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Those brutally small airplane seats may soon be a thing of the past

Ethan Wolff-Mann
Senior Writer

Airplane legroom has been shrinking since the ‘70s. Once providing spacious 35 inches on average, seats today are just 31 inches apart, a four-inch reduction that has exponentially impaired comfort—especially for the long of leg.

For width it’s no better. Seats have shrunk from 18 inches to just 16 ½.

Congress may be enjoying near record levels of disapproval, but two representatives have reached across the aisle to fight these airborne walls from closing in, announcing this week they will reintroduce the SEAT act, a backronym standing for Seat Egress in Air Travel.

The representatives, Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), argue that this is a safety issue, not just a comfort one. “The airlines will tell you this is merely a consumer issue, not a safety one, and that consumers can vote with their dollars,” said Cohen in an op-ed in USA Today. He says the FAA has not conducted rapid evacuation tests of smaller seats.

The time to examine the safety implications of smaller airplane seats is now, not after some future tragedy. Needless to say, the airlines don’t want this to happen. Smaller seats mean higher profits, and they’ll do whatever they can to defeat this bill in Congress,” Cohen said. The idea would be to impose a minimum width and legroom space from these sort of evacuation tests.

Joining in supporting Cohen is Kinzinger, a Republican, making it a bipartisan issue. “I’m grateful to join my colleague, Rep. Cohen, in announcing our plans to introduce the Safe Egress in Air Travel Act in the 115th Congress,” said Kinzinger in a press release.

In the op-ed, Cohen also noted dangers of deep vein thrombosis, blood clots that form during long, cramped flights without movement that can potentially be fatal should they reach the lungs.

Cohen attempted to pass the SEAT Act in 2015, as an amendment to a reauthorization bill for the FAA. But it died in committee. Unlike that failed attempt, however, this version of the SEAT legislation will be standalone.

Airlines should have nothing to fear from this bill,” writes Cohen. “If the industry’s standard seat sizes are safe, then the minimum seat size the FAA would establish would be small enough that current seat sizes would qualify.”

But if FAA evacuation findings showed delays from the claustrophobic conditions, airline seats might get a little more spacious. And if you’re wondering which airlines’ planes are the worst? Here’s a handy list. If you’re tall, maybe avoid taking a long-haul economy flight on Condor.

Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance focusing on consumer issues, tech, and personal finance. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann.

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