The Senate on Thursday defeated a measure from Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., that would have required the federal government to regulate the size of airplane seats.
Lawmakers voted against Schumer's amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill that would have required the FAA to establish "minimum standards for space" for airline passengers.
Democrats largely favored the bill, but Republican opposition led it to fail 42-54 in a Thursday afternoon vote.
Schumer pushed the amendment in response to increasingly shrinking seats for passengers, who he said are "packed into airplanes like sardines" in order to help the airlines cut costs.
Under current law, the FAA has no authority over the size of passenger seats outside of emergency exit rows.
According to Schumer, legroom on airplanes has decreased by four inches, and the width of seats has dropped by about two inches since the 1970s, and is getting smaller. Meanwhile, he noted, the airline industry is forecasting a $36 billion profit in 2016.
"The flying public has lost half a foot of their space," Schumer said. "Flying is not pleasant anymore. You're crammed in."
Schumer said small seats are a safety threat because it's harder for passengers to exit in an emergency.
His amendment would have frozen seats at their current sizes and required the FAA to set minimum standards. It also would have required airlines to publish their seat sizes.
Airlines for America, the trade group representing the airlines, said it opposes government regulation of seats outside of those required for safety.