Last updated: 11:30 AM ET, Fri April 08 2016

Senate Drops Plan to Regulate Airplane Seat Size

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | April 08, 2016

Senate Drops Plan to Regulate Airplane Seat Size

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

One of the most interesting (from a flier’s perspective) parts of the current FAA reauthorization bill being discussed in the U.S. Senate has to do with regulating the size of seats in commercial airplanes. 

This idea, introduced by New York's Charles “Chuck” Schumer, has been applauded by passengers who feel like they are getting more and more smashed in their seats, especially on domestic routes that are served by smaller aircraft.

Stopping seats from getting any smaller

Schumer's amendment would have set minimums for seat size, pitch, width and even amount of padding. It would also have put standards in place for the width of aisles. 

Not only would the amendment have stopped airline seats from shrinking any further, but it would have also required airlines to disclose seat sizes when they sold tickets so that people would know exactly what they were getting. 

It's not going to happen

Unfortunately, for fliers, the Senate has decided to drop Schumer’s amendment from the current FAA reauthorization bill. There was a vote and 54 senators opposed the inclusion of the "Seat Size Act." 

Why did the Senate drop something that would obviously have proven popular with fliers (in a major election year)? The air travel industry was universally opposed to the measure. Airlines and their lobbyists complained that putting requirements on seat size would bring the industry closer to re-regulation, and the current growth that carriers are experiencing would be hampered. 

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

Let the market decide

Airlines have countered complaints about seat size by saying that they have begun to offer more class options, such as premium economy, which give passengers the ability to purchase more leg room and seat width.

Also, carriers contended that most fliers actually want cheaper fares, not more comfortable seating. The way to give them what they want is to try to pack as many seats as possible into planes. 

The Senate apparently agreed with this “let the free market decide” logic. 42 senators did vote to keep the seat-size amendment in the bill. The vote was mainly along party lines, with Democrats wanting to keep the seat-size issue, and Republicans voting to drop it. 

Security measures approved

Other measures for the FAA bill were also up for vote. Most of those that were approved for inclusion in the FAA bill had to do with airport security. These included making more funding available to train law enforcement to deal with attacks similar to the one that recently occurred in Brussels. Rules that would lead to increased vetting of airport employees with access to secure areas was also approved. 

READ MORE: How Airlines Are Getting Creative in Squeezing More Passengers into Planes

Another item that was approved for inclusion in the bill would require the TSA to increase the effort to enroll more passengers in its PreCheck program. It would also require the security agency to make sure that PreCheck checkpoints were open and able to handle a higher volume of passengers during peak travel times. 

The defeat of Schumer’s seat-size bill is a loss for fliers who want more comfort while they are in the air. It looks like they will now have to take matters into their own hands by not flying at all or by choosing airlines that offer more leg room and more seat seat width than their competitors. If airlines start losing business because of their cramped seating, they will have no choice but to stop the seat-shrinking trend. 

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