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Been stuffed like a sardine into a flying anchovy can lately?

As the holidays approach and some of you will no doubt stuff yourselves like sardines into an anchovy can in order to travel, I offer the following for your thoughts. I sent this to a couple of major publications as an Op-Ed who haven't had the courage to touch it. Let me know your thoughts.

Congress is Falling Short on Air Rage

In a rare show of bipartisanship, Senator Jack Reed (D), Representative Eric Swalwell (D), and Representative Brian Fitzpatrick (R) have introduced the Protection from Abusive Passengers Act before Congress. This legislation would create a no-fly list for abusive passengers. No excuse exists for putting flight crews and the traveling public at risk. The proposed legislation should be passed, and, with due process, the culprits banned from travel. However, this will not solve the problem.

The legislation fails to address why this is occurring. When one looks for an explanation, other culprits appear: the airline industry and the FAA. The airlines have made what was once a pleasurable and exciting experience into a form of torture. While this doesn’t justify the behavior of these passengers, it helps explain it.

As an attorney and commercially rated pilot I’ve watched the airline experience deteriorate, a degradation that can be summed up in one word: discomfort. Since deregulation, the airlines, with the tacit approval of the FAA, have turned travel into misery by cramming more and more people into airplanes.

Since the 1980s the average seat on domestic carriers has shrunk two to five inches in leg room, and two inches in width, while at the same time, the size of the average American has grown, with 40 percent of the population being obese. In a claustrophobic airliner, you’re trapped, and unless you’re DB Cooper, all you can do is endure. Adding electronic devices and carry-on bags only makes it worse. With anxiety about flying thrown into the mixture, it’s inevitable that someone will explode. Uncontroverted psychological research has shown that crowded conditions cause anxiety and anger, making the formula simple, stark and irrefutable—crowding breeds discomfort which breeds anger, which, in turn, breeds irrational behavior.

By continually fighting proposed regulations on seat size, the airlines have shown they don’t care about passenger comfort or their crews’ safety. They want to overpopulate their airplanes solely for profit and will make any excuse for the aerial road rage they’re causing.

No longer able to hide behind the controversial mask mandate, the airlines’ feint will be the defense of any corporate malfeasant sued over a defective product: “We meet federal standards.” Any attorney who’s litigated product liability cases knows that federal safety regulations set minimum standards, a phrase that means exactly what it says: minimum.

For too long, the FAA has been cozy with aircraft manufacturers and airlines, a relationship that imploded when the FAA’s lack of oversight with Boeing contributed to the 737 Max disasters. After Congress raised concerns about whether the seats made it impossible to evacuate an airliner in the required 90 seconds, the FAA conducted a study it claimed met the standards. An actual incident says otherwise. In 2015, a Delta flight veered off an icy runway at LaGuardia Airport. The evacuation took five minutes. Had there been a fire, it would have been catastrophic. Additionally, no US airline economy seats meet the FAA’s own research for proper passenger bracing in an emergency.

Congress needs to hold hearings and force the FAA to investigate whether cramped conditions in coach, or more accurately, steerage, cause people to get angry. If hearings take place, the airlines will buy “experts” to buttress the dubious claim that cramped conditions do not contribute to passenger rage. Their experts, no matter how well credentialed, will have only one purpose—to maximize airline profit at the expense of the public’s safety. To think otherwise is naïve.

To protect the public, Congress and the FAA need to heed the testimony of those individuals who don’t have the monetary political clout of aviation moguls: flight attendants who devote their lives, and occasionally, their well-being to public safety, need to tell Congress about the discomfort they witness. Pilots need to explain the ominous implications of the simmering anger in the cabin. Lastly, Congress needs to hear from the traveling public, who are treated like cattle.

Like all federal safety standards, FAA regulations are written in the blood of a disaster’s aftermath. If this problem isn’t addressed, it will eventually detonate. Something needs to be done to improve passenger comfort, because if people continue to be treated like animals, some will behave like animals aboard an airliner traveling 500 miles per hour at 30,000 feet.

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