A pair of Democrats on the House Transportation Committee sought unsucessfully on Thursday to make airlines provide more legroom for passengers.
Reps. Janice Hahn (Calif.) and Steve Cohen (Tenn.) filed an amendment to a Federal Aviation Administration funding measure that would have require the agency to develop a minimum legroom requirement for U.S. flights.
Both measures were voted down in 26-33 votes.
The lawmakers who introduced the amendment said the proposed legroom regulation is necessary because airlines have reduced the average amount of space between seats from 35 to 28 inches.
“The lack of legroom on some planes is not only uncomfortable, we are not even sure if it is safe,” Hahn said in a statement. “The safety of passengers cannot be sacrificed for a higher bottom line. Frankly, cutting costs by shrinking seat sizes at a time when fuel prices are low, and airline profits are soaring, is just greedy at the expense of the passengers’ comfort and safety.”
Passenger advocacy groups have complained about airlines reducing the amount of legroom on flights for years, saying airlines are seeking to maximum profits at the expense of consumer safety and comfort.
“The FAA should develop a minimum standard for space for passengers — seat width and legroom,” Travelers United Chairman Charlie Loecha said in a statement last year. “Without some kind of limit, airlines will pursue profits and not humane conditions."
Airlines have defended the changes to the size of airplane seats, saying federal officials have determined that the current of legroom that is typically offered on flights is safe.
"We believe the government's role in seat sizes for all forms of transportation (car, bus, rail and air) is to determine what is safe," the group that lobbies for most major carriers in Washington, Airlines for America, said Thursday.
"The [Department of Transportation's] own Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection decided to not make a recommendation on seat sizes, and we also believe that government should not regulate, but instead market forces, which reflect consumer decisions, and competition should determine what is offered," the airline group continued.
Lawmakers in the House are holding a hearing on the proposed FAA funding measure on Thursday. The agency's funding is currently set to expire on March 31.
The FAA bill is one of the few must-pass pieces of legislation left on the congressional agenda this year. As such, it also represents an opportunity for lawmakers looking for a vehicle on which to attach pet issues.
Most of the debate about the aviation funding bill thus far has been focused on a controversial plan from House Republicans to separate air traffic control from the FAA.
The text of the amendment to require the establishment of legroom mininium can be read here.
-Last updated at 4:09 p.m.