In Depth: Sponsoring Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) said in a press release that the average distance between rows of seats has dropped from 35 inches in the 1970s to about 31 inches today, while the average seat width has decreased from 18 inches to about 16.5.
He also said the problem goes beyond comfort:
“The Federal Aviation Administration requires that planes be capable of rapid evacuation in case of emergency, yet they haven’t conducted emergency evacuation tests on all of today’s smaller seats. Doctors have also warned that deep vein thrombosis can afflict passengers who can’t move their legs during longer flights.”
However, a spokeswoman for an airline trade group told the Washington Post that “safety is always our highest priority.” She added that different airlines offer varying seat sizes, and that “customers vote every day with their wallet.”
Of Note: Rep. Cohen offered this legislation as an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill, but it was rejected by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Subcommittee on Aviation on February 11, 2016. In his attempt to convince the committee, Rep. Cohen played a clip of a Super Bowl commercial showing future aliens misinterpreting airplane seats as a “21st century torture device.” Despite Cohen’s setback, the legislation continues as a standalone bill.