Lonely Planet Writer

More plane legroom comes one step closer

New laws on minimum seat width and extra legroom for air passengers on US planes may have moved a step closer – but with a clear warning that such legislation would come with a price.

A US congressman is calling for an end to squeezing in passengers legroom and is getting widespread backing for his proposal
A US congressman is calling for an end to squeezing in passengers legroom and is getting widespread backing for his proposal Image by big-ashb / CC BY-SA 2.0

US Congressman Steve Cohen last week introduced the Seat Egress in Air Travel (SEAT) Act, calling for the Federal Aviation Administration to set minimum seat-size standards.  He claimed on his website that there had been a reduction, from 35inches before airline deregulation was introduced, to 31 inches at present.

Travellers and carriers know the importance of legroom, particularly on long haul flights, but price also is important
Travellers and carriers know the importance of legroom, particularly on long haul flights, but price also is important Image by Iwan Gabovitch / CC BY 2.0

In the debate, Congressman Cohen said the shrinkage in space raised both health and safety concerns. He said passengers were fed up of being  squeezed “both physically and fiscally by airlines.”

Aviation industry commentators have responded by claiming that giving passengers more space will inevitably push up ticket prices.

Phil Bloomfield of Cheapflights.co.uk said changes that leads to less seats on a plane reduced the financial yield on every flight, making it virtually certain that carriers would offset that loss with dear seat prices.

The Daily Telegraph reports Mr Bloomfield as explaining that in Europe the EU had a minimum pitch seat of 26 inches in order to conform with safety standards. However the average economy class pitch was 31 inches which showed that airlines understood that comfort was important too for passengers. This was particularly true in the case of long haul flights, but it had to be balanced with price.

In the US, Mr Cohen’s attempt to introduce a new Seat act into law has gained backing in latter years.

FlyersRights, a US pressure group with 60,000 members and backers, last year filed a petition to America’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) seeking to set legal limits on how narrow and small airlines could make seats.

FlyersRights believes that the space between a seat and the one in front is now possibly more important than seat width and the etiquette on reclining seats. A device called the “knee defender” – which can be clipped on the seat in front to stop the passenger leaning it back – has been banned by all major carriers and most other airlines following onboard rows which put flights in dangers.

In one case in August last year, a United Airlines service from Newark to Denver was forced to make an emergency landing in Chicago after two passengers were involved in a dispute following the use of such a gadget.