Here’s something you don’t get to see every day: Your elected representatives giving airlines a license to make the seats as small as they want, as long as they can pass a sham “safety evacuation” test.
If you care about this issue, you need to watch these congressional theatrics.
First to speak is Rep. Steven Cohen (D.-Tenn), who introduced the Seat Egress in Air Travel (SEAT) Act as an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill. Amendments to the bill were considered late Thursday.
The SEAT act would have required the FAA to establish a minimum seat size and minimum distance between rows of seats for the safety and health of passengers. It was defeated by a 26-33 vote.
Cohen started his pitch by featuring the ad I highlighted on this site a few days ago, which is a great way to introduce the amendment. (I’m told he’s a reader of this blog.)
After his introduction, he handed it off to his co-sponsor, Janice Hahn. That was followed by opposition from Rodney Davis of Illinois, Committee Chairman Bill Shuster and ranking Democrat Peter DeFazio.
Davis’ flippant rejoinder was the most troubling.
Davis: Well, I see we have some different-sized seats here in the house. Mr. Chairman has a larger seat. Do you think the House Administration Committee should study seat sizes here?
Cohen: We’re not in airplanes that are crashing and 180 people at one time trying to get to a ramp.
After the defeat, Cohen issued a statement saying he was “disappointed” by the vote.
“This was a vote against the safety and health of airline passengers,” he said. “The FAA 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. That’s unacceptable. It’s time for the FAA to take action.”
Cohen says he’ll continue to work on this issue and expects to offer this amendment again when the bill comes to the floor of the House.
Oh, by the way, that FAA requirement for testing evacuations that DeFazio mentions in the video as the reason this amendment is unnecessary? It makes no mention of seat sizes or space. Read it for yourself if you don’t believe me.
SEC. 416. CABIN EVACUATION.
(a) REVIEW.—The Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration shall review—
(1) evacuation certification of transport-category aircraft used in air transportation, with regard to—
(A) emergency conditions, including impacts into water;
(B) crew procedures used for evacuations under actual emergency conditions; and
(C) any relevant changes to passenger demographics and legal requirements (including the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990) that affect emergency evacuations; and
(2) recent accidents and incidents where passengers evacuated such aircraft.
It just orders the FAA to report to Congress — not to take any regulatory action.
This is language designed to appease the airline industry and to give these representatives the cover they need to deny airline passengers a basic human right — the right to adequate space.
Here’s a list of your representatives who voted against minimum seat sizes. A special shout out to Republican Don Young of Alaska, who broke ranks with his colleague and voted to support this amendment: