Most of us have probably seen the viral video of the airline passenger repeatedly punching the back of the reclined seat in front of him. Much like the photo of the striped dress from five years ago, which appeared blue and black to some and white and gold to others, the airplane video has divided viewers, and the flying world.
It’s easy to jump into this debate and take a side. If you feel the need to recline to achieve a more comfortable position, you’ll likely favor the female passenger. If, like me, you’re over 6 feet tall, you’ll likely side with the male passenger.
The resulting raucous debate does nothing more than give cover to the true culprits: the airlines and the federal governments that regulate them.
Reclinegate was not even a thing 40 or 50 years ago. Seat space was fairly generous back then and passengers could recline without torturing their fellow travelers. But thanks to deregulation and corporate greed, the space between airline rows has continually shrunk to the point where the only passengers who don’t complain are those with short legs.
Pitch is the measurement of the distance between the front edge of your seat and the back of the seat in front of you. Years ago, the pitch was a generous and comfortable 35 inches. Now you’re lucky if you get 31 inches, and some flights have reduced that space to a knee-crushing 28 or 29 inches.
Rather than rant and rave at fellow passengers, it’s time we took up arms (and legs) and insisted on sane seat-size regulations. Canada recently implemented a passenger bill of rights, but the only action taken was to make airlines compensate passengers for excessive delays.
If federal governments truly cared about the health and safety of passengers, they would strictly regulate seat size. Although lengthy delays are annoying, inadequate seat size can actually be deadly.
We’re now aware of the risk of developing deep vein thrombosis on lengthy flights, particularly when a passenger remains seated and immobile for hours. That risk increases significantly if you are packaged in your seat like a sardine.
The federal governments in both Canada and the United States should step up and protect passengers’ health, safety and even just their basic comfort. Legislators and bureaucrats have no problem protecting us with seat belts, speed limits and safe medications. Why not airplane seat size?
“Recliners” and “punchers” should take a break from their seat shoving and start lobbying our legislators and bureaucrats to get out of their comfy chairs and regulate the flying torture seats that are endangering our health.
In the U.S., legislation for the Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights proposes, among other things, giving the FAA the power to regulate seat size. The bill has been referred to committee in the U.S. Senate. But given the current political atmosphere, it is far from being passed by the Senate, much less the House, and there is no guarantee the FAA would even use the newly conferred power.
Airline passengers in both the U.S. and Canada should redirect their air rage to those in government and insist that the cattle car mentality of the airlines be changed. Sure, we may have to pay a bit more for our flights, but at least we’ll make it to our destination alive and in one piece.
David Martin is a writer based in Ottawa, Ontario. This column was originally published by the Chicago Tribune.