Analysts said that a bill that would regulate airplane seat
configurations is unlikely to make it through Congress this session.
But lawmakers could look more kindly upon a provision in a
second flyer-protection bill that would require airlines to state clearly on
their websites what they will do for customers when travels are disrupted by a
widespread computer system outage.
Neither measure, however, is likely to get serious
consideration except as part of a broader FAA reauthorization bill, which
Congress is supposed to pass before the agency's funding expires on Sept. 30.
"I think they will be used by members to show that they
are thinking of these things, but I don't think they have much chance of being
passed as a standalone bill," said Rui Neiva, aviation policy analyst at
the Washington-based Eno Center for Transportation think tank.
The Seat Egress in Air Travel Act, unveiled in early March,
would direct the FAA to establish minimum standards on the width of commercial
aircraft seats as well as the distance between rows.
The bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Steve Cohen
(D-Tenn.), a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee, and
by Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R.- Ill.).
In the Senate, five Democrats are sponsoring the
legislation, including minority leader Chuck Schumer of New York.
Airlines have reduced legroom and added seats to some
aircraft in recent years, seeking to maximize the earning potential of each
plane. The bill's sponsors said that when air passengers are squeezed too
tightly it increases the evacuation time of an aircraft and can elevate the
risk that a passenger will be afflicted with a blood clotting condition called
deep vein thrombosis.
Scientific studies, however, have mainly shown that travel
in general can cause deep vein thrombosis, whether the conveyance is a plane,
train or automobile.
The Senate and the House rejected similar measures last
Also early this month, Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) and Rep.
Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), the lead Democrat on the House Transportation
Committee, filed the Know Before You Fly Act. It would require airlines to
articulate to passengers whether they will provide hotel accommodations, ground
transportation and/or meal vouchers when flights are disrupted due to computer
system outages. Airlines would also have to reveal which carriers they will
work with to provide alternative transportation.
That proposal came after a year in which U.S. airlines were
plagued by computer outages. Most notably, Delta last August canceled 2,100
flights over four days due to an outage. And last July, a computer glitch
forced Southwest to cancel 2,300 flights over four days.
The Larsen-DeFazio bill would also require airlines to
include baggage fees in all internet fare quotations for a specific itinerary.
On March 2, the DOT suspended the comment period for an
Obama administration proposal to require airlines and ticket agents (including
travel agents) to disclose baggage fees from the beginning of a fare inquiry.
The baggage fee measure, said Neiva, is more likely to get
through under a Democratic-controlled Congress than it is in this term,
especially considering that President Trump has made rolling back regulations a
primary policy goal.
But Neiva and Bob Poole, director of transportation policy
at the libertarian Reason Foundation think tank, said that the computer outages
measure is modest enough in its approach to potentially make it into the FAA
"In order to get a bill passed, you are probably going
to need compromises with people like DeFazio," Poole said.
Neiva and Poole both said that the proposal to regulate seat
size has little chance of making it through a Republican-led Congress.
"I can't imagine the political configuration that will
get this bill through," Neiva said.