Last updated: 01:58 PM ET, Thu February 11 2016

Will a US Rep. Successfully Halt the Incredible Shrinking Airline Seat?

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | February 11, 2016

Will a US Rep. Successfully Halt the Incredible Shrinking Airline Seat?

Everyone has, at one time or another, complained about the size of their economy class airline seat. Legroom and seat width leave plenty to be desired, and verbal or physical fights have been known to break out when someone reclines in order to get a few extra inches of stretching space. 

Congressman fights shrinking seats

Yes, everyone complains about seat size, but one U.S. Congressman is actually trying to do something about it. Representative Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Tennessee, wants to regulate the size of airline seats. What makes him different from most of the other people who would like to see this take place is that he might actually be able to pull it off. Cohen sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Aviation, and he plans to introduce legislation that would create a required minimum seat size for all U.S. airlines.   

Cohen has even come up with a catchy acronym for his bill, calling it the Seat Egress in Air Travel Act (the SEAT Act).

READ MORE: How A Revolutionary Design Could Redeem The Middle Seat

A very timely bill

Airlines have been trying to decrease operational costs. One way to do this is by squeezing more seats onto planes so that they can earn more revenue per flight. 

Cohen thinks that this trend of shrinking sitting space is an issue that is about more than comfort. He pointed to a few different concerns related to health and safety: 

"The Federal Aviation Administration requires that planes be capable of rapid evacuation in case of emergency, yet they haven't conducted emergency evacuation tests on all of today's smaller seats… Doctors have also warned that deep vein thrombosis can afflict passengers who can't move their legs during longer flights."

Cohen has a couple of chances to get the SEAT Act up for a vote. He will introduce it as a standalone bill and also attempt to include it as an amendment to the FAA reauthorization bill that will come up for a vote at the end of March. 

Seats are indeed getting smaller

Seats have not only been getting smaller, but lighter as well. Passengers who have flown on newer aircraft might have noticed thinner padding (and, therefore, less comfortable seats). For airlines, every ounce counts in the quest for greater fuel efficiency. Southwest, for example, says that new, lighter and smaller seats in its airplanes will save it at least $10 million per year on fuel costs. Meanwhile, United claims that newly installed seats in its Airbus A320s will make its planes half a ton lighter.

READ MORE: Could More Comfortable Airline Seats Be On The Way?

Airplane manufacturers are also trying to squeeze extra seats into their current and new designs in order to meet airlines’ needs. Both carriers and manufacturers have said that the new seats are smaller, but the designs are different than older seats, so they actually feel larger than they are. Passengers will have to judge for themselves whether or not this is true.

Cohen’s SEAT Act might not actually make seats any larger, but, if passed in one form or another, it could stop them from shrinking any further. 


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