Say What? Politicians Are Demanding Airlines Keep Using Their Current Seats

Politics is like professional wresting. What you see is rarely real. Take, for instance, six Democratic Senators urging the FAA to bar airlines from further reducing legroom and seat width.

Six Democratic U.S senators urged the Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday to bar airlines from further shrinking the size and leg room of airplane seats.

The senators including Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Richard Blumenthal, Edward Markey and Ron Wyden

These Senators aren’t calling for more passenger space. They are calling for passengers to not have less space. In other words, they demand the status quo! And, in fact, they’re calling for the status quo only until the FAA issues a rule.

The FAA is considering whether to make offering less legroom than Spirit and Frontier offer illegal. And by the way, if the government allows JetBlue to buy Spirit then Spirit planes will get more legroom.

At issue – for safety and not comfort reasons – is whether to allow an airline to cram more seats into planes than Frontier does. But there’s zero indication that Frontier plans to reduce pitch further.

  • Generally Frontier offers 28 inches of pitch (distance from seat back to seat back)

  • United, American and Delta offer 30, while Southwest offers 31-33 inches

Seat width has also been raised as an issue, but that’s largely a function of the fuselage of the aircraft. Requiring wider seats basically means banning the Boeing 737, which is not on the table.

If the government were to say ‘all passengers must have at least 28 inches of pitch’ then literally nothing changes in the industry. If it were to say 29 or 30 inches is required, then that means Frontier can’t put in quite as many seats and needs to charge slightly higher prices. That benefits United, American and Delta who will face less price competition while not changing anything at all on its planes.

Meanwhile nearly all of the coverage of the issue has centered around passenger comfort. I do not wish to fly Frontier, though that’s the case even for their stretch seating because they do not offer inflight internet. However the entirety of the issue for the FAA is whether airlines are putting too many people into planes such that they cannot evacuate quickly enough in an emergency. All of the focus on comfort is grandstanding. Calls for standards that do not change comfort, in the name of comfort, are an especially cynical form of grandstanding.

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