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A group of Hawaii lawmakers says the growing size of Americans and obesity issues should be taken into account when airlines determine the size of their seats.
Many travelers are getting fed up with the tight spaces they’re allowed on airplanes, so a group of state senators introduced a resolution urging the federal Secretary of Transportation to set minimum sizes for airplane seats.
“They’re packing more and more people into the aircraft,” said state Sen. Clarence Nishihara, chairman of the Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs, one of two Senate committees that passed the bill Tuesday.
“They’re just stuck like cattle,” Nishihara added.
Airlines for America, an industry group that represents Hawaiian Airlines, United and other major carriers, opposed the legislation, saying there’s no data to suggest seat sizes are unsafe. They said domestic airlines carry 2.1 million customers — each with their own comfort desires and dimension needs — every day.
“Airlines already offer varied products within each aircraft at different price points,” said David Berg, senior vice president of the group, in written testimony against the resolution. “If an individual desires more leg room there is a product for that. Customers should decide what space they want, not the federal government.”
Industry experts say people generally choose lower fares over bigger seats, and that to offer lower airlines have to put more people on planes.
“My general opinion on this is that it’s ridiculous, because people say they want more room on planes, but what they really want are cheap fares,” said Brett Snyder, president of Cranky Concierge and author of the travel blog The Cranky Flier. “The airlines respond to that and have effectively tried to provide a variety of options for a lot of things.”
State Sen. Brickwood Galuteria, who stands at a tall six-foot-four and introduced the resolution, said he usually pays more for extra leg room, but a lot of other guys who are his size can’t afford the luxury.
After the hearing, state Sen. Lorraine Inouye, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Energy which also passed the resolution, said she’d suggest that it be sent to the Federal Aviation Administration, which is more likely to impact the situation.
“The Legislature is wasting its time,” said Henry Harteveldt, founder of Atmosphere Research Group, a travel industry research company. There have been efforts in the U.S. Senate to regulate seat width and leg room, but those have gone nowhere, he said.
“It’s never fun to have your seat mate using your shoulder as a pillow, but unfortunately these decisions are outside government control at this point,” Harteveldt said.