Watch your representatives vote for smaller airline seats

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Here’s something you don’t get to see every day: Your elected representatives giving airlines a license to make the seats as small as they want, as long as they can pass a sham “safety evacuation” test.

If you care about this issue, you need to watch these congressional theatrics.

First to speak is Rep. Steven Cohen (D.-Tenn), who introduced the Seat Egress in Air Travel (SEAT) Act as an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill. Amendments to the bill were considered late Thursday.

The SEAT act would have required the FAA to establish a minimum seat size and minimum distance between rows of seats for the safety and health of passengers. It was defeated by a 26-33 vote.

Cohen started his pitch by featuring the ad I highlighted on this site a few days ago, which is a great way to introduce the amendment. (I’m told he’s a reader of this blog.)

After his introduction, he handed it off to his co-sponsor, Janice Hahn. That was followed by opposition from Rodney Davis of Illinois, Committee Chairman Bill Shuster and ranking Democrat Peter DeFazio.

Davis’ flippant rejoinder was the most troubling.

Davis: Well, I see we have some different-sized seats here in the house. Mr. Chairman has a larger seat. Do you think the House Administration Committee should study seat sizes here?

Cohen: We’re not in airplanes that are crashing and 180 people at one time trying to get to a ramp.

After the defeat, Cohen issued a statement saying he was “disappointed” by the vote.

“This was a vote against the safety and health of airline passengers,” he said. “The FAA requires that planes be capable of rapid evacuation in case of emergency, yet they haven’t conducted emergency evacuation tests on all of today’s smaller seats. That’s unacceptable. It’s time for the FAA to take action.”

Cohen says he’ll continue to work on this issue and expects to offer this amendment again when the bill comes to the floor of the House.

Oh, by the way, that FAA requirement for testing evacuations that DeFazio mentions in the video as the reason this amendment is unnecessary? It makes no mention of seat sizes or space. Read it for yourself if you don’t believe me.

SEC. 416. CABIN EVACUATION.
(a) REVIEW.—The Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration shall review—

(1) evacuation certification of transport-category aircraft used in air transportation, with regard to—

(A) emergency conditions, including impacts into water;

(B) crew procedures used for evacuations under actual emergency conditions; and

(C) any relevant changes to passenger demographics and legal requirements (including the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990) that affect emergency evacuations; and

(2) recent accidents and incidents where passengers evacuated such aircraft.

It just orders the FAA to report to Congress — not to take any regulatory action.

This is language designed to appease the airline industry and to give these representatives the cover they need to deny airline passengers a basic human right — the right to adequate space.

Here’s a list of your representatives who voted against minimum seat sizes. A special shout out to Republican Don Young of Alaska, who broke ranks with his colleague and voted to support this amendment:

John Duncan
John Mica
Frank LoBiondo
Sam Graves
Candice Miller
Duncan Hunter
Eric Crawford
Lou Barletta
Blake Farenthold
Bob Gibbs
Richard Hanna
Daniel Webster
Jeff Denham
Reid Ribble
Thomas Massie
Tom Rice
Mark Meadows
Scott Perry
Rodney Davis
Rob Woodall
Todd Rokita
John Katko
Brian Babin
Cresent Hardy
Ryan Costello
Garret Graves
Mimi Walters
Barbara Comstock
Carlos Curbelo
David Rouzer
Lee Zeldin
Mike Bost

Do you support a minimum seat size rule?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on our help forum.

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  • KanExplore

    They vote no on these things because people voting with their wallets have for a long time said they want cheaper prices. These mandates would drive up prices significantly.

  • Alan Gore

    If that were true, then the steady push to smaller seat sizes and closer pitch we have been seeing for years would have meant lower fares. Because the fee-encrusted net amounts we are actually paying has increased, it follows that the way to really cut fares must be to make the seats larger.

  • Jim Zakany

    There are already myriad standards for emergency egress, seating design standards, etc. If the FAA were to enforce these engineering standards on aircraft interiors, we would not have this issue.

  • sirwired

    How are the current evacuation tests a “sham”?

  • Nancy Nally

    Because planes aren’t required to be tested in the seat configurations they actually FLY in.

  • sirwired

    I’m trying to think of an accident requiring rapid evacuation where there were injuries or fatalities due to the inability to empty the plane in time. I’m coming up blank. (And this includes several incidents in which the plane was actively on fire.) On the other hand, full-fledged evac tests ALWAYS result in injuries to some of the volunteers.

    There’s no evidence at all that the current combination of tests and computer modeling is inadequate, but we do know that additional tests themselves are injurious. That’s not a great case for more full tests.

  • AJPeabody

    Sort of like approving medications without actually testing them on sick people in case there may be side effects?

  • Pegtoo

    What will the minimum seat size be? Who gets to decide that…Shuster and Rubino?

  • jim6555

    I hate to say it, but given the current political climate, the minimum seat size rule will come about only after an accident happens and lives are lost because an aircraft cannot be evacuated quickly.

  • LonnieC

    I’m quite certain that I read in another Elliott news item that half the testers are either airline or manufacturer’s employees and the rest are young athletes. I hope someone can confirm that.