A stretch too far – The Economist (blog)

11 months ago Comments Off on A stretch too far – The Economist (blog)

LAST autumn, FlyersRights.org, a non-profit organisation representing air travellers, drafted a petition to the American Congress demanding new guidelines for the minimum distance between rows in planes. Tens of thousands of stiff-limbed flyers quickly signed their names to the entreaty.

It worked, at least initially. Steve Cohen, a Democratic congressman from Tennessee, introduced an amendment to a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funding bill last week that would have mandated a certain amount of legroom for passengers. The average distance between seat rows, he said, has declined from 35 inches before airlines were deregulated in the 1970s to 31 inches today, while the average seat width has fallen from 18 to 16.5 inches.

“This isn’t just a matter of comfort,” he declared in introducing the bill, backronymically dubbed the Seat Egress in Air Travel, or SEAT, Act. “It is about safety and health. The FAA requires that planes be capable of evacuation in 90 seconds or less, but the FAA hasn’t conducted emergency evacuation tests on airlines with a distance between rows of less than 29 inches. Some airlines fly with rows as close as 28 inches apart. Furthermore, doctors warn of deep vein thrombosis which can afflict passengers who don’t move their legs enough on longer flights.”

Does that mean passengers should cheer? That the era of vanishing aeroplane legroom is finally coming to a close? Alas, no. Just as soon as Mr Cohen and his colleague Janice Hahn of California introduced the bill, the House Transportation Committee shot it down, by a 26-33 vote. By the same margin, the panel also rejected another amendment by the two lawmakers that would have forced the FAA to test the safety of these smaller airplane seats.

A victory for the airline industry, then, which has kicked back against any proposed regulation of legroom. It will soon have a chance to do so again: Mr Cohen plans to re-introduce the measure as a stand-alone bill. Until then, get ready to become well acquainted with your knees, because seats aren’t about to get any roomier.

A stretch too far – The Economist (blog)

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