Senate Passes Legislation to Address Shrinking Airline Seat Sizes

October 3, 2018

The U.S. Senate today overwhelmingly approved bipartisan legislation intended to stop airlines from shrinking seat sizes.

The move to regulate airline seat dimensions is one of several measures impacting the flying public that lawmakers added to a broader bill to fund the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  The measure now heads to the White House for President Donald Trump’s signature.

“There’s a lot to like in this bill, especially if you’re fed up with shrinking airline seats,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee that oversees the airline industry.  “It also goes to show that when folks in Congress put aside their differences, the public comes out the winner.”

In addition to requiring the FAA to set minimum airline seat sizes, the legislation also prohibits airlines from bumping passengers who’ve already boarded, requires prompt refunds for airline services not received and calls for early boarding for expectant mothers and private airport space for nursing mothers.  Additionally, the bill creates an airline consumer advocate within the Department of Transportation to help the flying public resolve complaints against the airlines.

The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 funds the FAA for five years and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for three years.  The bill also allocates $1.68 billion in disaster relief for communities impacted by Hurricane Florence, extends unemployment benefits for the residents of Puerto Rico and the U.S.V.I. and contains key reforms at FEMA to help communities better prepare and respond to disasters.

Highlights of H.R. 302:

Modernizing airport infrastructure

  • Provides funding for airport development. 
  • Increases flexibility to finance projects.
  • Requires TSA to make available, in airports and online, real-time information on security line waits.

Improving service for the flying public

  • Prohibits involuntary bumping of passengers who have already boarded.
  • Directs FAA to set minimum standards for airline seat sizes.
  • Requires private rooms for nursing mothers in large and medium airports.
  • Ensures airlines promptly return fees for services (seat assignments, early boarding, etc.) not received.
  • Establishes an aviation consumer advocate within the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Enhancing safety and security

  • Strengthens aviation training, reporting, tracking and cybersecurity.
  • Provides new risk-mitigation authorities for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).
  • Authorizes more canine security teams and, to meet demand, expands ways to test and certify dogs.

Boosting innovation

  • Streamlines certifications for design and delivery of aircraft to boost competitiveness of aviation manufacturing. 
  • Furthers efforts to safely integrate unmanned aircraft into the airspace through traffic management system advancements and research.
  • Creates an Office of Spaceports to support licensing and promote infrastructure improvements.
  • Authorizes approval for civil supersonic aircraft that reduce sonic booms.

Disaster assistance

  • Provides $1.68 billion in supplemental appropriations for disaster relief in the wake of Hurricane Florence.
  • Reforms Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) programs to help communities better prepare for and respond to disasters of all types. 


Additional resources:

Senate FAA bill section-by section summary (75 pages) available here.

Joint Senate/House highlights summary (5 pages) available here.

H.R. 302, FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, full bill text (1207 pages) available here.