Congress Could Ask FAA to Increase Minimum Airline Seat Size

Congress needs something to increase its 17 percent approval rating, and bigger airline seats could be one way to win favor with Americans.

Azur Air puts Boeing 777 jet airliner into service
Marina Lystseva—Marina Lystseva/TASS

As part of a funding plan for the Federal Aviation Administration, Congress could request that the FAA regulate passenger comforts. As part of Congress's funding bill it could mandate minimum sizes for airline seats, which could secure passengers more legroom, as well as add more and larger lavatories, and modernize standards for often-mistreated service animals—though we suspect they still won't allow for emotional support peacocks.

According to USA Today, standard room between rows on flights (not even legroom) used to be around 34 to 35 inches. However, many planes today have less than 30, though shrinking row size to less than 27 inches would be almost impossible due to safety regulations.

"Relief could soon be on the way for weary airline passengers facing smaller and smaller seats," proclaimed Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL). Senator John Thune (R-SD) told USA Today that he expects the bill to rapidly move through the House and Senate, and arrive on President Trump's desk for signing in short order.

Also part of the bill includes a ban on kicking passengers off flights they've already boarded, though no protection for arbitrary fees faced by travelers has been codified into the bill so far. Flight attendants would also benefit from a mandatory 10-hour rest between shifts.

Potential criticisms of enlarged mandatory minimum seat sizes include increased price per ticket and boosted baggage fees, both of which would offset a decreased total ticket volume for airlines. Whether these will significantly impact airlines' profitability is uncertain. What is certain is that Senator Nelson and Thune have both received campaign contributions from both airlines and the aerospace industry that could motivate the bill's introduction.

Open Secrets reports that bill proponent Senator Nelson's election campaigns have received donations from Delta Airlines and American Airlines to the tune of $41,280 and $29,595 respectively. He also received donations from aerospace firms Boeing and Lockheed Martin, which contributed $31,761 and $14,240 respectively. Senator Thune is also a record recipient of airline industry campaign contributions, as well as cash from Lockheed Martin.