Last updated: 03:00 AM ET, Tue March 08 2016

Sen. Schumer Takes Seat-Size Fight to FAA Reauthorization Bill

Airlines & Airports | Rich Thomaselli | March 08, 2016

Sen. Schumer Takes Seat-Size Fight to FAA Reauthorization Bill

PHOTO: Sen. Charles Schumer could look to add an amendment regulating seat-size standards in to the FAA Reauthorization Bill. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), the self-appointed – if not de facto – watchdog over the airline industry, is on the attack again.

This time, Schumer wants government regulation of seat size on aircraft, and is proposing to require the Federal Aviation Administration to establish seat-size standards for commercial airlines.

His method to arrive at such a standardization might be controversial, however – Schumer is proposing an amendment to the FAA Reauthorization Bill already put before Congress. But the bill has already come under severe scrutiny.

Under the proposed legislation, the nation’s air traffic control system would be removed from the oversight of the FAA and its management privatized. U.S.  House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman Bill Shuster (R-Penn.) put up the bill last month. Proponents say it is part of a much-needed plan to overhaul air traffic control; critics say a private company should not have control over such decisions as gate assignments, new taxes and fees.

Whether Schumer would be able to sneak another amendment into the proposal at this late stage with the bill under such divisive rhetoric remains to be seen.

But he is insistent.

"One of the most vexing things when you travel on an airplane is there's almost no legroom on your standard flight," Schumer told the Associated Press. "There's been constant shrinkage by the airlines."

Schumer said seat standardization needs to be regulated to stop airlines from continuing to shrink seats, a phenomenon that has been taking place over the last several years as airlines try to add to revenue by adding more seats.

"They're like sardines," Schumer said of airplane passengers. "It's no secret that airlines are looking for more ways to cut costs, but they shouldn't be cutting inches of legroom and seat width in the process ... It's time for the FAA to step up and stop this deep-seated problem from continuing."

Schumer has emerged as an airline passenger advocate in the last 18 months or so, lobbying for screening of airline employees, chiding IATA for its proposal for new carry-on luggage sizes, and urging the Department of Justice to investigate possible airline collusion.

Schumer has also asked for a federal investigation into airlines that refuse to allow third-party websites, such as online travel agencies (OTAs), to market their fares. The senator is asking for transparency across the board so that consumers can see all their pricing options when trying to book a flight.

The Associated Press pointed out that there are currently no federal limits on how close an airline's row of seats can be or how wide an airline's seat must be.

A spokesman for the FAA told the AP that agency officials "look forward to reviewing" Schumer's proposal, while Airlines for America, the lobby group for U.S. airlines, opposes the proposed regulation.

"We believe the government should not regulate, but instead market forces, which reflect consumer decisions and competition should determine what is offered," spokeswoman Jean Medina told the Associated Press. "As with any commercial product or service, customers vote every day with their wallet."


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