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Schumer To FAA: Tackle Shrinking Airplane Seats NOW

Bill McGee with Consumer Reports, UAlbany Coach Will Brown, Senator Chuck Schumer, Albany Firefighter Dave Gallati
WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Bill McGee with Consumer Reports, UAlbany Coach Will Brown, Senator Chuck Schumer, Albany Firefighter Dave Gallati

During one of the busiest travel weeks of the year, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer stopped by Albany International Airport today.

The Senate Democratic Leader was in Albany to criticize the FAA for dragging its feet regarding shrinking legroom on airliner seats.

Schumer’s seat-size provision was part of the larger FAA reauthorization that became law in October.   "Leg room was once 35 inches. It's now 31. 4 inches is a lot. We know that seat width was once 18 and a half inches. It's now 17. An inch-and-a-half for seat width is a lot."

Schumer says the clock is running on the year the FAA has been given to tackle shrinking seats and provide notice and opportunity for the public to chime in.   "So why are we here today? 'Cause the FAA hasn't started on the study yet. They have 10 months to do it. But the point I'm coming here to Albany International to tell the FAA 'get movin'. We don't want any pressure from the big airlines to tell you to back off. This is a law."

Bill McGee is an Aviation and Travel Consultant with Consumer Reports. He criticizes the FAA's reliance on computer modeling to set seating standards...   "...and that just simply doesn't reflect the real world. Just as the seats are getting tighter, the load factors, the percentage of occupied seats, they're at all-time highs since the airlines were troop carrier in World War II. You have all of these factors, more carry-on baggage because of baggage fees, all of these factors come into play."

Schumer would rather see "live testing" using real people, and McGee argues the airlines are shrinking seats so they can tack on new fees...  "...to have passengers pay for either more leg room or to go to another class of service. In other words, more airline nickel-and-diming. To charge additional fees for products and services that once were included in the base fare."

Schumer was joined by University at Albany men's basketball coach Will Brown, a frequent flyer — and former basketball player who stands over 6 feet — who shares the Senator's concerns.    "So many people in this community, New York state and throughout the country, wanna fly and enjoy flying and be comfortable while they're flying. And it doesn't matter if you're 5-foot-7 or 6-foot- 7. I think right now, not many people are comfortable."

Schumer is also raising concerns that shrunken seats could impede passenger safety during an emergency evacuation. He says the FAA has an obligation to complete the study, come up with results and implement them.   "Four airlines have about 80 percent of the business here in America. And as we have to stay on top of them to do this. To have seat size stretch as much as it has over the last few years, in an effort to make more profits, is not fair to passengers.

The FAA tells the Associated Press it “is working to address the provision in the reauthorization bill.”

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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