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Legislation to Regulate Passenger Legroom Defeated in U.S. Senate

An amendment to set standards for legroom on commercial airliners in the US was defeated on largely partisan lines.

Lawmakers refused efforts to require the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to set regulations for minimum airline seat sizes. An amendment that would have also required airlines to publish information about legroom, pitch and seat sizes failed to pass the U.S. Senate by a 42 to 54 margin on Thursday. The proposed legislation would have prevented airlines from reducing legroom or seat sizes until the FAA “set a minimum standard seat size and pitch for commercial flights.”

The author and sponsor of the legislation, Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), blamed the defeat on airline lobbying groups. The lawmaker vowed to “keep trying to return lost inches to travelers.”

“When talking to travelers, the number one complaint I hear is shrinking legroom and cramped seats – unfortunately that’s a message most Republicans in Congress chose to ignore,” Sen. Schumer said in a statement lamenting the largely party line vote to defeat the new rules. “Airlines have been cramming consumers into airplanes like sardines and instead of lowering their prices several major airlines went the other direction – they started charging for the extra inches in legroom that was once considered standard. At a time when the airlines are making record profits, a minimum seat standard is necessary to protect consumer health, safety and comfort and I will continue to fight for this in Congress.”

The airline lobbying group Airlines for America (A4A) has been a vocal opponent of the legislation. A4A questioned the wisdom of the proposed regulations prior to this week’s vote.

“Would you still like the government to set the standards if it means that you have to pay more for your ticket?” A4A analysts asked in a recent assessment of Congressional work on air traffic control reform legislation. “Fewer seats on the plane means less availability, which will in turn drive up the cost of fares. As flying becomes more expensive, airlines may not be able to provide the same level of service to small and medium markets, which also means fewer jobs for the over 580,000 airline employees worldwide and the more than 11 million jobs driven by the industry.”

[Photo: Getty Images]

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BJM April 11, 2016

"The crush of user fees (I.e, for baggage, meals, extra legroom seats, etc.) is due to the public demanding that fares keep getting lower, and lower then the costs of providing the service." Essentially, I interpret this as blaming the flying passenger for the limited leg room. I believe there is a greater cause and effect happening. I refer to my theory as the "Fig Newton effect." Nabisco puts 12 Fig Newtons in the package. Now let's say it cost more to produce the product. Nabisco has two choices. 1- Raise the price. 2- Keep the price the same. If you raise the price, fewer people may bite. :) If you keep the price the same, you need to do something to maintain your margin. How to do that?. How about removing one Fig Newton from the package. By lessening the quality of the product, you can maintain the price to the customer and maintain your profit. There are other ways, but that's just an example. So, for the airlines, their solution to keep the price in check, is to reduce the available personal space on the aircraft. But, why does the airline have to do this? Because thousands of passengers are writing the airlines demanding less leg room? That statement sounds silly, and it is. I would suggest that wage stagnation is a big factor. As peoples' wages fail to keep up, they in effect have less money to spend. A trend that has been going on for several decades. Travel becomes less affordable. People can allocate less to travel. The airlines need to keep those flyers in seats. So, to maintain the cost to the customer and still maintain their profits, the airlines "cheapen" their product to meet what the customer is willing to spend, or rather able to spend. Are there other factors that go into this equation? Certainly. Do I know what they are? No. The point, however, is that saying passengers are demanding inexpensive fares and therefore the airlines are obliging is a poorly thought out cause and effect scenario theory. Now onto the topic of keeping the government out of business, regulation is bad, and let the market determine the value. Just imagine if the airlines did not have any government imposed maintenance standards. You know that D check? Well it's kind of expensive and the airlines lose a ton of money cause the aircraft is out of commission for 4 - 6 weeks. So maybe they would opt to increase the cycle to every 8 to 10 years instead of every six, or have the work done by the cheapest bidder in East Wagadoogo where they don't even know what a wrench is much lest how to use it, or maybe they would chose not to do it at all. What a way to save money and keep those cheap fares the public demands. Of course all this is pure speculation and my opinion. Again the point is that the reasons for less leg room are much more involved than a simple A (cheap bastard flyer)->B (Airlines reduce leg room) conclusion.

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kop84 April 11, 2016

The problem is people want Spirit Airline prices and 1960's Pan-Am service. It's like bidding on a hotel on Priceline for $39 and then being shocked you're in a dirty room in a bad neighborhood. You get what you pay for. And if people really cared as much about space as they do the bottom line then Spirit wouldn't have double digit grown year after year!

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emcampbe April 10, 2016

Can't have it both ways. If this had passed, the inevitable result would have been higher fares. Then you'd have consumers and Congress crying foul that fares are too high. The crush of user fees (I.e, for baggage, meals, extra legroom seats, etc.) is due to the public demanding that fares keep getting lower, and lower then the costs of providing the service. These types of add on fees won't change until many/most in the US start realizing value vs. insisting everything always cost less. It's something that folks in many other parts of the world do realize - and why you have different tiers of airlines in say, Asia, where you have carriers like Air Asia, where customers know they are getting a product where extras cost, but they pay a low fare upfront, vs. say, Singapore, which costs more but those extras are mostly included. You don't get Singapore service for an Air Asia price.

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sfoeuroflyer April 9, 2016

Thank goodness it was rejected. The market will dictate price vs. room. If you force all the airlines to increase the amount of space for each seat--legroom (pitch) or width--the response would have to be higher airfares for everyone. Thus, passengers who don't want the extra space would be forced to pay for it. It is better to let each person decide. Want more space? Either pick an airline that offers it or pick a cabin class that provides it. It truly is that simple. Only a diseased mind thinks that he or she "is entitled" to more room at today's low fares. It should be mentioned that one airline tried to market more room for everyone.....remember the American Airlines "more room throughout coach" campaign. Of course to provide that room, they had to make their fares higher than the competition. What was the public response? They chose the competitors with lower prices and American abandoned the campaign and put in more seats. So what gives the government the right to overrule something that the public (the market) has decided the other way. And please, let's kill the snide Dem vs. Republican sniping. Since when is rational thinking a political party issue?

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Irpworks April 9, 2016

Hate the airlines, hate government meddling much more.