“SEAT Act” To Set Minimum Sizes for Airline Seats

Feb 12, 2016

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If you’ve been annoyed at how economy seat sizes and legroom have gotten smaller over the years, you certainly aren’t alone. There’s even a lawmaker who wants to reverse the trend.

This week, Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN) introduced the Safe Egress in Air Travel Act of 2016 or “SEAT Act” (H.R. 4490):

To direct the Secretary of Transportation to issue regulations that establish minimum dimensions for passenger seats on aircraft operated by any air carrier in the provision of interstate air transportation or intrastate air transportation, and for other purposes.

Rep. Cohen pointed out that the average distance between rows of seats has dropped from 35 inches in the 1970s to an average of 31 inches today. However, some airlines — such as Spirit and Frontier — currently fly with just 28 inches of pitch.

Compared to Spirit and Frontier’s 28-inch pitch, Ryanair’s 30-inch pitch seems spacious!

It’s not just the legroom that’s become more cramped. Rep. Cohen also pointed out that seat widths have shrunk from an average of 18 inches to just 16.5 inches over the same period. Meanwhile, CDC stats show that the average man weighs 30 more pounds and women weigh an average of 26 more pounds.

As we reported back in November, researchers found that tighter seat pitch shouldn’t cause unsafe conditions. However, during his introduction of the bill Rep. Cohen lamented that “the FAA hasn’t conducted emergency evacuation tests on airlines with a distance between rows of less than 29 inches.”

737legroom,cropped
TPG Assistant Editor Matt Zuzolo found out how tight 31-inch pitch really was during a grueling flight from LA to Maui

Rep. Cohen’s bill doesn’t set specific requirements for seat width or pitch. Rather, the bill tasks the Secretary of Transportation to set minimum dimensions (“width, length and seat pitch”) within one year of the passing of the bill.

If this bill passes, airlines like Spirit and Frontier might balk at being forced to spread out their cabin — likely resulting in higher fares to make up for the lost seats. For just this reason, legacy carriers would probably cheer this bill, relieved to end the “race to the bottom” for seat pitch for the sake of low fares.

Time will tell if this bill can gain any traction in Congress. Feel free to contact your congressman/congresswoman if you support or oppose this bill. Of course, you can always tell us what you think about it below as well.

H/T: USA Today

Would you support legislation to reverse the trend of shrinking seat sizes?

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