Published 2:15 PM EDT Sep 23, 2018
Congress is considering ordering the FAA to establish minimum airline seat sizes, investigate the size and number of airplane lavatories, and establish new standards for allowing service animals to fly with their human owners.
The proposals are included in a compromise FAA funding plan released by House and Senate lawmakers on Saturday. Congress faces a Sept. 30 deadline to keep FAA programs running, and the Senate must either to take up the bill this week or both chambers will need to pass a short-term extension.
Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida said lawmakers from both chambers agreed it was time to take action on “ever-shrinking seats.”
“Relief could soon be on the way for weary airline passengers facing smaller and smaller seats,” Nelson said.
The room between rows – measured from a point on one seat to the same point on the seat in the next row – has been shrinking for many years as airlines squeeze more seats onto their planes. It was once commonly 34 or 35 inches, and is now less than 30 inches on some planes. FAA officials say existing safety rules mean seats are unlikely to ever get smaller than 27 inches.
The bill also blocks the involuntary bumping of passengers who have already boarded, but lacks a passenger-backed effort to block airlines from imposing fees deemed “not reasonable and proportional.” However, it includes requirements that airlines more explicitly state their policies for handling delayed flights, and for accommodating disabled passengers.
"This measure will provide long-term certainty for the millions of passengers and countless businesses that rely on access to safe, affordable travel and shipping options every day," Airlines for America President and CEO Nicholas E. Calio said in a statement.
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The bill requires the FAA to establish “reasonable” measures to ensure people aren’t improperly pretending their pets are service animals, mandates that large airports provide nursing rooms for new mothers, and expands the availability of PreCheck security access.
It also allows Amtrak to begin using a computerized passenger vetting system similar to the ones used by airlines, heightens punishments for flyers who interfere with flight crews, creates a system by which drone companies could deliver packages, and establishes punishments for anyone who interferes with wildfire fighting by flying a drone nearby.
The bill would also mandate that flight attendants get a minimum of 10 hours of rest between their work shifts and addresses concerns about increased airport noise levels caused by new flight paths.
Calio said the commercial aviation industry supports 10 million jobs and contributes $1.5 trillion to our economy annually. Daily, 3.2 million people fly U.S. carriers, which serve 800 airports in 80 countries, he said.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said he expects the House and Senate to move quickly to send the bill to the president’s desk.
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Contributing: The Associated Press