By Robert McGarvey
Talk about a swampy idea. A gaggle of Senators and Congressmen have joined together to support legislation, called SEAT, that would set minimum seat sizes on commercial planes – and I struggle to come up with a kindly view of the why
The legislators also want a minimum space between rows of seats.
They say: “The SEAT Act would establish a minimum seat size on commercial airlines as well as a minimum distance between rows of seats to protect the safety and health of airline passengers.”
“Airline passengers are tired of being squeezed,” said Congressman Steve Cohen, one of the primary backers. “Shrinking seat sizes in airplanes isn’t just a matter of comfort but the safety and health of passengers as well. Planes need to be capable of rapid evacuation in case of emergency. In addition, doctors have warned that deep vein thrombosis can afflict passengers who do not move their legs enough during longer flights. The safety and health of passengers must come before airline profits.”
Color me as anti.
Understand, I am not a small person, around 6’1”, 190 lbs., and – wherever possible – I have always sought to fly upfront for the greater space. I have had my knees smashed by the seat in front of me, and I have also been unable to use a laptop because there just was not enough room.
I have written, with some favor, about the controversial gadget Knee Defender that prevents an airplane seat from reclining. I have not used it myself but I understand those who do.
I have also written a number of times about DVT – deep vein thrombosis – and while I would not deem myself an expert on the condition, I take DVT seriously enough to pretty consistently get up and walk around for a few minutes every hour in a flight. The first DVT story I recall writing was in 2003, the most recent was 2015.
So, definitely, I am sympathetic to complaints that too snug airplane seats are potentially bad for our health.
I am also sympathetic to the claim that too snug seats are bad for safe and fast emergency exits from planes, another point made by the SEAT advocates.
This is probably made all the worse by the obesity epidemic in which we find ourselves Too big people in too small seats is indeed a catastrophe in the making.
Generally, too, I am in the same Washington DC camp as Cohen and fellow SEAT backers Chuck Schumer, Bob Menendez, Dianne Feinstein, Ed Markey, and more.
So why don’t I support SEAT?
Factor in the context that the US President is on record, often and loudly, opposing too much legislation – and it would not be hard to envision this president vetoing SEAT if it reached his desk.
Sure, shrinking seat size is an issue, as more airlines want to squeeze more of us into a small space. Here’s a Telegraph round up, from 2010, of seat sizes. If anything, seats today are smaller.
Here’s a 2016 round-up by the Independent.
Meantime, BA recently indicated it planned to shrink seat pitch on many planes, in order to better compete with low priced rivals.
The legislators, in their press release, documented that if you think things are snugger in coach you’re right: “The average distance between rows of seats has dropped from 35 inches before airline deregulation in the 1970s to about 31 inches today. The average width of an airline seat has also shrunk from 18 inches to about 16 ½.”
But a Congressionally mandated seating chart is madness.
What do we need instead of legislation? Loud, persistent voices complaining about too small seats – and just as important is putting our money where our mouths are. A for instance of the latter was a January JoeSentMe column by Chris Barnett, where he observed the advantages of a bus trip for an intra-California hop: “Seating on the two-year-old motorcoach was far more comfortable than any U.S. airline’s coach or premium economy class.”
Another, smart choice: drive instead of fly. It may well be cheaper with today’s cheap gas prices. It almost certainly will be more comfortable – and quite possibly no longer in time – than flying, particularly when it’s, say, a four hour drive from New York to Boston or to Washington DC.
Raise your voice if you want more space in economy.
And back it up with your wallet.
That’s how to wake up penny pinching airline executives.
Those execs already know the Cohen SEAT bill is DOA. They won’t break into a nervous sweat over it. They’ll probably have a good chuckle about it.
But if they hear enough anger from passengers – and if enough use their wallet power, now you may have gotten their attention.