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Consumer groups want feds to require more leg room on planes

Consumer groups want feds to require more leg room on planes
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Consumer groups are pushing the federal government to require airlines to provide passengers more space on flights. 

The groups say airlines are currently giving passengers the squeeze by reducing the size of seats on flights to maximize profits. 

The chairman of the Arlington, Va.-based Travelers United group said federal regulators should mandate a minimum amount of space between seats on airplanes to preserve passengers’ ability to be comfortable on flights that are increasingly being offered on smaller airplanes. 

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“The FAA should develop a minimum standard for space for passengers -- seat width and legroom,” Travelers United Chairman Charlie Loecha said in an email after participating in a meeting of the Department of Transportation’s Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections this week. 

“Without some kind of limit, airlines will pursue profits and not humane conditions,” Leocha continued. 

Leocha said federal airplane evacuation procedures are typically based on the seats being approximately 31 inches in a measurement that is known as “pitch,” or the distance between two identical points in side-by-side seats. A 31 inch seat pitch is the equivalent to a 17.3 inch width, according to the website SeatGuru.com. 

Leocha said some airlines have reduced the average seat pitch of their planes to about 28 inches, resulting not only in passengers being more cramped on flights, but also presenting possible safety risks in the event of a mid-air emergency. 

“Airlines and aircraft manufacturers know about passenger discomfort,” he said. “However, they are operating on bottom line profit motive, not on a humane comfort level.”

Consumer groups have said the reduction in space on airplanes has contributed to an increase in the number of flight disruptions involving disputes between passengers over reclined seats. 

Airlines have defended the changes to the size of airplane seats, saying passengers are able to pay for upgrades to larger seats if they need more space during flights. 

“From a service standpoint, customers decide every day what they value and are willing to pay for, and our members offer different seating options providing customers with a variety of choices,” the Washington, D.C.-based Airlines For America group said in a statement that was provided to The Hill. 

“Different airlines with different business models provide a variety of price and service options that make safe, efficient air travel affordable,” the airline statement continued. “The fact is more people are flying today than in the past seven years and airlines are meeting this demand, while maintaining the affordability of air travel for consumers.” 

The A4A group added that airlines are attempting to add more seats to flights “to accommodate the expected growth in demand.” 

“To meet the extra demand, airlines are adding seats to the marketplace, in part by deploying new and larger aircraft on many routes, which has been a trend for the past five years," the group said. "We believe the market is working and each individual airline should continue to determine which products and service offerings best meet the needs of their customers.”