Legroom Was Once About 35 Inches—Now Closer To 31—& Average Airline Seat Width Was Once 18.5 Inches—Now Shrunk To About 17; Schumer Law Would Forge Path To A Standard

Schumer Made Addressing Seat Size A Top Legislative Priority & Now Feds Can No Longer Ignore Deep-Seated Problem & Traveling Headache

Schumer: FAA Bill Could Finally Stop Airplane Seat-Size Shrinking

Just weeks after the FAA announced it would not regulate airplane seat size and as part of a long campaign against this travel headache, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced today that the recently passed Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) Reauthorization Bill in Congress will—for the first time—include language requiring the FAA to tackle a minimum seat size standard for airplanes. Schumer says that for years now airlines have been slowly cutting inches off legroom and seat width. Despite record airline profits, Schumer noted that, over the past number of years the amount of legroom and seat width onboard airplanes has significantly shrunk, making air travel uncomfortable for many passengers.

“When talking to travelers, the number one complaint I hear is shrinking legroom and cramped seats on planes,” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. “Consumers are tired of being packed into airplanes like sardines, and that’s why we must get a handle on this deep-seated problem before it goes any further. It’s no secret that airlines are looking for more ways to cut costs but they shouldn’t be cutting inches of legroom and seat width in the process. It’s just plain unfair that a person gets charged for extra inches that were once standard. To boot, the airlines are cruising on years of record profits, all while hundreds of passengers are crammed into smaller and smaller seats with less and less legroom. Forcing the FAA to establish a standard for seat size and legroom is now in this must-pass Bill and means the feds can no longer ignore this travel headache.”

According to a report published by Fortune, the average seat pitch has decreased from 35 inches in the 1970s to approximately 31 inches today. Schumer has long worried that without action, more inches would be cut and more passengers crammed like sardines.

Schumer also said that the airline revenue-generating tactic of charging for ‘extra’ legroom represents a clear sign that the inch-cutting has gone on far too long. With inches now equating to big dollars that have helped deliver even bigger profits for airlines, Schumer says a minimum standard is both fair and timely. A minimum seat and pitch size standard should be made with the input of experts and consumers and based on science, passenger health, and safety, not only the maximum number of people that can be crammed into one plane, Schumer added. That is what this new provision in the FAA Reauthorization Bill will accomplish.

Currently, there are no federal limits on how close together an airline’s row of seats ?can be or how wide an airline’s seat must be; ?there are federal requirements for exit rows, but not for other parts of the aircraft. Each airline’s measurements can be different.

Schumer was also able to ensure other consumer protections were included in the FAA reauthorization. These include:

  • Prohibiting involuntary bumping of passengers who have already boarded, and requiring clarification of regulations regarding compensation for bumped passengers. – Help prevent passengers from being roughly removed from flights like the incident in 2017.
  • Setting new requirements for airlines to promptly return fees for services, such as seat assignments or early boarding, purchased but not received.  – If you pay extra for a service such as in-flight entertainment but the system does not work or you pay for a checked bag that does not arrive on your flight, you are entitled to a refund.
  • Requiring airlines, in the event of a widespread disruption of their computer systems, to prominently post online what services they will provide to impacted passengers. – If your flight is cancelled or rescheduled due something like an airline’s computer system failing, the airline must tell you whether they will provide a hotel, arrange ground transportation, provide meal vouchers, arrange for alternative travel, or provide a place to sleep in the airport terminal


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