paul Hudson, president of Flyers Rights in a Wednesday interview with CBS News. “You won't be able to get into the brace position which means your head will hit the seat in front of you and break your skull.”

The FAA requires that airplane, regardless of size, be able to be evacuated in 90 seconds or less with at least half of the exits blocked. A critique of these tests is that they are done in a hangar and often not in emergency landing conditions.

A 2015 Delta flight that veered off of a snowy at La Guardia Airport in New York City, for example, took 17 minutes to deplane.

Besides limiting egress, another concern of tight airplane seats is the risk of head trauma in the event of a crash or hard landing.

Seat pitch size refers the axis of space a passenger has from the bottom of their seat. If a passenger were to lean forward either to crouch or by forced impact, the pitch is how much space they have in relation to the seat in from of them. The DOT requires at least 35 inches for flight attendants, but no airline offers any more than 32 inches for passengers.

The FAA has until December 28th to respond to the court’s ruling.