If you ever travel by plane, you’ve probably noticed the size of airline seats seems to be getting smaller and smaller, and everybody on the plane seems to have less leg room.

United Airlines flight attendant Tina looks at personal entertainment systems on the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner during a tour of the jet at Los Angeles International Airport on November 30, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

You’re not imagining things.

Back in the 1970s, before the airline industry was deregulated, the average distance between rows of seats was 35 inches. Today it’s shrunk to 31 inches.

Twenty years ago the average airline seat width was 18 and a half inches, and now it’s down to approximately 17 inches.

In response, New Jersey’s senior U.S. Senator is pushing a plan to stop the airlines from literally squeezing the flying public.

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., has cosponsored an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill that calls for minimum space standards to be set on passenger jets.

The amendment, championed by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., would require the FAA to set minimum seat size standards for all commercial airlines

Right now there are no federal limits on how close together rows of seats can be and what the size each seat is. There are federal requirements for exit rows, but that’s it.

This past weekend, a New Jersey man was kicked off a United flight leaving Las Vegas because another passenger complained he was too large.


Errol Narvaez, of Jersey City, who is 385 pounds, told The Huffington Post that when the passenger who was supposed to be sitting next to him got on the plane, the man went to a flight attendant and whispered something in her ear. Moments later, the flight supervisor told Narvaez the plane could not accommodate him and he needed to go back to the terminal.

After exiting the aircraft in what he referred to as a “walk of shame,” Narvaez was able to get on another Newark-bound jet six hours later and he finally arrived home at 2 in the morning.

A spokesman for the airline said the situation was “unfortunate" and added United does “appreciate” Narvaez as a customer. The man is contemplating filing a lawsuit.

Douglas Kidd, the executive director of the National Association of Airline Passengers, said his organization fully supports the seat legislation

“The airlines are thinking in terms of people as basically packages and not as people," he said.

He pointed out that even stagecoach owners back in Wild West weren’t supposed to overload the coach with passengers or baggage. But these days, the idea seems to be “pack everyone in as close as possible and not worry about health or well being.”

In a written statement today, Menendez said “the powerful airline industry will stop at nothing for the almighty dollar.

"Anyone who has flown recently has noticed the seats getting smaller and the leg-room getting tighter, and have wondered if they need to go on a diet. The reality is it’s the money-hungry airlines who need to curb their voracious appetite for profit at the expense of the flying public.

"From charging bag fees and nickel-and-diming passengers for what used to be complimentary in-flight services, to shrinking the size of your seat so you’re packed in like sardines, the airlines continue to gouge its customers and make air travel uncomfortable and unaffordable.”

The statement noted Menendez has long been a strong advocate for greater consumer protections for air passengers. In February, he reintroduced his Real Transparency in Airfares Act, which reinforces existing consumer protections to make sure airlines accurately spell out what their full costs are for tickets.

Last year Menendez convinced the airlines to abandon their trade group’s plan to shrink the size of allowable carry-on bags in order to collect more checked-bag fees

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