SEAT Act would improve passenger space, hike ticket prices

By Cole Lauterbach 
Illinois News Network

A bill in Congress would force airlines to make more space in between their seats.

The sponsors of the Seat Egress in Air Travel Act, or SEAT Act, would establish a minimum seat size on commercial flights and a minimum distance between rows of seats. Sponsors of the bill, including Republican Illinois congressman Adam Kinzinger said in a statement that the new rules are meant to protect the health and safety of passengers. Sitting too long has been proven to increase the risk of deep vein thrombosis, a type of blood clot in a large vein.

“The SEAT Act will ensure standards are in place to guarantee effective passageways of evacuation for passenger safety,” he said.

The average space between seats has dropped in recent years from 35 inches to 31 and the width has dropped as well.

“That doesn’t seem like a lot but it can be when the person in front of you reclines their seat,” said CBS News Travel Editor Steve Greenberg, who is the proud owner of more than 22 million frequent flyer miles.

Greenberg said the safety issue has come up in more than one legislative session. “How can you possibly evacuate a plane in a reasonably safe amount of time given the number of passengers on board, the density of the seating and all of the carry-on bags we bring with us?”

He said the FAA could just change a rule that would force airlines to widen seats, saying the cramped conditions keeps passengers from exiting a plane in under 90 seconds with half of the exits blocked, which is the current safety requirement.

But Greenberg says the bill would likely mean higher ticket prices too.

“It’s inevitable that if you reduce the capacity in the plane, the law of supply and demand kicks in and prices go up,” he said.

Industry trade group Airlines for America said in a statement that their member airlines appreciate the need for safety, but the measure will only stifle consumer choice and limit competition. “…the market, which reflects consumer values and choice in a highly competitive environment, is better suited than government to determine seat size and other service options. Unnecessary regulation interferes with consumer choice and serves to limit competition,” the statement said.

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