Thursday, April 7, 2016

Senate votes against setting airline legroom standards

By a vote of 54 to 42, the U.S. Senate on Thursday voted against a measure that would have set standards for legroom on the nation's commercial airlines.

An amendment proposed by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) was attached to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Bill and would have ordered a moratorium in reductions to seat size and pitch, which is the space from the back of one seat to the back of the seat in front of it.

It would also have empowered the FAA to consult with experts and set new standards for seat dimensions that maintain “the safety, health and comfort of passengers.” At present, experts can only consider safety when making such rules.

Schumer said he had received more feedback on the amendment than he had on most other matters.

"This is where the public is clamoring for change," he said in a Washington Post article on the measure and its defeat.

While no senator of either party argued against the measure, it was opposed by the airline industry trade group Airlines for America, which had previously stated the position that “the government should not regulate, but instead market forces, which reflect consumer decisions and competition, should determine what is offered.”

At present, many (if not most) U.S. airline seats offer pitch of between 30 and 32 inches in economy class on narrow-body jets typically used for short to medium-range domestic flights. At a shade over 6 feet tall, my knees touch the back of the seat in front of me at anything less than 31 inches of pitch. Some airlines offer even less pitch, including no-frills carrier Spirit, which has pitch as short as 28 inches according to SeatGuru.com.

Seat width of 17 inches is quite common on U.S. airlines, though a few offer wider coach seats including Virgin American (NYSE:VA) whose planes typically have seats that are 17.7 inches wide, and Hawaiian Airlines (NYSE:HA), which offers economy seats that are 18 inches wide.

Wider seats and longer pitch are often available in so-called premium economy sections of those airlines that offer it. Business class and First Class seats offer even more room, but at higher fares.

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