Senate Shoots Down Amendment To Protect Airline Passengers From Shrinking Seats and Legroom

220px-economy_seatWe have been discussing the rising outcry about passengers at the continually shrinking legroom and comfort on airplanes, including storing passengers in what was previously luggage space. Those complaints led to a federal amendment seeking to establish minimum standards for passenger comfort. The airline lobby put on a full-court press to stop the measure and it failed 42-54. Notably, no one actually spoke against the proposal before it was voted down.


The amendment by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., would have blocked airlines from further reducing the “size, width, padding, and pitch” of seats, passengers’ legroom and the width of aisles. It also would have required the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to set standards for the minimum amount of space airlines must provide passengers for their “safety, health and comfort.” Airlines would further have had to post the size of their seats on their websites so that consumers could take the information into consideration when buying tickets. That last requirement would seem quite minimal even if you are opposed to added regulations for the airlines. Disclosure rules tend to advance the market system in giving consumers needed information to make a knowledgable choice.

All but three Democrats in favor and all but one Republican against.

In recent years, airlines have on average shaved off roughly two more inches to 16.5 inches while the average pitch — the space between a point on one seat and the same on the seat in front of it — has gone from 35 inches to about 31 inches.

By making economy seats incredibly uncomfortable, airlines now sell back the legroom that they took away at premium prices.

33 thoughts on “Senate Shoots Down Amendment To Protect Airline Passengers From Shrinking Seats and Legroom”

  1. Ash

    Sooo…name an enterprise that is not subsidized by taxpayers in some manner.

    Safeway stores? Hmmm…the company pays taxes, employees pay taxes. But then police, fire and hwy departments are paid by what source? Should the local Safeway store (profit margins less than 5%) pay directly for all services…do they pay when the police drive by or only when they respond to a call? Just how do we keep taxpayers (including businesses) out of the equation?

    You are aware that the airlines do pay fees right? NASA receives fees for launches? Do the users actually pay all the costs? Maybe your flight ticket needs even more of a breakdown? I suppose that the cost of the elementary, high school, police protection, etc., etc. during a person’s formative years should be reimbursed directly by employers (NASA, FAA, Sheriff, your employment?) on a prorated basis and so accounted for on your ticket?

    Have you personally paid enough taxes and fees to truly have paid for absolutely every cost for your kids (if any?), if not…where’s your check? How about your additional education? I got through on scholarships, work and GI Bill. Sure, I put in my time but can’t say what I’ve paid covers the costs.

  2. It seems to me that there is one glaring omission in the both the Congressional and this thread’s discussion.

    It’s the international carriers. BTW the carriers (not manufacturers) decide seat model and spacing IAW international regulations.

    There are some 737s and 727s which have plastic unsecured seats but only fly in the third world. Oh and, unless a very recent decision, Russian built commercial aircraft are not allowed in US space.

    But just imagine our unilateral regulation being enforced on all foreign carriers. Now there are “shovel ready” opportunities for the thread’s beloved lawyers class.

    At least the bill kept congressional staffers and publication department folks employed.

  3. hskiprob, traveling by airline is barely free enterprise. It’s mostly taxpayer dollars subsidizing a very big players on taxpayer paid for assets, namely, Airport Gate space.

    Taxpayers pay for: NASA, FAA, ATC, NTHSA.
    Taxpayers pay for tons of research on the technology, and tons of infrastructure, airports and radar systems don’t pay for themselves.

    And you can’t just open a new airline if the airport runs out of gates for you.

    So it’s free enterprise in name only.

    1. Ash, I’m a libertarian for many many years so I am quite aware of the type of nation state we are living under today and that we are no longer a free market economy. I wrote an essay on the subject of the various terms used in the study of what I like to call socio-economics that I hope will help others understand this all so important issue and why the protection of individual rights are so important. https://groups.google.com/forum/?hl=en&fromgroups#!topic/harrietrobbins/anuASCIPc6E – I wish I could get others to edit and expand on my premises. I know it has helped me tremendously in understanding our system of law and politics.

      When I ask most people what rights are protected by the IX Amendment, I get some amazing facial expressions. “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage other retained by the people”.

  4. If you live in a major city and travel only to major cities then, yes, competition is possible. If you are leaving or arriving in a smaller town, airlines have a monopoly. There is no competition. Free markets are not possible in monopoly situations.

  5. I thought JT was a libertarian? Why does he want the corrupt govt. police soulless airline companies? Knowledge is power. JetBlue, Virgin America and Southwest have the most legroom. United and Spirit have the worst. When you book, remember that. This is a capitalist economy, not socialist.

  6. The government has no business with this type of regulation. What is next dictating how much food should be given? Dictating what is the minimum thread count in the pillows?

    As I’ve said before

    We want airlines to offer incredibly cheap fares, with amazing luxury, and pay their employees exceedingly well.

    Well you can have 2 out of 3. You can’t have all 3.

  7. It seems to me that some here think this is only an issue of comfort, not one of health or safety. Having developed a life-threatening pulmonary embolism while flying in one of those sardine seats that allow no leg movement, I disagree.

  8. How do these representatives reconcile the necessity for deplaning an aircraft, quickly and with a certain degree of ease, during an emergency, with their vote to strike down an amendment which would have acted to protect passengers from shrinking seats and diminished legroom? This isn’t just about comfort–of course, that is a part of it–but, more importantly–and, obviously lost on many of the previous commenters–this is very much of a public safety issue, and, as such, falls legitimately within the domain of government regulation. Your Libertarian berets are cutting off the circulation to your brains, as evidenced by some of the previous ludicrous comments which contain claims that the government has no place in regulating the airlines with regard to minimum safety-related specifications pertaining to seats, legroom and isles. Given that the lives of the travelling public hang in the balance, those comments are as short-sighted as they are bizarre.

  9. Flying on an airline is a private contract between the airline and an individual. The government shouldn’t be involved in it.
    Don’t like the room? Vote with your pocketbook or feet.

  10. While I too greatly dislike the Sardine Experience of economy air travel, the encroachment of government micro-management into every aspect of life is tiresome. A neutral argument, however, would be that if a rule was made setting minimum dimensions it would establish a floor for which the competition would automatically factor in.

    Unless the government can articulate a safety or health issue, then the market (and ultimately the Casimir Effect) should dictate how close seats are placed.

    1. For those of you who wish to continue the dreadful and financially devastating experiment with increased centralized planning there are a number of countries around the world like Cuba and China where you can experience it first hand. And PLEASE take all the other social democrats with you so they can experience the utopian dream.

  11. This is an example of socialism. Government is in charge of everything. Though often proposals are shot down due to “earmarks”! Economy seats are subsided by Business and First Class exorbitant prices. My first flight was from LA to NYC. The cost was almost $500. TWA Coach with Filet Mignon for dinner. Business and First are two to three times that now.

  12. Trying to figure out why the govt needs to be involved in the “comfort” of passengers while they fly.

    Seriously, there needs to be a debate about the role of govt. if you think it is so bad, go start an airline…wait never mind…too many regulatory hurdles. Btw, how long for comfort is a right?

  13. Pretty sure our righteous benefactors back in D.C. have been studying those old slave ship diagrams, it’s amazing how little space chattel can survive in!

    1. Oxa, Not exactly correct on the more progressive statement back in 1819, as it relates to transportation safety. I’m not sure how you define progressive either.

      At the time of passage of the Act, the United States had no laws restricting immigration. In fact, the first federal legislation regulating immigration, the Page Act of 1875, was over 50 years in the future.

      Bob Podowsky in his books “The BORG Wars provides some good evidence that supports the claim that other than the abolition of slavery and suffrage, government has continuously usurps most of our rights over our history. Not many left today. The government pretty much does what it wants and if you blow the whistle on their improprieties, see what happens.

      After the Civil War, it has been pretty difficult to stop the advancement of social policies the ruling oligarchy wants.

  14. @JT
    “By making economy tickets incredibly uncomfortable, airlines now sell back the legroom that they took away at premium prices.”

    Gee, sometimes it almost seems that we have a corporatist (fascist) federal government that functions primarily for the benefit of the corporations who fund the serial election of its national legislators, who then provide their corporate benefactors with legislation to their profiteering liking, regardless of the cost to the average citizen.

  15. This is a classic example of some people wanting government to regulate private enterprise and Congress rightfully, at least from a Constitutional standpoint in my opinion voted down the proposal. To bad they didn’t shoot down the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 and the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.

    It you don’t like the size of their seats don’t fly with that airline. It about individual rights and more importantly, property rights which is really what rights are about. Some act as if the government owns them and therefore owes them something. This is not the case. The airlines have the right to put any size seat they wish in their airplanes. Since government acts for the collective, I as an individual owes you nothing and since I as an individual owes you nothing, either does the collective. Of course if we start giving benefits to people for not doing anything in exchange for it, as we have seen, the lines will become increasingly longer for those wanting the benefits until it bankrupts the society. The same thing with corporate welfare and the military industrial complex.

    When a car company is producing an automobile that is polluting the air, that is a different situation. We as human beings have the right not to be harmed by others and what they consume and/or produce. This is when government is supposed to protect us and our rights.

    Government is not supposed to regulate my activities or my companies activities, unless I’m harming others or their property. However there are those that want to place their morays on society. All the prohibitions and regulations on vice are examples of poor laws enacted (all malum prohibitum) that screw up the free enterprise system and discourage a free and civil society.

    The reasons the Austrian School of Economics believes in libertarianism and the free market system is pretty evident once you recognize the negative ramifications of the various social polices effecting our society and what are and why individual rights are so important. Sadly this is not being taught in our public education system.

  16. Where’s the climate change alarmists on this one? More legroom means fewer passengers per flight; which means more flights to accommodate the desired (needed) legroom. We don’t need more regulation, vote with your wallet.

  17. I agree with LawyerChuck above.
    I learned to artFay on command. As I walk through First Class there is a loud one which goes off and the stink is bad. If I can go forward to the restroom up front I give them another artFay in mid flight.

  18. Of course they shot it down. It does not affect them. They fly on government planes paid for by us or fly first class paid for by us. Leg room and seat space are not a problem for them. Just another reason Donald and Bernie are doing well – we’re just plain tired of this crap.

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