Cranky on the Web: Feds Want to Regulate Seat Size, Looking at The Rise of Air Taxis

Government Regulation

U.S. congressman proposes law to limit shrinking airline
In case you missed it, Rep Steve Cohen is putting forward a bill in the House of Representatives to regulate seat size. As I’m sure you’ve guessed, I think this is a terrible idea. As long as safety isn’t compromised, then all this will do is push up fares by forcing fewer seats on airplanes. For the most price-sensitive traveler, this is bad news. For those who aren’t price-sensitive, there’s already an option on every domestic airline today (except Southwest) to pay extra for more legroom. Of course, some people disagree…

‘Air taxi’ business sees promise at Westchester County AirportThe Journal News
The folks in Westchester County in New York are seeing more air taxis come in. I’m not an expert on this side of the industry, but there seems to be a clear niche that can work. The author asked if I thought this could be a disruptor like Uber. No way. Uber is more convenient AND cheaper. Air taxis are more convenient but they’re not cheaper.

Monday’s a holiday here in the US, so I’ll be back Tuesday.

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29 comments on “Cranky on the Web: Feds Want to Regulate Seat Size, Looking at The Rise of Air Taxis

    1. Its not a very detailed story. The only thing they talk about is seat pitch @ 29″. I would say holding the line at 28″ would be something I support. Even if you pay to upgrade in a force majeure situation you could be in a very uncomfortable place no matter what happens. So I’ll disagree and say this type of law has some merit — if done properly.

      1. You’d need to apply force majeure to get me to fly on an airplane in a 28″ seat pitch configuration. It’s a violation of the Geneva Convention.

        1. That’s not what “force majeure” means. It’s more like “Act of God” or unforseen circumstance than being forced to do something against your will.

    2. Grichard – I don’t even know. Of course, width could be the bigger issue.
      If they decided, for example, that 18 inches was the minimum, that’s fine for the wider A320 family. But on a 737 that means 5 seats across which would destroy it economically. (In completely fake news, Airbus just donated millions to this guy’s campaign fund…)

      1. Pretty sure that’s not going to happen. Boeing would have some dollars to spend, too.

        But… We do see seat width and effective seat width (via shrinking arm rests) shrink on wide bodies (777 reconfigs).

        We regulate the amount of space available to chickens. Why not regulate the minimum amount of space available to coach passengers?

      2. “(In completely fake news, Airbus just donated millions to this guy’s campaign fund…)”

        I’m surprised it took me this long, but I just read Michael Crichton’s “Airframe” (1996). In that novel, Airbus funds the Institute for Aviation Safety (or some such) which, of course, distributes press releases that raise doubts about the safety of competing aircraft.

  1. the problem with air taxi is baggage handling. It cannot be checked through to your ultimate destination. If you check it with the air taxi without it going through TSA you must go to baggage claim ad go back through TSA so your transfer times are much longer than the normal legacy/regional. And with the legacy/regional carriers flying bigger and bigger planes many smaller cities are going to loose air service.It is already cheaper or quicker to drive to a destination than to fly. I know you can check your bags at TSA at origination but then you must hand carry that luggage to you continuing carrier and that is difficult for many passengers. There has got to be some co-operation between air taxi and the legacy carriers and without congressional or FAA action I don’t see an answer.

    1. I don’t think the luggage connectivity is an issue for air taxi. For business people, they are likely to use it to do day trips or to visit places for a day or two directly, not to fly an air taxi from White Plains to Logan and then to hop on a commercial flight elsewhere. Same with leisure travelers.

  2. It might be more useful if airlines were required to actually publish the seat pitch you were purchasing. The market works best with an informed consumer, and as is it’s pretty hard for a consumer to tell just what they’re getting or to comparison shop by features within a broad fare class.

    1. Eric C – I actually wish airlines had to publish something better than seat pitch. Pitch means nothing because the thickness of the seat is included in that. What really matters is the distance from the front of the seat cushion to the back of the seat in front and from the from of the top of the seatback to the seat in front.

  3. Despite generally believing in the free market, I think the minimum seat pitch is a good idea. The government regulates minimum standards for all different kinds of products, from food to cars to paint and everything in between. These standards always increase the cost of the product, but the trade off is worth it for most people.

    1. Jim – The government regulates these things for health and safety reasons.
      If they can’t evacuate the airplane in a timely manner because of this or if they can somehow show that minimum seat pitch is hazardous to health, then I’d hope they’d regulate that as well. But I doubt it.

        1. Jim – And where exactly do you draw the line? There needs to be something far more scientific here. And I haven’t heard about any explosion in DVT cases lately.

          1. I totally agree with you on needing a scientific basis. DVT’s can be a significant problem for individuals though, who are predisposed to them. Often there is a time lag before it is even discovered, so the link to the flight may not be realized.

          2. Where to draw the line is a bit arbitrary. But that doesn’t mean you can’t try to draw it at a suitable place.

      1. Aircraft evacuation tests are not a reliable measure of safety because they do not sufficiently replicate the key circumstances of an actual evacuation…and they are not redone often enough. It is clear to me, as a purser during several evacuations of commercial passenger jet aircraft, that the more that passengers are squished in their designated space, the longer it will take them to evacuate. The safety of anyone in the cabin definitely is compromised by the recent and current lessening of pitch and seat width in basic economy, which simply has gone too far in most commercial passenger jet aircraft.

  4. As a moderately frequent 6’4″ tall flier – there is little worse than paying for upgraded legroom then losing it due to force majeure. Or needing to go somewhere only served by 29 or 30 inch pitch crj torture chambers.

    Not only am I in favor of a minimum standards, I am in favor of a minimum standard measured after the person in front of you reclines.

    If the cost difference between a 29″ and 32″ seat really makes that much of a difference then take greyhound.

  5. Interesting in that I haven’t heard calls from the government to ban the Fiat 500 and mandate the legroom of a Cadillac as the minimum standard.

  6. Many people have to fly for their jobs and are only going to get re-imbursed for standard economy. There should be a standard to protect such people from torture seats. This explains why the airlines have loyalty programs with upgrades to E+ or F. The employer gets to pay for E and the employee may not have to suffer. But this is an unreliable way to protect employees from torture seats.

    Unfortunately, a 10% difference in width and a 10% difference in seat pitch makes for a 21% difference in space required for the seat which explains why airlines try to chisel each inch off width and pitch.

    Maybe the gov’t should define minimum pitch and width for E seats and airlines should be forced to label any seat that doesn’t meet those standard as “Substandard Economy.”

    1. I very rarely fly for business (fortunately) and without my personal travel I wouldn’t have elite status to get preferred seats. Also, business travel is often last minute (mine at least) and the good seats are usually taken considering how full flights are these days. Also, my employer doesn’t necessarily allow me to pick the carrier of my choice (that would give me E+ due to status) since I am required to buy the cheapest coach ticket (within reason, factoring it departure/arrival times and connections).

  7. If there was some sort of regulation to define seat pitch (for example) had to be at least 28 or 29 inches, I would support it. There has to be some point at which it is unfair for airlines to push passengers.
    If a person buys a plane ticket in a wealthy country, there should be a reasonable expectation that a fully grown adult can fit in the seat and sit without having to contort themselves during a flight.

    Of course I imagine that the fire evacuation and crash safety g-force requirements combined with the free market need to sell tickets at a high enough price will largely do the job anyway – there’s an absolute minimum biological requirement driven by the distance between an adult’s backside and knee. For all the hype, standing-only cabins are pie-in-the-sky.

  8. Interesting to see the article on air taxis.

    I can see these having a fair appeal for businesspeople who need to make quick regional trips and whose company doesn’t have any (or enough) corporate planes. If a company is looking at flying 4 people from metro NYC to NH or Maine, for example, $500 a head roundtrip doesn’t seem unreasonable, especially if it means that an overnight trip can be turned into a day trip (saving the cost of a hotel) and if the employees can save an hour or two of door-to-door time vs flying commercially. In some situations last minute regional flights alone would cost more than the air taxi.

    HPN is also literally right on the border of Greenwich, so the leisure market for the NYC execs and financiers is significant, as mentioned.

  9. When they state that the average seat width has dropped from 18″ to 16.5″, where do they get that data? The Boeing 707, 727, 737, and 757 have all had the same narrow cabin with six seats across since the 1950’s. They haven’t changed. The DC-10 and L-1011 are both gone. The only planes with narrower than imagined coach seats left are the 777 and the 787 as far as I know.

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