Congress takes aim at shrink­ing seats, legroom

Austin American-Statesman - - NATION & WORLD - By Kevin Frek­ing

Demo­cratic Sen. Bill Nel­son of Flor­ida said law­mak­ers from both cham­bers agreed it was time to take ac­tion on “ev­er­shrink­ing seats.”

WASH­ING­TON — The Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion would be re­quired to set new min­i­mum re­quire­ments for seats on air­planes un­der leg­is­la­tion to be con­sid­ered in the House this week, pos­si­bly giv­ing pas­sen­gers a break from ever-shrink­ing legroom and cramped quar­ters.

The reg­u­la­tion of seat width and legroom is part of a five-year ex­ten­sion of fed­eral avi­a­tion pro­grams an­nounced early Sat­ur­day by Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic lead­ers of the House and Se­nate com­mit­tees that over­see the na­tion’s air travel.

Congress faces a Sept. 30 dead­line to keep FAA pro­grams run­ning. The Se­nate will also need to take up the bill this week or both cham­bers will need to pass a short­term ex­ten­sion.

The bill would pro­hibit the in­vol­un­tary bump­ing of pas­sen­gers who have al­ready boarded a plane. But in a nod to the power of the com­mer­cial air­lin­ers, law­mak­ers de­clined to in­clude lan­guage that would have pro­hib­ited air­lines from im­pos­ing fees deemed “not rea­son­able and pro­por­tional.”

Demo­cratic Sen. Bill Nel­son of Flor­ida said law­mak­ers from both cham­bers agreed it was time to take ac­tion on “ever-shrink­ing seats.”

“Re­lief could soon be on the way for weary air­line pas­sen­gers fac­ing smaller and smaller seats,” Nel­son said.

In July, the FAA re­jected the idea of set­ting min­i­mum stan­dards for air­lines seats and legroom as a safety mea­sure. But Congress ap­pears de­ter­mined to re­quire the FAA to do so.

The room be­tween rows — mea­sured from a point on one seat to the same point on the seat in the next row — has been shrink­ing for many years as air­lines squeeze more seats onto their planes. It was once com­monly 34 or 35 inches, and is now less than 30 inches on some planes.

Law­mak­ers also in­cluded sev­eral pro­vi­sions to ad­dress con­cerns about in­creased air­port noise lev­els caused by new flight paths. The bill would re­quire the FAA to study the po­ten­tial health im­pacts of flight noise and the fea­si­bil­ity of amend­ing ex­ist­ing de­par­ture pro­ce­dures.

The bill would also man­date that flight at­ten­dants get a min­i­mum of 10 hours of rest be­tween their work shifts and re­quire air­lines to com­mu­ni­cate bet­ter with cus­tomers dur­ing mass flight can­cel­la­tions and ground­ings.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., chair­man of the Se­nate Com­merce, Sci­ence and Trans­porta­tion Com­mit­tee, said he ex­pects the House and Se­nate to move quickly to send the bill to the pres­i­dent’s desk.

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