This New Bill Could Finally Stop Airlines From Shrinking Seats

Airplane Economy Class Seating
Photo: R9_RoNaLdO/Getty Images

The U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation last week that could stop the saga of the “incredible shrinking airline seat.” But even if the bill eventually becomes law, there are still many unknowns.

The bipartisan bill from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee guarantees funding for the Federal Aviation Administration for five years. If it passes through the Senate, the bill will standardize minimum sizes for airplane seats, eliminate involuntary bumping once a passenger is already on a plane, and ban voice phone calls during flight.

However, the bill doesn’t yet set the minimum size required for airplane seats. The FAA will have one year to establish “minimum dimensions for the safety and health of passengers,” including the distance between rows and width of seats.

“As they jam more and more and more seats into these planes, we’ve reached a point where we can no longer meet the standard,” Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-OR, said of the bill. “It’s critical that we be able to get people off as quickly as possible.”

The bill also calls for a review of FAA evacuation procedures, ensuring than an aircraft can be evacuated in 90 seconds or less in case of emergency.

The bill’s attention to involuntary bumping comes about one year after United’s infamous dragging incident at Chicago O’Hare.

Among other consumer-oriented protected, airlines would be required to give passengers a one-page summer of their compensation rights for rebooking, refunding, food and lodging options when flights are diverted, delayed or cancelled. The bill would also create a Department of Transportation Hotline and mobile app where passengers could report complaints.

The Senate will consider its own version of the bill over the coming months and reconcile with the House. Current FAA legislation will expire on September 30.

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