Schumer pushes FAA to do more on shrinking airline seats

Sen. Chuck Schumer wants the federal government to do more to combat shrinking airline seat sizes.
Sen. Chuck Schumer wants the federal government to do more to combat shrinking airline seat sizes. Photo Credit: Melissa Echeverri

The federal government is moving too slowly to address shrinking room for airplane passengers, Sen. Chuck Schumer charged Sunday.

The Senate’s top Democrat said the Federal Aviation Administration must immediately begin complying with a law he penned that requires the agency to establish minimum seat size standards for airplanes. Though the law, part of an FAA reauthorization bill passed in September, gives the FAA a year to set such standards, Schumer said the process should start now as holiday travel is expected to send hundreds of thousands through New York’s airports each day.

“The FAA should get to work declaring fair minimum seat size based on science, passenger health and safety — not the maximum number that the airlines want to try and cram into the plane,” Schumer said. “The requirement will prevent airlines from continuing to shrink seat size and could force them to restore it.”

Airlines’ average seat pitches — the distance from one point on a seat to the same point on the seat of the next row — shrunk from 35 inches in the 1970s to approximately 31 inches, according to Schumer, who was referencing a Fortune study. And Fly Rights, a nonprofit advocacy group, has argued that the average width of airplane seats narrowed from roughly 18.5 inches in the early-2000s to 17 inches in the early-to-mid-2010s.

“The only thing that hasn’t shrunk: airline profits,” Schumer continued. “One of the reasons the airlines are so profitable is this, plain and simple.”

There are currently no federal regulations establishing a minimum seat pitch or width for standard airplane rows. Though there are some guidelines for exit rows.

The FAA issued a statement in response saying only that it “is working to address the provision in the Reauthorization bill.”