House approves bill that would regulate airline seat sizes

Passengers board a Delta Airlines flight. (Photo: Tim Loehrke/USA TODAY)


The government is one step closer to coming up with regulation on minimum seat sizes for airline flights after the House passed the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act.

The legislation would extend funding for the FAA for another five years, but also includes provisions that would affect air travelers.

Chief among them: The bill orders the FAA to set standards for the size of airline seats, part of what’s known as the “Seat Egress in Air Travel (SEAT) Act.” The agency would have one year to come up with minimum requirements for seat width and for the space between seats.

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It’s unclear, however, what rules the agency might adopt. Passengers’ rights groups undoubtedly hope the FAA might pass requirements that would require airlines to add more space to seats that now have as little as 29 inches between rows. However, it’s possible that the FAA’s rules could instead end up codifying the tightest seating arrangements already offered on U.S. airlines.

The FAA bill is also notable for what is not included.

Lawmakers abandoned a plan backed by airlines to privatize the nation’s air-traffic-control system. And congressional negotiators dropped a proposal to crack down on “unreasonable” airline fees.

For now, representatives that helped usher in the SEAT Act talked optimistically at what might come of the legislation.

“Safety should not take a back seat, especially a shrunken seat, to airline profits,” Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee) said in a statement. “Tightly cramped seating on aircraft is a safety issue, and will now be taken seriously. The SEAT Act will ensure that shrinking seats on airplanes are evaluated in the interest of the safety of the flying public.”

But FAA legislation passed by the house includes other stipulations. It also bars carriers from involuntarily removing passengers who’ve already boarded, a rule that echoes of the passenger dragging incident on United in April 2017. The legislations also instructs airlines to create better communication protocols for informing customers about flight delays.

The Senate must still vote on the legislation before it can be signed into law. But leaders of both chambers expect the Senate to approve what the House passed before the Sept. 30 expiration of current legislation governing the FAA.

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