Brazil’s national aviation agency to introduce legroom-rating label

Starting March 2011, airlines in Brazil must inform passengers how much legroom their economy class seats will have on their flights. Brazil’s National Civil Aviation Agency (ANAC) has developed a five-tiered ranking system that assigns a letter grade and color to seat pitch and seat width. The label is modelled on those used in the sale of white goods and cars. The airlines will have to inform passengers the available seat space at the time of purchase. The rankings will also be displayed on a label right near the seat. ANAC says the aim of the label is to prepare people for what to expect when it comes to their in-flight comfort.

The ratings range from A — indicating at least 73 centimeters (28.7 inches) from headrest to headrest — with each category going down in two-centimeter increments. An E rating indicates less than 67 centimeters (26.4 inches) between seats. Exit and bulkhead rows are excluded from the rankings. The initiative was created by ANAC after Defense Minister Nelson Jobim, who is 6 foot 3 inches (1.92m) tall, complained publicly how he tried to squeeze into an economy seat. The agency believes Brazil may be the first country to introduce such a system.

To set the standards, ANAC took ‘knee to buttock’ measurements of 5,300 passengers at 20 Brazilian airports. It also found that the point of greatest discomfort for passengers is seat width rather than seat pitch. Of the 22 types of seats assessed, 17 had a seat pitch of 73.6 cm (29 inch) and above, which accomodated 95 percent of passengers. According to ANAC, the optimal lenght for passengers would be 76.2cm (30 inch) though. However, seat backs on most aircraft are on average 45 cm (17.7 inch) wide, while the shoulders of about 70 percent of passengers surveyed were wider than 45 cm. 

On a related note, UK low-cost airline Flybe in 2007 introduced an extensive labelling scheme, that provides passengers with information about the ‘local environment’ (noise rating, CO2 and NOX emissions on landing and take-off), ‘journey environment’ (fuel consumption and CO2 emissions per seat by journey length), and ‘passenger environment’ (leg-room and the number of seats) of the carrier’s aircraft. The label is shown to customers booking a ticket online, on the outside of all Flybe aircraft, and in the seat back of every seat.

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