Yesterday, in a Congressional hearing before the House Aviation Subcommittee, Lori Bassani--national president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), which represents more than 28,000 American Airlines flight attendants--blew the whistle on increasingly uncomfortable and unsafe airline seats. Said Bassani in her presentation:

It is a torture chamber for our passengers and for us, that also fly on our own airlines. We find that the seats are not only getting smaller, but there's no padding on them anymore.

Having flown numerous flights on Southwest Airlines over the past six months, I can personally attest to the fact that there's increasingly less seating space in standard economy. Forget working on a laptop during a flight. And if the person in front of you reclines their seat, then you'll be even more uncomfortable.

But, even worse says Lori Bassani, all these seats jammed so close together are creating a major potential safety issue. According to FAA regulations, in an emergency, aircraft are required to be capable of being evacuated within 90 seconds. Given the tight quarters on most aircraft today, Bassani says that meeting this requirement is "almost impossible." She continues,

The passengers already--in the normal case of getting on or off the airplane--are having difficult times getting into the aisle to sit down. Can you imagine in a stressful situation trying to evacuate in a real life scenario passengers from a plane that is burning or that is half tilted or upside down?

Unfortunately, it seems to be a race to the bottom for the major airlines. To offer the lowest prices, airlines cut costs relentlessly while maximizing the number of passengers on each flight. While this is great for the bottom line, it's not so great for passenger comfort--and perhaps safety.

At the end of her presentation, Bassani thanked the committee chairman:

I want to thank you for the seat I'm in today, because it's a lot more comfortable than what I flew down here in.