Cohen’s bill on plane seat size is grounded

It didn’t take long for U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen’s crusade for larger airplane seats to hit turbulence in Congress, reports Michael Collins.

Taking up the cause of passengers who are tired of squeezing into narrow seats for long flights, the Memphis Democrat filed legislation last Monday that for the first time would require the federal government to establish minimum seat-size standards and a minimum distance between rows of seats on airplanes.

By Thursday, the proposal had been grounded. A House subcommittee rejected the measure on a vote of 26-33 when Cohen offered it as an amendment to a broader aviation bill.

“This was a vote against the safety and health of airline passengers,” a disappointed Cohen said afterward.

But as often happens in Washington, the proposal may have been knocked down, but it’s not yet dead. Cohen said he will continue to pursue the legislation as a stand-alone bill.

Consumer advocacy groups have been pushing for years for more leg room and bigger seats on planes.

Narrower seats and seat pitches — the distance between seats — have allowed airlines to fit more seats on planes, but at the cost of passenger comfort, critics charge.

The average distance between rows of seats has dropped from 35 inches before airline deregulation in the 1970s to about 31 inches today, according to Cohen’s office. The average width of an airline seat has shrunk from 18 inches to about 16½.