Cohen Squeezes Shrinking Airline Seat Into Proposed FAA Bill
June 29, 2017
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  • After lawmakers killed an effort to regulate shrinking airplane seats last year, the legislation made a major comeback this week.

    The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee gave a resounding yes to Congressman Steve Cohen’s (TN-09) effort to establish a minimum seat size on commercial airlines as well as a minimum distance between rows. 

    “Oftentimes in Congress, like in life, things don’t always happen the first time,” Congressman Cohen said. 

    After video surfaced of a doctor from Kentucky being dragged off an overbooked United Airlines flight in April, airlines did not want to have even more criticism for having too small of seats and no one in the House was willing to go on the record defending them, Cohen said.

    Though it failed in a vote last year, Cohen reintroduced the Seat Egress in Air Travel (SEAT) Act (H.R. 1467/S.596) as a stand-alone bill this legislative session. Tuesday, Cohen was able to add the SEAT Act as an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization bill. The amendment was passed by the House committee in a unanimous voice vote Tuesday, June 27.

    “It was mostly the fact that [members of the House committee] have seen so many horror stories,” Congressman Cohen said. “Airlines have become the most despised industry in the 21 century, and it caught up with them. No one wanted to go on record defending them.”

    To read the SEAT Act amendment, scroll to the bottom of the page. 

    Since the airline industry was deregulated in the 1970s, the average distance between rows of seats has dropped from 35 inches to about 31 inches today. The average width of airline seats has also shrunk from 18 inches to about 16.5.

    “Flying isn’t like it used to be with wider seats, more pitch and generally much more comfortable,” Congressman Cohen said. “As [commercial airlines] have gotten more like a monopoly they cram people in.”

    The amendment to the FAA Reauthorization bill is based on the SEAT Act, introduced this year in the House of Representatives by Congressman Cohen and Congressman Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) last legislative session. 

    “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,” Congressman Cohen said. “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.”

    The Senate Transportation Committee is scheduled to consider the FAA Reauthorization bill Thursday, June 29. Since the SEAT Act is bicameral, the Senate version is expected to include similar language to Congressman Cohen’s amendment.