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It’s not news to anyone who has flown in the past few years that seats are getting tighter. Seat pitch — the distance between seatbacks — has decreased almost industry-wide to no more than 31 inches. Ultra-low cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier push the limits of human flexibility with just 28 inches of pitch.

American Airlines recently announced it was dropping pitch to just 29 inches on some rows — before getting so much blowback that it reversed its decision and promised no less than 30 inches of pitch on its forthcoming Boeing 737 MAX.

29 inches of seat pitch.
A 5 foot 11 inch man showing how tight 29 inches of seat pitch is.

While flying premium economy is one way for you to get more legroom, there are concerns that the tight pitch in economy seats might actually be a safety issue in case the aircraft needs to be evacuated.

Last year, Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN) introduced the “SEAT Act” (Safe Egress in Air Travel Act of 2016). This bill would’ve required the Secretary of Transportation to set “minimum dimensions for passenger seats on aircraft operated by any air carrier in the provision of interstate air transportation or intrastate air transportation.” The bill failed to reach a vote and died. A new version of the same bill has been introduced in March of this year (H.R. 1467/S.596).

But, the biggest progress toward minimum seat sizes was made this week. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee voted to include the “Cohen Amendment” in its Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization bill. This amendment will “require the FAA to establish a minimum seat size on commercial airlines as well as a minimum distance between rows of seats to protect the safety and health of airline passengers.”

Congressman Cohen hails the measure as critical for safety:

The SEAT Act will help ensure that reduced seat sizes on planes do not impede on the capability of rapid evacuation in case of emergency as longstanding federal law requires. Emergency evacuation is a serious issue, as is the potential for air rage as tensions mount inside more tightly packed cabins. In addition, doctors have warned that deep vein thrombosis can afflict passengers who do not move their legs enough during longer flights.

What do you think? Should the FAA set minimum seat size requirements?

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