After years of watching airlines pack more passengers per plane, lawmakers and passenger rights advocates are moving on separate tracks to keep airline seats and passenger legroom from shrinking further.
Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate teamed up this week to introduce a bill calling on the Federal Aviation Administration to establish a minimum seat size and legroom distance.
"This bill isn't just about comfort, it's about creating safer conditions for millions of travelers," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who introduced the bill along with Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), and Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.).
An effort failed last year to add such seat standards into an FAA funding bill.
The FAA also refused last year a request by a passenger rights group to adopt a rule creating such a minimum seat size.
That passenger rights group, known as Flyers Rights, filed a lawsuit with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, protesting the FAA's decision.
An attorney for the passenger rights group, Joseph Sandler, testified before the court Friday, saying the shrinking seats and tighter legroom make it difficult for passengers to escape a plane in case of an emergency.
The FAA allows airlines to squeeze as many seats in a cabin as the carriers want as long as the passengers have enough room to escape the cabin in an emergency within 90 seconds. The agency says all U.S. airlines now meet that safety standard.
Neither the federal bill nor the Flyers Rights' petition proposes a minimum seat size or legroom distance. Instead, both call on the FAA to come up with such standards.