Last week, the U.S. Senate rejected a bill that would have blocked airlines from shrinking the size, width, and padding of airline seats. But passengers have already won.
Listen to the audio commentary:
The numbers don’t tell the story of how agonizing air travel has become.
Since Washington deregulated the airline industry 38 years ago, coach class seats have shriveled.
The average seat width: down to 16 1/2 inches from 18. And the average average pitch — that’s a rough measure of legroom — compressed to 31 inches from 35.
But those are just markers for our collective misery. Do I have to remind you about the ridiculous ticket rules? The surcharges. The junk fees. Try changing a ticket, for example, and you’ll have to cough up another $200 or more.
Go on. I’ll wait here.
No wonder we’re a nation of angry fliers. And no wonder the airline industry is raking in more cash than you can fit in the cargo hold of a 747. This year alone, North American airlines will suck more than $19 billion in profits from our pockets.
The proposal by New York Democrat Chuck Schumer failed by a 42 to 54 vote, mostly along party lines. The airline industry lobbyists and the bloggers who are self-appointed industry experts and wannabe thought leaders are high-fiving each other, no doubt.
Little do they realize that while they’ve won a little battle, they’ve actually lost. This issue has nothing to do with free markets or regulation, as they claim, and it has everything to do with the health and safety of airline passengers.
You just can’t keep compressing your customers into ever-smaller airline seats and hide behind the free market. It’s as absurd as any argument against seatbelts or the tenement laws at the turn of the last century. The Senate is on the wrong side of history.
And don’t look now, but there’s a similar bill in Congress and the Federal Aviation Administration is considering seat-size regulations. No doubt, a law will at some point be created to fix the indignity of modern-day air travel.
That’s what happens when corporate greed smashes against your knees while you’re confined to a pressurized aluminum tube. Greed may win along a party line vote in an election year, but it won’t prevail.