Can Congress Keep Its Hands off Anything?

Representative introduces bill set set minimum airplane seat pitch.

  • Matthew Slyfield

    No. Next question.

    It's a natural outgrowth of having full time legislatures. The feel that they need to constantly pass new laws to justify their existence.

  • OttoMaddox

    Is there anything government can't do? Can't regulate?

  • Jim Collins

    This is one that I agree with, except it should be the FAA doing this not Congress.

  • Mark Lilly

    Why? - Should the less off not have the choice to be marginally uncomfortable and save money on travel? I presume you wouldn't agree with requiring all tickets to have a level of comfort equal to current first class. Fares would rise substantially, and we would use alot more planes and fuel. So why is the present base level of seat space the right amount to require?

  • Kevin

    Every time I see something like this I cringe... it makes the US more and more like Europe every day, though I have an example in France that blew my mind this week:

    I'll start by saying I work for a very large, multi-national, US-based corporation (though there is going to be a tax inversion soon ... yet another fun topic) and have employees who work for me all over the world, including a number in France. I got this e-mail from HR in Europe this week:


    As requested by french law, every employee has to discuss with his manager about potential professional projects and the different ways to reach them (special trainings for example).

    In French, we call this “l’entretien professionnel” which could be translated as “Professional interview”.

    We must complete a document (bellow, in French) and give a copy to each employee.

    In the following days, your employees who work in France may contact you to discuss about possible professional projects. Then they’ll have to validate them with our HR service here in Strasbourg.

    Thanks in advance for your support,

    Best regards,

    So I guess I should be happy that our government hasn't yet gotten involved in making sure companies here are providing "professional project" to apparently better-develop its employees....

  • Earl Wertheimer

    Measure each passenger and put them into a seat that best matches their dimensions.
    ..or have a few small / tall rows for the exceptions.

    Politicians don't care. They get better seats and charge the taxpayers...

  • Geoff

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  • Onlooker from Troy

    Exactly. The beast must grow. It's the nature of the beast. We must slay the beast.

  • Dan Wendlick

    There is a functional limit as to how closely the seats can be placed and still allow for a timely emergency egress. The average consumer would not necessarily be aware of this, so there is a role for regulation here.

  • Andrew_M_Garland

    Set a minimum wage. Then a maximum wage. Bring them closer together over time until they are equal. Socialism the easy way.

  • Bill Setser

    I'll bet that 'functional limit' is probably pretty close to the level of discomfort that people will endure before they decide it's just less hassle to drive.

    So, no. I don't think there is a role for regulation here.

  • LoneSnark

    My understanding is that maximum egress is a regulation that is already on the books and enforced by the FAA.

  • ColoComment

    You have to be able to egress, seat to ground, in a minute and a half.

    §25.803 Emergency evacuation.

    (a) Each crew and passenger area must have emergency means to allow rapid evacuation in crash landings, with the landing gear extended as well as with the landing gear retracted, considering the possibility of the airplane being on fire.
    (b) [Reserved]
    (c) For airplanes having a seating capacity of more than 44 passengers, it must be shown that the maximum seating capacity, including the number of crewmembers required by the operating rules for which certification is requested, can be evacuated from the airplane to the ground under simulated emergency conditions within 90 seconds. Compliance with this requirement must be shown by actual demonstration using the test criteria outlined in appendix J of this part unless the Administrator finds that a combination of analysis and testing will provide data equivalent to that which would be obtained by actual demonstration.

  • John O.

    I don't think the FAA should be writing the rules as its a constitutional separation of powers issue. How can you have a government agency that writes rules that it enforces with strict penalties as both judge and prosecutor. I think this could be handled by underwriters who will refuse to pay out claims aboard aircraft because they weren't designed for maximum safety that is reasonable to attain. But that is not how we work or think about how it should work, we have become paternalistic in our views of government and let baby us into complacency that often becomes a huge drag on the economy and society at large.

  • disqus_DCPbdeGXic

    I would argue that there is a market failure occuring here: people are making purchase decisions based on price alone without considering comfort (oftentimes pitch size isn't clearly displayed). Consumers are irrationally cost-minimizing rather than utility-maximizing due to cognitive biases.

    My solution: require airlines and booking websites to publish seat pitch and width next to the ticket price, similar to how car dealers are required to list MPG information on the windows sticker. This will provide consumers relevant information to make purchase decisions informed by more than just price.

  • Incunabulum

    That's not what a market failure is. They *are* utility-maximizing *by* cost-minimizing.

    This is the market responding to normal selection pressures - people, quite simply, still value a dollar saved over an extra inch between seats on a flight. Because that dollar (and any time saved over driving/train/bus) are far more valuable to them.

    You're basically saying ('cognitive biases') that people aren't smart enough to make the right decision here and making the government's case for regulation for them - the only difference is that you want a different regulation in place.

  • Incunabulum

    All this assumes that

    a) timely egress is actually important - how many air accidents in the last 20 years hinged on fast evacuation? Its often an all or nothing scenario. Either you're screwed before you get in a position to even start an evacuation (ie the emergency happens catastrophically and in the air) or you land safely and have plenty of time to evacuate.

    b) assuming that timely egress is important - that regulators know the optimal time limits in the first place.

  • MB

    Regulation is society's boycott.

  • Eric Wilner

    Timely egress is a big deal.
    Catastrophic failure while in the air is, as you note, generally non-survivable, as is a full-on crash. But!
    There have been many rough landings in which most or all of the passengers survived the landing, but died in a subsequent rapidly-spreading fire.
    There's been a lot of work done, the last few years, in determining just how long the passengers are likely to have between the broken airplane coming to a stop and the smoke and flames overcoming anyone still on board. I don't recall the actual numbers, but getting out quick once it stops moving is a high priority.

  • SamWah

    Perhaps. I could well be overly optimistic.

  • Jim Collins

    That's how it works now. The Federal Aviation Regulations are determined by the FAA.

  • Incunabulum

    In that list there is *one* entry (301: On August 19, 1980, Saudi Arabian Airlines Flight 163where the plane landed safely) - and egress time was still irrelevant because the captain didn't stop the plane and allow people to exit immediately.

    Even doing a quick scan of

    Shows that every one of *those* was a mid-air incident.

    Quick egress is pretty much not a major concern IRL as you're likely to die immediately or make it out just fine.

  • ColoComment

    That's essentially what airlines have done with "business class" and "first class." If you want a bit more TLC and space, you can pay more. It's already an option.

  • xtmar

    Measuring things that have been prevented is of necessity rather difficult, because you don't know the full range of alternatives. However, I would posit that several of the crashes where large parts of the fuselage were consumed by fire post crash are good examples of where mandatory evacuation guidelines make sense, like the Asiana crash at SFO. Other possibly relevant instances might be Singapore 006 or Korean 015. Whether or not 90 seconds is a reasonable guidelines is open for debate, but in general the trend is for more restrictive safety regulations in the hope of further reducing potential fatalities.

    However, I think the biggest gain that could be made in this area is finding ways to prevent people from taking their overhead luggage with them, perhaps by locking the overhead bins during a crash, or by jailing people who do so, for reckless endangerment.

  • Eric Wilner

    I may have been conflating multiple types of incidents in my all-too-fallible memory, but there have certainly been incidents (not necessarily involving large numbers of fatalities) in which ability to escape a post-crash fire (or sinking, etc.) in a timely fashion was an issue.
    In any case, I suspect that the bill in question isn't really about safety concerns, regardless of what its author claims.

  • Incunabulum

    Except that *those* incidents show that, at a minimum, the current designs are plenty suitable for quick egress and there's, at the moment, no call for anyone to get in between the airlines and customers.

  • Craig Loehle

    I would favor Congress and state legislatures not being allowed to do anything internal to a business and very little with "interstate commerce" which is just an excuse to meddle. Labor relations have a way of working themselves out because companies with bad policies experience high turnover or go out of business. The worst problems in business are insane bosses and no law can prevent that.
    Consumer products: only recall if they explode or catch fire.
    Labor relations: only outlaw slavery.
    Minimum wage: none
    Taxes: no corp tax, only personal income tax
    And no certificates needed to cut hair.
    Regulations have already strangled the ability of companies to grow and make a profit, and we are already paying the price in a slow economy.

  • MNHawk

    Absolutely. Isn't a graduate of a modern, American college of Poli Sci a better aerospace engineer than aerospace engineers?

  • FelineCannonball

    I don't know about a regulation, but it seems like a potential marketing angle. 2 more inches in coach class than the competitor!

    Opaque markets do piss me off. Not enough to crowd source measurements for different carriers, but somebody should make this information available and broadcast it.

  • Mike Powers

    It's...*not* aerospace engineers who determine seat pitch in passenger aircraft.

  • Mike Powers

    "how many air accidents in the last 20 years hinged on fast evacuation?"

    Well, there was a 777 that flew into the seawall at SFO a couple years ago. The captain refused to order an evacuation, hoping that somehow it could all be sorted out. Eventually the aircraft caught fire, at which point fast evacuation was most certainly necessary.

  • Mike Powers

    "Should the less off not have the choice to be marginally uncomfortable and save money on travel?"

    The issue is that they aren't actually presented with that choice; they're presented with a fly-cramped-or-don't-travel deal. If there were hundreds of different air travel providers, it would be possible for fliers to pick one over the other based on precise calibrations of seat pitch. Since there are only five or six that fly most places, fliers have to take what they can get.

  • MNHawk

    I did say the tards in the poli sci department were a better designer of our planes, didn't I? American Poli Sci graduates really can do it all.

  • jma

    Cut their pay and benefits so they have to live off another income. Watch the numbers of bills and lobbyists drop. Also add sunsets to present and future legislation so all laws have to be reviewed and voted on again every five to ten years. At this point, you can't inhale without breaking some law.

  • Incunabulum

    So . . . one then? Not exactly a problem that needs Congressional oversight IMO.

  • Mike Powers

    The claim was "none". If you like I could go find more. But then it'll just be continual backpedaling from you; (number) "oh well THAT'S ONLY A FEW", (number) "oh well THAT'S NOT TOO MANY", (number) "oh well ON A STATISTICAL BASIS IT'S NOT A LOT", and so on.

  • Incunabulum

    So you're solution to a problem caused by government regulation is more government regulation.