It is a common complaint from anyone who has traveled within the past few years- airline seats and the space between seats seem to keep getting smaller and smaller. Airlines are continuously looking for ways to maximize profits with the limited space on planes, and as a result, the distance between rows on a plane, or “seat pitch” has significantly decreased in all of the major airlines in the past decade.
After growing safety concerns were raised by a number of groups, bipartisan leaders from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee introduced a bill calling for consumer protection and reforms to the aviation industry, including a requirement for minimum size standards for airline seats. The Seat Egress in Air Travel (SEAT) Act was introduced by U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen last year, but it did not make it to House vote. The proposed Act would require the Federal Aviation Administration (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.”
The legislation was attached as an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization bill and was approved by a 393-13 vote. The proposed Bill will now make its way through to the Senate.
While the main complaint about smaller airplane seats relates to comfort for most people, there are legitimate safety concerns as well as smaller seats means that there are more passengers to evacuate in case of an emergency, which could result in increased tensions in crowded cabins, and longer evacuation timings. The smaller airline seats can also increase risks related to blood clots and deep vein thrombosis, as less leg room means that there is less room to move around on longer flights.
Currently, there are no minimums required for seat sizes or the distance between rows. A number of airlines have introduced smaller seats, while at the same time, requiring passengers to pay extra for the roomier options within economy class. The decline in space has been slow and steady. In 1981, the New York Times reported that airlines were reducing the seat pitch in economy class from the standard of 35 inches to 32 inches. The squeeze of space continued through the decades, and by 2018, the major airlines in America (American, Delta and United) had reduced the distance to 30 inches. For short-haul flights, the numbers can get even lower, with some airlines such as Thomas Cook Airlines or US based Spirit Airlines, offering 28 inches of comfort.
If the Bill is passed, it would require the FAA to establish a minimum of size of seats, and a minimum distance between rows of seats, and hopefully put an end to the ever-shrinking economy airline seat. The Bill also suggests a number of other helpful consumer based solutions including a ban on the controversial practice of bumping passengers who have boarded planes that are at capacity, and the creation of a Transportation Department hotline and app, where passengers could easily report complaints with any airline.