NEWARK, N.J. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez today joined U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) in introducing legislation to establish a minimum standards for seat size and legroom on commercial airlines to protect the safety and health of airline passengers. The measure was also introduced today in the House of Representatives by Congressmen Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.).
“The powerful airline industry will stop at nothing for the almighty dollar,” said Sen. Menendez. “Anyone who has flown recently has noticed the seats getting smaller and the legroom getting tighter, and have wondered if they need to go on a diet. The reality is it’s the money-hungry airlines who need to curb their voracious appetite for profit at the expense of the flying public. From charging bag fees and nickel-and-diming passengers for what used to be complimentary in-flight services, to shrinking the size of your seat so you’re packed in like sardines, the airlines continue to gouge its customers and make air travel uncomfortable and unaffordable.”
The SEAT Act would require the FAA to set minimum seat size standards for airplanes. The average distance between rows of seats, referred to as seat pitch, which serves as a proxy for legroom, has dropped from 35 inches prior to airline deregulation in the 1970s to approximately 31 inches. Moreover, the average airline seat width has shrunk from 18.5 inches in the 1990s and 2000s to approximately 17 inches.
The bill mirrors an amendment cosponsored by Sen. Menendez to last year’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authorization bill to protect air travelers from being literally squeezed when they fly by profit-driven airlines who have reduced seat size and legroom in order to pad their bottom line.
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. Each airline’s measurements can be different. There are federal requirements for exit rows, but not for other parts of the aircraft.
Sen. Menendez has long advocated for greater consumer protections for air travelers. He previously introduced his Real Transparency in Airfares Act to reinforce existing consumer protections and double the penalties for those companies that try to deceive their customers by not advertising upfront the full cost of an airline ticket. In 2015, the Senator convinced the airlines to abandon their trade group’s plan to shrink the size of allowable carry-on bags in order to collect more checked-bag fees. He first introduced his Clear Airfares Act in 2008, a bill to require better disclosure of hidden fees. In May of 2014, Menendez responded to proposed standards the U.S. Department of Transportation issued, based in part on the Clear Airfares Act, which would require greater disclosure of fees such as those for bags and seats.
September 16, 2021
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