“SEAT Act” To Set Minimum Sizes for Airline Seats

Feb 12, 2016

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

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.”

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?

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points


CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 3X points on dining and 2x points on travel, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Enjoy benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
Regular APR
16.24% - 23.24% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.