Dear Senators and Congressmen,

According to a report Friday on thehill.com, after years of failing to pass seat-size regulations because of Republic opposition, seat-size language has now been added to House and Senate bills that are very likely to pass:

The Republican-led Congress is warming up to the idea of creating new consumer protections for travelers, an idea considered controversial just over a year ago.

GOP lawmakers rejected past efforts to establish minimum seat sizes and rein in airline fees, but provisions to do just that were easily added to must-pass aviation legislation this year…

[Rep. Steve] Cohen (D-Tenn.) and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) have been trying for years to require the government to develop minimum standards for seat sizes and the distance between rows on commercial flights, an effort they say is necessary to protect the safety and health of passengers. [Scott: Emphasis mine.]

The language was handily rejected last year by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in a 26-33 vote, while a similar effort led by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to stop seat sizes from getting smaller failed 42-54 on the Senate floor.

The votes mostly fell along party lines, with Republicans arguing that it’s not the government’s role to define comfort by mandating minimum seat sizes…

But this year, about one month after American Airlines announced it would slash legroom in its economy class seats by another two inches, [Scott: Emphasis mine] the House Transportation panel added Cohen and Kinzinger’s seat size amendment to the FAA bill by voice vote, along with a block of other non-controversial amendments.

Seat size language was also included in the Senate’s FAA proposal.

I oppose Congress granting the FAA or any other government body the ability to mandate seat size on airlines. Regulating seat size is unnecessary, not the role of the government in a free society, and goes against consumers’ interests. Plus supporters are lying about their motives for wanting to regulate seat size.

Reps. Cohen and Kinzinger say they want to regulate seat size for our “safety and health”, which is risible because flying has continued to get safer as seat sizes have shrunk. “The last time anyone died on a U.S.-certificated scheduled airline was Feb. 12, 2009,” so don’t act like this about safety. And what exactly are the health concerns of smaller seats? Many airlines in Asia and Europe have smaller seats, and I don’t see an epidemics there caused by a little less comfort while flying.

So why are Cohen and Kinzinger pushing a law to make bigger seats? Just to score political points. They know people complain about airlines and miss an imagined golden age of flying. What I know, though, is that despite the complaints, people prefer flying today.

That’s why U.S. passenger-miles have increased 20-fold since 1960 and nearly doubled since 1990.

Why are we flying more? Mainly because the price has fallen dramatically in inflation-adjusted terms.

Why has the price fallen? Mainly because the government stopped regulating airlines and let the market deliver us competition.

Let’s not take a step backwards by regulating airline seats. We can mandate larger seats, but they will just raise prices. Purchase after purchase, year after year, people vote with their wallets that they don’t want bigger seats for higher prices. In the last decade, low-cost carriers have thrived by offering less leg room for lower prices in the United States (Spirit), Europe, and Asia.

If people didn’t like these airlines, they’d quickly go out of business. Instead, they continue to grow and their older competition continues to mimic them. That’s why the legacy carriers are adding in more seats with less leg room: because we want it. If they offer more leg room in their cheapest seats for a little extra money, we don’t buy their tickets.

But, if you’re worried about seats shrinking too far, again the market has us covered. The article mentions that Cohen and Kinzinger’s amendment made the bill one month after American Airlines announced it would cut leg room by another two inches. That’s ironic because that decision was reversed before it was implemented after public outcry made AA realize it would be a step too far. (The market also has us covered with Economy Plus/Main Cabin Extra/etc seats with extra leg room and First Class seats with lots of extra legroom that anyone can buy if they value that space.)

People have voted with their airfare purchases that they don’t want more legroom for a higher price. Let’s not give them what they don’t want. Smaller seats are perfectly safe and healthy, and the market enforces a natural minimum size below which people rebel and won’t fly.

We’ve seen airline regulation before. It leads to expensive flights that only the wealthy can afford. And we’ve seen the benefits of deregulation as prices have plummeted and air travel has expanded greatly. Reps. Cohen and Kinzinger: don’t regulate airline seat size.

While you’re at it, don’t regulate airline fees.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) unsuccessfully tried to attach an amendment to last year’s FAA bill that would prohibit airlines from imposing ancillary fees that the DOT deems unreasonable or disproportionate to the actual costs incurred by air carriers…

This year, however, the committee adopted Markey’s language on fees unanimously.

“Airlines should not overcharge captive passengers just because they need to change or cancel their flight, and my amendment will protect consumers from these sky-high fees,” Markey said in a statement…

“We’d like the airlines to understand what they should be doing on their own for consumer protections that are reasonable, rational and common sense,” Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), chairman of the Transportation subcommittee on aviation, told The Hill last month. “And if they don’t do it on their own, we’re going to help them out.”

These guys sound like Venezuelan politicians. Instead of central planning of “reasonable” fees, let’s let the market decide.

I’m all for requiring high standards for the disclosure of fees so we can compare apples to apples, but we already have that. United has a huge pop up if you try to pick Basic Economy.

Spirit breaks down exactly what its insane bag fees are.

By contrast Southwest allows free carry ons, free checked bags, and free cancellations. These differing business strategies are the sign of a competitive market that benefits consumers. Let’s keep things as is instead of capping fees. Setting maximum prices for businesses inevitably leads to disastrous outcomes.

Bottom Line

I oppose all attempts to regulate airline seat size and airfare fees as unnecessary, anti-consumer, and illiberal.

Competition has delivered us advances in air travel and will continue to do so. If Congress really wants to improve flying, it should lean on the Justice Department to approve fewer mergers to keep airline competition healthier instead of interfering with the free market.

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