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Congressman Introduces Bill to Halt the Coach-Class Seat Squeeze

Tired of squeezing your ever-expanding frame into those ever-shrinking coach-class seats? So is Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Aviation. And he wants the government to do something about it.

In his proposed legislation, the Safe Egress in Air Travel Act of 2016, or SEAT, Cohen is taking a novel tack in arguing for more capacious seating. Rather than whine about discomfort or claustrophobia—complaints that have gotten no traction with either airlines or legislators—he stresses the relationship between seat size and both safety and health.

Consumers are tired of being squeezed both physically and fiscally by airlines. Shrinking seat sizes isn’t just a matter of comfort but safety and health as well. The Federal Aviation Administration requires that planes be capable of rapid evacuation in case of emergency, yet they haven’t conducted emergency evacuation tests on all of today’s smaller seats. Doctors have also warned that deep vein thrombosis can afflict passengers who can’t move their legs during longer flights.

RELATED: Airlines to Harried Flyers: ‘Relax, Have a Pretzel’

Cohen plans to introduce SEAT as an amendment to the pending FAA reauthorization bill. The Act, if approved, would not itself define the minimum seat dimensions. Rather, it calls for the Secretary of Transportation to establish the minimums, within one year of the Act’s passage.

The Congressman claims that seat pitch, the distance between rows, has decreased from 35 inches in the 1970s to 31 inches today, and seat width has decreased from 18 inches to 16.5 inches.

What Cohen didn’t mention was the other half of the equation: Even as seating has become tighter, passengers have been getting taller and heavier. That’s a sure recipe for discomfort. And it raises legitimate safety and health concerns as well, as Cohen warns. We’ll see whether Congress agrees or not.

Reader Reality Check

Is it time the government put a stop to the airlines’ seat squeeze?

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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