Lawmakers Try Yet Again To Create Minimum Seat Size Requirement On Planes

Image courtesy of John Kittelsrud

If at first you don’t succeed, just keep proposing legislation: A group of lawmakers Thursday introduced a pair of bills that would create a seat-size standard for commercial airlines, as well as a minimum distance between rows of seats. 

The companion bills — dubbed the Seat Egress in Air Travel (SEAT) Act — were introduced in the House and Senate Thursday and are modeled after previous amendments to the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Bill introduced in 2016.

The text of the bill does not specify any dimensions for seat widths or legroom. Rather, if the legislation is passed, the particulars would be left up to the FAA to sort out.

“Airline passengers are tired of being squeezed,” Rep. Steve Cohen (TN) said in a statement. “Shrinking seat sizes in airplanes isn’t just a matter of comfort but the safety and health of passengers as well. Planes need to be capable of rapid evacuation in case of emergency. In addition, doctors have warned that deep vein thrombosis can afflict passengers who do not move their legs enough during longer flights.

Though seat size may vary from airline to airline, Cohen notes that the average distance between rows of seats has dropped from 35 inches before airline deregulation in the 1970s, to around 31 inches today. Your backside is getting the squeeze, as well, as the average width of an airline seat has also shrunk from 18 inches to about 16.5 inches.

Lawmakers’ last attempt to set a standard seat size was shot down last year. If it had succeeded, existing seat sizes and spacing would have remained in place, but any future changes would have to remain above whatever minimum the FAA set. Additionally, airlines would have been required to post information about their seat sizes so that travelers could use this information to help make their choice of carrier.

In the House, the SEAT Act is co-sponsored by Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. The Senate version, introduced by Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, is co-sponsored by Chuck Schumer (NY), Ed Markey (MA), Bob Menendez (NJ), and Dianne Feinstein (CA).