Congress Tells FAA to Set Pitch Minimums on US Aircraft

Oct 5, 2018

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.

Congress passed its long-delayed reauthorization bill for the Federal Aviation Association this week. The bill, which reauthorizes the aviation body for another five years, passed the House of Representatives in September, was approved by the Senate on Wednesday and has been sent to the White House for final approval.

Along with giving the FAA authority to continue overseeing US airlines, Congress drafted some notable mandates included in the bill. The major one — that air passenger advocates have been pushing for — is that the FAA will be required to set seat pitch minimums within a year. This is good news for passengers as ever-shrinking airline seats have been crammed closer and closer over the years.

Here’s the bad news, though: Experts say passengers shouldn’t expect any more legroom than what they’re seeing now, which is usually about 30-31 inches of pitch (unless you’re flying Spirit, the tightest seat squeeze in the industry with a pitch of just 28 inches.)

“If they come up with a minimum seat regulation, that minimum will mirror the minimum in the market today,” Samuel Engel, senior vice president for aviation at consulting firm ICF, told the New York Times. “So it won’t make things better.”

The FAA released a report about shrinking seat sizes in February, but had previously fought off the idea of setting the industry-wide legroom minimum. The Flyer Rights Education Fund, an air passenger advocate group, filed a petition in 2016 with a federal court. They wanted the FAA to set a legroom minimum on what it dubbed “sardine seats” because it impacted passenger safety — especially in an evacuation. The FAA refused. In a statement from July, the agency said that issue should be worked out between airlines and flyers.


Now the FAA will be compelled to set the pitch minimums. But it still will likely only regulate the space in regards to evacuation safety.

Other notable new regulations in the final bill for flyers include the banning of forcibly removing passengers seated on overbooked flights (a la the Dr. Dao United flight incident) and formally forbidding inflight cell phone calls (which flyers already couldn’t do). There was no change to airlines’ ability to charge reservation change fees or baggage fees, which earn them a ton of money.

The FAA had previously been operating on a series of authorization extensions since 2017, and industry experts say that this five-year bill will provide more consistency for US passengers.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,650

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, 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®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
  • Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • 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.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
  • Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

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.