Congress is nowhere near ready to regulate seating on passenger jets, and a recent vote in House committee proves it. In other words, airlines can keep shrinking airplane seats and make air travel as uncomfortable as they want without worrying about breaking any laws.
What’s clear from recent proposals for airplane seating is that airlines are considering reducing the available space per passenger even further, in an effort to increase maximum load without actually buying bigger planes.
“I am disappointed,” Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tennessee, said in a statement. “This was a vote against the safety and health of airline passengers,” he added, referring to the 26-33 defeat of a bill that would have asked for standard seating space on passenger jets.
The vote was part of the House transportation committee’s vote on amendments to a bill to fund the Federal Aviation Administration, CNN reports. According to Cohen, average seat width has shrunk by 1.5 inches in more than 40 years – seats measured 18 inches wide in 1970s, but now they’re about 16.5 inches.
The issue isn’t just about comfort, Cohen said, as it also concerns passenger safety. The FAA is putting passengers at risk because there hasn’t been adequate emergency evacuation testing for seating where rows are set with a pitch of under 29 inches. The term “pitch” refers to the distance between any point on one seat to the same point on the seat in front of it.
Cohen says that airline seats are “hard to get out of” and “they keep getting smaller and smaller,” in response to other committee members who said that the bill already contains provisions for evaluating airline evac procedures.
“We’re down to four major carriers and they do what they want,” Cohen said, adding that he won’t give up on his plan to regulate airplane seating.
Not everybody agrees with Cohen. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Illinois, responded that “I think we got to the root of the issue as a whole. It’s your issue with the airline industry.”
Unsurprisingly, the airlines don’t agree either. Washington airline lobbyist group Airlines for America said in a statement on Wednesday that the government shouldn’t regulate airplane seating, “and competition should determine what is offered.”
“[Customers] vote every day with their wallet,” the group added.