More regulations will likely lead to higher airfare

The airlines are an easy target these days. They are accused of high prices, monopolies and gouging islanders because there really is no other game in town when it comes to getting off Kauai. They are criticized for soaring ticket costs, even while the price of oil is low. We are at their mercy, some say, and the airlines take advantage of it.

Perhaps their prices could be lower. There’s always been a bit of mystery to airline ticket prices, anyway, because they seem to rise and fall, sometimes daily, without any valid reasons, at least that we know of.

We would love to see lower tickets prices, at least for inter-island travel, and we encourage Hawaii’s No. 1 interisland carrier, Hawaiian Airlines, to do just that. We can all agree it would be great if airfares were lower and we think they could be.

We can’t, however, agree with a bill co-sponsored U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, that requires the Federal Aviation Administration to collaborate with experts and consumer advocates to mandate minimum seat size standards consistent with airline passengers’ health and safety needs. The bill would direct the FAA to set standards for minimum seat width, legroom, padding and aisle width on all commercial passenger planes.

“In Hawaii, air travel is central to our visitor industry, and residents depend on it for work, health care, and to visit family,” said Schatz. “Passengers in Hawaii and across the country are tired of getting less and less space for their hard-earned money. It is time to have the FAA step in to say enough is enough.”

The Schatz-co-sponsored legislation comes after the Hawaii State Senate passed a resolution, SR121, that urges the federal Secretary of Transportation to set minimum sizes for airplane seats. Currently, there are no federal standards on the width of airline seats or on legroom length. Schatz said that since 1978, legroom decreased from 35 inches to about 31 inches. Similarly, the average seat width on airlines has dropped from 18.5 inches in the 1990s to about 17 today.

It certainly seems everyone could agree with calls for minimum seat width and legroom. Makes sense.

“Opponents of this legislation argue airlines should be unrestricted in the way seats are configured in a plane’s cabin,” according to a release from Schatz. “Even after enactment of this legislation, airlines will largely retain the ability to provide varying seat sizes depending on a customer’s preference to pay for more comfortable seating. The issue being addressed in this bill is the establishment of a reasonable standard that provides for safety and a minimum level of comfort for passengers.”

Again, that sounds good. But the issue is, do we really need the government to dictate how a private business operates? Seems like simple economics would determine what airlines can get away with when it comes to seating sizes.

Deregulation was supposed to drive down prices, right? That didn’t happen. There are still multiple airlines out there. Let’s give the consumers some credit in knowing which airlines meet their needs and do a good job. Those are the airlines that will get your business.

If an airline doesn’t have what you need when it comes to seats and legroom, try another one. Check things out before flying by asking questions. Yes, many of those coach airline seats aren’t going to win any awards for comfort. But here’s the deal. Once the government passes a law requiring minimum sizes for airplane seats, don’t be surprised when airfares rise to make up for any extra costs involved. We’ll be paying more for those more comfortable seats and more legroom and wondering whether they’re worth it.


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