The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Senate just voted against airplane legroom standards

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)  (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

If you’re seeking relief from sardine-can conditions on airline flights, don’t expect any help from Congress.

The Senate voted down an amendment Thursday that would have ended any further reductions of airplane seat sizes. The amendment failed on a 54-to-42 vote, with most Democrats supporting the amendment by Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and most Republicans opposed.

The amendment to a sprawling bill reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration ordered a moratorium in reductions to seat size and pitch (i.e., the space between rows of seats) and empowered the FAA to set new standards, in consultation with experts, for seat dimensions that maintain “the safety, health and comfort of passengers.”

Currently, regulators can take only safety into account in making such rules.

Schumer took to the Senate floor ahead of the vote to describe his dismay with the incredible shrinking airline seat.

It’s no wonder fliers are fighting over legroom. Just look at these numbers.

“Flying is not pleasant anymore,” he said. “You’re crammed in. I’m not that tall. I’m a little under 6-foot-1, and what I do when I fly is I take out the magazine and the airsickness bag and the little folder that tells you where the exits are to gain a 16th of an inch more legroom, so my knees don’t bang into the seat in front of me.”

“This is a place where the public is clamoring for change,” he continued. “I got more feedback on [the amendment] than most other things. You don’t have to be 6-foot-4 to understand the problem.”

No senator of either party rose to argue against Schumer’s amendment, but it was opposed by the leading airline industry trade group.

A spokeswoman for Airlines for America told the Associated Press in February that “the government should not regulate, but instead market forces, which reflect consumer decisions and competition, should determine what is offered.”

One Republican, Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), voted for the amendment; three Democrats — Thomas R. Carper (Del.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Jon Tester (Mont.) — opposed it. Sens. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and Bernie Sanders (Vt.) did not vote.