Congress Passes FAA Funding Bill That Sets Seat Size and Legroom Standards
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Congress Passes FAA Funding Bill That Sets Seat Size and Legroom Standards

The bill could also mean a number of other potential benefits for air travelers

October 1, 2018

Are you tired of shrinking seats on planes? A bill that sets funding for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has passed both houses of Congress and includes a number of benefits for air travelers.

Shrinking Seats Are Common

As it stands, an airline can set the seats in its planes in any configuration. This means that a flight can be as roomy or cramped as the airline sees fit. But let's face it. Nearly every plane these days is cramped, even if you upgrade your seat.

The more seats you can fit on a plane, the more money the airline stands to make. Over the past two decades, financial pressures have prompted airlines to shrink the space on flights in order to keep profits up. But airlines have also realized that uncomfortable passengers will pay more to upgrade a more comfortable seat, even if it only offers a couple of inches more.

Bill Would Have Consumer Benefits

The funding plan for the FAA covers the next five years and requires the FAA to set minimum seat width and legroom standards. Legroom, which is measured from one point on the seat to the same point on the seat in the next row, was once about 35 inches. It's now 30 inches or less.

The FAA previously refused to tell airlines how big seats needed to be and how much legroom there was. Congress has now forced the FAA's hand in setting a standard. Airlines will be prevented from bumping a passenger if that passenger has already boarded the plane and it will be clarified that there is no maximum amount of compensation if a passenger is bumped.

Consumer advocates wanted the bill to also prevent unreasonable and excessive fees, but that provision didn't make it.

Other Potential Benefits

Several provisions to address increased airport noise levels caused by new flights paths were also included, which would require the FAA to study the health impacts of flight noise to those living under a flight path and the feasibility of modifying departure paths.

The bill also aims to give flight attendants minimum of ten hours of rest between shifts, to better communicate with travelers during mass flight cancellations and groundings, to prohibit the use of electronic cigarettes onboard aircraft, to provide faster refunds for services that travelers don't receive, and to study the availability, size and number of bathrooms on commercial flights.