Senate Beats Back Effort To Regulate Airline Seat Size


The battle over the shrinking airline seat was renewed on Capitol Hill Thursday as the Senate struck down an effort to end the leg and knee squeeze.

By a 54-to-43 vote on the Senate floor, a measure was defeated that would have kept airlines from reducing seat size and the distance between rows for 30 days. Meantime, the Federal Aviation Administration would have had 180 days to come up with regulations on the width, padding and leg room each seat should provide. The measure, proposed as an amendment to an FAA reauthorization the Senate is considering, also would have required airlines to prominently display on their websites just how much space they allowed for each passenger.

The 1.7 million Americans who fly within the United States each day have gotten bigger. Almost 79 million Americans are obese – 35 percent of the population – and the number is projected to reach 50 percent by 2030.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the average weight of a woman these days is equal to that of the average man in the 1960s: 166 pounds. The average man now weighs almost 196 pounds. The average seat belt is about 40 inches long, and the FAA requires flight attendants “to discreetly offer” a 24-inch seat belt extender to passengers whose girth demands one.

In the 1970s, the average cheap seat was 18 inches wide. Now it’s about an inch-and-a-half less. In the old days, there was almost a yard of distance between rows in the economy section. Today, it’s about 31 inches.

After the House last month defeated an effort to let the FAA determine the proper seat size, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., complained that passengers are packed in “like sardines.”

“Flying is not pleasant anymore,” Schumer said. “You’re crammed in. I’m not that tall. I’m a little under 6-foot-1, and what I do when I fly is I take out the magazine and the airsickness bag and the little folder that tells you where the exits are to gain a 16th-of-an-inch more legroom, so my knees don’t bang into the seat in front of me.”

“There’s been constant shrinkage,” he said. “They shouldn’t be cutting inches of legroom and seat width. It’s time for the FAA to step up and stop this problem from continuing.”

That’s what he tried to make happen Thursday, but too many of his Senate colleagues rejected his appeal and his amendment.

(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Ashley Halsey III 



  1. B”H I am only 5’2″, so although airline seats are way too close together and getting in and out of ones seat is difficult, at least I have some legroom. I flew United recently and also El Al and the seats on United have more room than El Al. I would call El Al, Sardine airlines, it is so crowded.