Prof. Omri Ben-Shahar on Why the FAA Should Not Regulate Airline Seat Space

Let Them Shrink: FAA Should Not Regulate Airline Seat Space

Everybody likes to fly comfortably. Most also like to fly affordably. It should be obvious that the two common desires—comfort and affordability—are in tension with each other. Extra leg space on the airplane is like a larger suite at the hotel—it costs more. Airlines are creating a menu of choices, from the packed-like-sardines deep discount class through the more-leg-space “economy plus” and all the way to lie-flat business class recliners. Consumers are choosing between amenity and thrift, with many trading away inches for dollars.

Nevertheless, in the guise of “flyers’ rights,” some are trying to take away this choice and force the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to demand that airlines provide more comfortable seating. They complain that consumers are tired of being squeezed into tight seats, and they think that it’s time for the FAA to step up and regulate more leg space. The FAA, correctly remembering that its primary role is to regulate safety, not comfort, has been reluctant so far to intervene in the matter and to issue seat-size regulations. But a rulingby a federal court this week is making it harder for the FAA to resist the comfort crusade.

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