Leaning leaners and the airlines that let ’em

An actual photo from the flight. My laptop survived.The first thing I noticed about the passenger in seat 9C on a recent US Airways flight from Orlando to Washington was that he was carrying a light sabre.

You know, as in Star Wars.

After we reached our cruising altitude, I got up to use the restroom, and when I returned, I found that he had reclined his seat — all the way. I had a little problem with that because I was in 10C, and I was trying to write a column on my laptop.

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The seat pitch in economy class is small enough to give a Lilliputian claustrophobia, so it should come as no surprise that my PC wouldn’t open enough for me to use it.

No problem, I thought. I’m the travel troubleshooter. I can handle this.

“Sir,” I said, as politely as I could. “Would you mind sliding your seat up a notch? I can’t open my laptop with your seat all the way back.”

No answer.

“Sir?” I said, adding a little volume.


I tapped him on his shoulder gently.

“Please,” I said. “I can’t work.”

“I’ve been up since 4 a.m.,” Mr. Star Wars murmured, and turned away.

“What a coincidence,” I said, my blood pressure rising. “So have I.”

I had several options. First, I could escalate the confrontation. (But the man was traveling with a toy; a troubling sign.) I could move to a different seat. Or I could ask a flight attendant to intervene.

I’ll be honest: I felt like smacking Mr. Star Wars with his plastic weapon.

I picked door number three: to bring this ridiculous encounter to the attention of a flight attendant. You’ll probably find his response — and his resolution — to be interesting.

“Kindergarten,” he sighed, when I explained my predicament. “We’re on your side, but there’s not much we can do.”

The attendants didn’t want to confront Mr. Star Wars because they shared my misgivings, that this particular character might not be completely stable. The flight was full, even in first class. Otherwise, I’m pretty sure they would have offered me an upgrade for the rest of the short flight.

“It’s a shared space, isn’t it?” I asked.

“Yes,” said the attendant. “Just because you can lean all the way back doesn’t mean you should.”

How about the empty jumpseat, I asked him. Could I sit there? No — that’s against regulations, he said.

So how did this standoff end? I’ll get to the solution in a second. But first, a few words about who is to blame for this mess.

Ultimately, it’s a passenger’s responsibility to know proper flying etiquette (and don’t laugh –— there is such a thing). But there are other culpable parties. Chief among them, the airline.

Think about it. If the seats in economy class were made for adults, then we wouldn’t have to put up with this childish behavior. If US Airways offered a humane amount of legroom, then Mr. Star Wars could lean back and I could work on my laptop.

Pie in the sky? OK, how about limiting the amount of lean-back on the seats, if you’re going to wedge them that close together? That’s not unreasonable.

Too hard for your aircraft mechanics? Alright, here’s another suggestion: Why not remind passengers that they’re in a shared space and request that they ask before leaning. Mr. Star Wars nearly cracked the screen on my laptop when he forced his seat all the way back.

Had he done that, then I would have been forced to use my light sabre.

I’m kidding. I always pack a loaded antique pistol in my carry-on bag. The TSA hasn’t stopped me yet.

If an airline can’t manage to remind its passengers to practice common courtesy, then it should empower its own employees to step in and mediate the inevitable conflicts. I could tell the flight attendants just didn’t want to get involved.

I loved their fix, though. An attendant opened a tray table in the galley, I set up my computer and worked while standing until we started our descent. Then I wedged myself back into 10C for the rest of the flight.

So what does all of this mean to you? Next time you feel like taking a nap on a plane, please, please, ask the person behind you if it’s OK to go back.

You don’t want to be a rude recliner.

192 thoughts on “Leaning leaners and the airlines that let ’em

  1. Much as I hate every other aspect of flying Ryanair, this is one they have absolutely right. There is no need for seats to be reclinable in shorthaul flights (anything under four hours), and new aircraft should physically prevent it in the way that Ryanair’s seats do.

    Qantas are quite good on longhaul flights – they always make announcements, and follow them up with passengers who refuse, not to recline seats after take-off until after the first meal service is done, and to always put seats back upright when the second (immediately pre-landing) meal service starts.

    Cathay Pacific’s 747s and A330s in coach have a design of “semi-reclinable” seat that slides within your space, rather than taking the space of the person behind you. Which is absolutely ideal for short-to-medium flights, but a bit horrific on a 14-hour redeye.

  2. Chris, I usually agree with you most of the way but in this case you are wrong. If the airline gives a passenger a reclining seat, they have the right to recline. And you have the right to recline as much as your seat will allow as well. It is nice if you can put your laptop on the tray table but it is not an inalienable right. Feel free to ask the passenger in front of you to put their seat back up, but if they refuse, that is the space they paid for. And you should not be whining to the flight attendant about it.

      1. I’m kind of a tolerant person, so I usually don’t say anything when the person in front of me reclines. If I’m uncomfortable, I’ll have to recline my own seat. My only gripe is when they don’t put their seat up quickly when they see the meal service is about to begin. Being able to have the tray down the whole time to work on a laptop is a plus but not sure I’d count on being able to do it on every flight…

        And the poll doesn’t quite address Mark’s comment. I’m for the airlines limiting the recline, but until they do, it’s up to the goodwill of the passengers.

      2. I’m voting yes, because I would like to see seats that do not recline. (Or “pre”-reclined in Spirit Airlines-speak.) That’s how I would like to see the airlines limit the recline ability. However, I agree with Mark that if the seats recline I should be allowed to do so.

        Personally, I find it easier to sleep if I have the seat up…otherwise I tend to slide forward in the seat.

      3. I think the question on the pole is really the wrong one for what you are wanting. Maybe it should have been more like, “Do passengers have a right to recline their seat without asking permission?” The answer to that one for me is ‘YES’.

        You said that this is shared space (“It’s a shared space, isn’t it?” I asked. “Yes,” said the attendant.). I would have to disagree with that. That space is for the seat to recline. You get to use it if that person isn’t. Same with the space behind you.

        I can relate to your problem. I used to have to travel for work and at first, had plenty of room for the person in front of me to be reclined all the way back and I was still able to get my laptop open. Now, I can’t get it open enough to see the screen. I had an incident once where the person in front of me hadn’t leaned back after we got to altitude. I open my laptop and started working. What I didn’t really notice was that the top of my laptop hooked under where the tray recesses into the seat and as a result, they couldn’t lean back. They called the flight attendant and complained about the seat not leaning back and she noticed the problem and told me I had to move the laptop. Seems on this flight, the FA had a different opinion as to that space than the one on your flight.

        As for flight etiquette, I have never heard before that you needed to ask if you could recline. You mentioned that there is such a thing, would you mind posting some references to what they are so I can be properly informed if I ever fly again?

        The reclining seat is just one of those things you have to know about in advance and be prepared for, just like the lack of legroom they have these days.

      4. For me the poll options just seem flawed. I would say the airlines are already limiting the ability to recline the seat. I assume that the airlines have already measured the seat recline such that it does not unreasonably interfere with the person behind me. For me if I’m working on the tray table and the person in front of me reclines, I pull out the tray table to be closer to me (don’t they all still do that). Of course I travel with a tablet not a laptop as it is just easier anyway.

        I’d say a better poll question would be, Is it the passenger’s right to recline their seat? Does work trump sleep for a request to raise the seat?

        Personally I have never heard an airline make any kind of announcement about ‘shared space’ and not reclining your seat unnecessarily. Perhaps I would have raised me seat for you, but would you have stopped clicking away on your keyboard if I was trying to sleep in front of you?

        1. I have heard them announce it on several long haul flights during meal times. Unfortunately, not all people comply.

          I was on one flight when the person in front of me reclined all the way, and when they served the meal, the tray didn’t even fit. The flight attendant asked her to put her seat up during the meal service and she said “I am not eating.” She asked her to put it up for the passenger behind her and she said, “Why don’t they just recline too.” When the FA said he can’t recline because then the person behind him can’t eat, she put her seat up, then quickly put it back after the FA left. Sadly, I had to stand in the aisle to eat until the woman in front of me complained that I was distracting her by standing there. Seh then called the FA, who told her that if she won’t put her seat up during the meal service, she better just deal with it. What was ever more onoying, is the woman had her knees up on the seat in front of her and the person in front of her could not recline and also complained. The FAs argued with this woman for the entire flight over various problems, but ultimately never did anything to stop her.

    1. I have to agree with Mark. Chris, you had a lot of other ways to mitigate the issue – from buying premium economy seats to using a smaller laptop (knowing that you would be working on the plane). People do sleep at any time, and it is reasonable that he recline while sleeping.
      Your argument also doesn’t account for people with bad backs. On a longer flight they **must** recline so the back doesn’t go into spasms. Even with drugs it is incredibly painful.
      In short, it isn’t the passengers problem for using the seat exactly the way it was built. It is your problem for choosing to fly on an airline with limited seat pitch and expecting others to accomodate your needs.

    2. Having the right to do something doesn’t mean you should always utilize that right. You have the right to talk to other passengers, but would you talk loudly over the top of somebody who is obviously trying to sleep? That’d be rude…just as reclining can sometimes be rude.

  3. that’s seriously a common problem which I frequently face while traveling , also In Buses. Christopher You raised your voice is good but I feel very bad that Attendant didn’t make the way for this. Ultimately I feel , The Airlines should teach/mention these etiquette to the passengers on flight. I feel why the F**** are some so much rude and Lazy!

  4. I usually agree with you, but not here.
    I do firmly believe that if my seat is a reclining seat, then I can recline it. Of course, you should be polite aways. So no reclining during meals, for example, and checking to make sure you won’t hit anything while reclining are necessary.

    But no reclining because the person behind you needs the space? Sorry, not a good enough reason for me.

    As for the pool: yup, airlines should limit the ability to recline their seats. But until they do, I consider “reclining space” as much “my space” as the rest of my seat.

  5. I agree with other comments, your wish to use a laptop does not trump other passengers’ rights to recline. That being said, I’m curious what the FAs would say if you were long-legged and the recline was pinching/hurting you? Apples and oranges, since that didn’t happen here, but I’ve read similar comments to your column before. Just something to ponder.

  6. Whoa. Pretty early and the comments are already kind of on edge.
    One poster suggested that someone who wants working space or a little more room purchase an upgraded seat with more legroom. That isn’t available on all flights, such as the dinky regional jets that go from Omaha Eppley to the various hubs. In those, my husband’s knees are already pressed firmly against the seat in front of him. If the person in front reclines, my husband is in pain for the duration of the reclining. I will ask nicely, offer to swap seats, offer to buy a drink so that the person in front of my husband, while inconvenienced, knows that I sympathize. Last flight like that, it was an airline pilot deadheading! (No drinks for him.) Every flight with upgradable seats, I pay so that I and my husband aren’t inconveniencing others.
    You know, the airlines already ask us to do a number of things, like turning off electronic devices, not to release seat belts, etc., etc. and many choose to ignore the requests. Asking the airline to remind people of what I consider to be a basic courtesy won’t work, sorry.

    1. Offering to buy a drink is a very good idea, very civilised. Alternatively, the flight attendant could step in to offer a drink or a small gift like a pen to show the appreciation. This kind of practice should be widely publicised.

  7. Some airlines have economy seats that, when they recline, leave little room for my legs. Now, I’m not quite 5’10”, but it’s already a tight fit for my legs to go straight ahead of me with the seat in front not reclined. The minute they recline it, my legs no longer fit under the seat. That, of course, means I have to ‘straddle’ the seat and I get close to encroaching on the leg space of the passenger next to me. Trust me, ask anyone with long legs. My dad is 6’4″ and my brother is 6’5″ and will usually try to buy 3 seats to split between the two of them solely for leg space. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible, especially when only commuter jets (1 seat on the left, 2 on the right of the aisle) fly into the only airport within 2 hours. With airlines trying to reduce leg room again, they are going to start having real issues with people being able to fit length wise, not just heavy people width wise. And please don’t tell me that all tall people should fly first class. That’s not possible. Even if everyone could afford it, what would happen if everyone over 6′ tried to buy first class seats? There wouldn’t be enough to go around and, once again, we’re in the same situation.
    On the funny side, have you ever seen a college basketball team try to fit into economy seats? It’s a sight well worth paying for.

  8. Chris, you had a fourth option. One that has worked for me every time I have had to use it. Wet your fingers with water, then cough and flick the water at the Mr. Star Wars at the same time. Seat back goes up faster than a fat kid eating a candy bar. You may get the stink eye, but believe me, it really works!

    1. This one might get the water flicker in trouble if a suspicion of communicable disease (even flu) is entertained by the flight attendants. If found about flicking the water on purpose, it may not go too well either. Be careful about these interesting suggestions.

      1. Are you actually suggesting that someone might get in trouble – and by that, I assume you mean LEGAL trouble – for sneezing on someone? Rude? Yes. Uncouth? Absolutely. Liable to get you sued? C’mon.

        1. It’s not about legal trouble or getting sued. It’s about the ‘almighty’ flight attendants these days that can snap at anything and consider it a threat to the comfort and/or health of the rest of the passangers and the crew. I didn’t say about legal trouble for sneezing nor suggested it.
          Now that your bring it up, throwing/flicking water on fellow passanger could get some oversensitive recliner’s legal mind into action. It’s not the actual outcome but the hassle that wouldn’t be worth it.

  9. It shouldn’t be that difficult to practice a little common courtesy. If you are going to recline, look back to ensure you will not injure, smash, or break something of the person behind you. Recline slowly and only so much as you will not interfere with the activity of the person behind you, be that a laptop, reading a book, etc. Put your seat back up at mealtime.

    I do feel the design/spacing of the seats needs some work. Some of the seats recline so far back you need to be a contortionist to get out to use the lavatory.

    Let’s also remember that Chris only asked that Mr. Star Wars move his seat up a notch. He did not ask him not to recline at all. There is a big difference, and I feel some posters are overlooking that fact.

    1. “If you are going to recline, look back…” I don’t know about you but in order for me to look back at the seats behind me, I have to get up out of my seat. I do agree that reclining slowly is proper. However, the way some of those seats react, when you press the release, it just falls back. Nothing slow about it and nothing you can do to stop it.

        1. I’m sorry, but this human doesn’t stand to sit. You’re wanting someone to unfasten their seat belt, struggle to stand up and turn around in an area that is too small to sit in as is, just to see if there is room to use a function of the seat? Yeah. Right.

          1. Heaven forbid you should experience any inconvenience in order to be polite and considerate. Wouldn’t want that to happen.

    2. How much exactly is a notch anyway? To me I would have said the total distance from full upright to full recline is about 1 notch.

      1. Slightly more than a titch or smidgen but less than a gallon. It depends on how far the seats recline. If Chris couldn’t open up his laptop, I’m guessing the seats reclined quite a bit. Therefore, it wouldn’t have been difficult for Mr. Star Wars to raise his seat a bit out of courtesy.

        1. Seems like the amount of recline would be very dependent on the screen size which we don’t currently know. I don’t think the decline required to interfere with a 17″ laptop would be all that much.

    1. Yeah. I remember reading about those when they first came out. I’m surprised they are still being sold because at that time, the airlines and FAA were saying they were a possible flight hazard and not allowed to be used. Been so long I don’t remember the exact reasoning.

      After doing a little googling, I did find a statement from the FAA saying they were NOT against any regulation as long as they were not used during taxing, takeoff, and landing. However, I did find several comments about them being against several airline rules and being confiscated when being used.

      1. For an additional perspective… A NY Times travel column from March of this year stated this about the airlines and Knee Defender:

        “WHEN I put the question to major United States carriers, few responded. Those that did ultimately left it up to passenger discretion.”

        And about the product being “confiscated”? They don’t even confiscate cell phones that are used when they shouldn’t be – and in theory, using a cell phone at the wrong time can cause avionics to malfunction, and thereby cause the plane to crash.

        Airline personnel can do lots of things to you. But, while they may lose your personal property (i.e., your luggage), they may not confiscate your personal property.

          1. Fair enough. Correct – you didn’t vouch for them. I should have made it clear that I was taking exception to those comments, themselves. Thanks.

          2. Wow. People have down-voted my comment above/here for agreeing with Ed Boston that I’d made a mistake. He corrected me, I agreed that I’d been unclear – and that gets down-voted by 3 4 3 people (as of this moment). Huh.

            Addendum: And now even this comment is being down-voted. I am crushed. Indeed, I may never post again on the Internet.

          3. I downvoted your latest comment simply because you’re whining about downvoting. The purpose of the up/down buttons, (as interpreted by many), is to rate comments that are relevant and interesting, it’s not a comment on your personal worth.

          4. jpp42 – Thanks. My “whining” was supposed to come across as mock-whining. Facetious/sarcastic (ironic?). I just thought it was peculiar that I posted something, someone took exception, I posted You’re right, I’m wrong – and then people downvoted my acquiescence-post. But again, thanks for your post/explanation.

    2. Most airlines take a very strong position against you using these on their planes. Can’t find the article, but I do remember at least one person getting thrown off a plane because they used these.

      1. People have been arrested for fighting about a reclining seat. (And for fighting about who gets to use an armrest.) But for using a Knee Defender? Possible? Theoretically. Likely? Not at all.

        I say that as the guy who invented the product and who sells them – and since Google sends me a link every time any on-line news piece mentions Knee Defender, I would have seen any such article. And I haven’t seen any such article.

        And Chris has known about the product since Day 1, and I think he would have heard about any such incident – and reported on it. So, I’d say that that has not happened.

    3. One of my co workers bought those after his laptop screen was broken by someone slamming their seat back. Unfortunate, he said they didn’t. Something about them not fitting properly, and when he did get them in place, the person could still reclined with no problems.

      1. I’m the guy who invented Knee Defender and who sells them. So I’d like to know about any such problems using my product. In other words, I don’t think your assertion is correct.

        After all, if anyone bought a Knee Defender and found that it was ineffective, as you suggest – Wouldn’t he/she would contact us about that? To ask for help and/or a refund? Well, that hasn’t happened.

        In fact, our customers find Knee Defender to be highly functional and effective. Plus, every journalist who has tried Knee Defender has reported that it is incredibly effective.

        Just a few weeks ago, Ira Glass did a segment about it on his radio show, This American Life. The segment was an interview, during a flight, of someone using the product. And, plain and simple – It worked. Don’t take my word for it – Go to the This American Life website and check it out.

        Those who don’t like Knee Defender can make fair arguments as to why people shouldn’t use it. I’ll disagree with those opinions, but I accept that there are fair arguments to be made. However, I take exception when people assert “facts” that just don’t ring true.

        1. Whats harder to believe is that a one size fits all product works for every seat in every airplane and has never once generated a single complaint.

          I trust what my college of many years told me and do believe what he said to be fact.

          I just asked him for details and here is what he sent me verbatim.

          1. The tray table had to be down, so if they recline before you get your tray table down, you are SOL. They can also recline when you get up and then you are SOL.

          2. On some seats, the angel on the tray table arms is such that the devises slide up when the person reclines.
          3. On some seats the bars on the tray table are to the side of the seat with enough of a gap making the device useless.
          4. When the tray table is in the armrest, the device is useless.
          5. Why bother with a refund, it was $20, I though I would give it a try, my loss.

          1. If you look at the photos of the product at the website, you can see that your “one size fits all” comment is off-base.

            Knee Defender is specifically shaped to fit seats with tray table arms that vary greatly in their shape and thickness. The product is U-shaped, and inside that U there’s a series of “steps”, and it’s those steps that allow a product with no moving parts to fit so many different airplane seats. Those steps make the U-shape progressively narrower. So you put the U-shape down on the arm of the tray table until you get the right fit. The rubbery coating on the inside of the U-shape (on all of those steps) helps to hold the Knee Defender in place.

            Does it fit every style of airplane seat? Almost all – based on testing and feedback – but not some small number of seats. And we mention this at our website.

            As for your point #4 – “When the tray table is in the armrest, the device is useless.” True. But how often does that happen in coach? Well, it does in coach bulkhead seats – but that means there is no one sitting in front of you who might recline. Besides that situation, how many planes have standard coach seats with the tray tables in the armrests? Not many. And in any event, it’s clear from all of the photos and text on our website that Knee Defender is designed to work with coach seats with tray tables. (It even works on buses and trains which have drop-down tray tables.) So if you want to complain that it doesn’t work in situations for which it was not designed and for which it is not marketed, fine. Knee Defender is also not a candy OR a breath mint – unlike Certs.

            It is rather interesting that in your first post, and even in this post (at first), you indicated that it was a colleague of yours who had bought our Knee Defender.

            But then at the end of this post of yours, in point #5, you wrote: “I though I would give it a try, my loss.”

            So on the one hand it was a colleague of yours who had trouble with our product, while on the other hand, you were who thought you’d “give it a try”. Odd.

          2. I posted what he said verbatim. Those were his words, after reading your post, to be fare I followed up with him and posted why he said it didn’t work. I cut and pasted his message.

            If you can’t take any criticism and feel you must try to distort the truth an discredit everyone who offers feedback on your product, I suggest you stay off the internet. I really thought your product was a good idea and was sad after hearing what my co worker said. I was hoping you would say something like, “That was an old model, we have improved, yes it doesn’t always work, etc.” after posting his reasons.

          3. As for the verbatim aspect of your post – you are correct, I am wrong. Mea culpa on that. I’ve corrected that in my earlier post.

            Beyond that, I refuted the concerns with facts, point by point. That’s how I take criticism on the Internet and elsewhere. Opinions are opinions, and if well reasoned – even if I disagree with the conclusions – fine with me. But when it comes to assertions of facts, that’s a different matter. You asserted your doubts that a “one size fits all” product could work with so many different airplane seats. I explained how, indeed, Knee Defender can do that.

          4. Whats more interesting to me is that the originally insulting post I replied to, as well as your post addressing my friends concerns all of a sudden changed drastically from the original reply e-mails I got from Disqus. And I am not talking about the crossing out of lines, suddenly your tone changed, fowl language and insults were removed, and entire paragraphs and messages changed.

            I will keep my original messages in tact, but I think this is a good for @ChrisElliott to start moderating comments again.

            You can attract more flies with honey than you can with vinegar. Perhaps begin more polite and professional in the first place and not covering your tracks later will serve you well.

          5. Maybe when you corrected me on my “verbatim” mistake, you didn’t expect me to apologize, but then I did – and that surprised you.

            Hey, I expressed myself, you pointed out that I made a mistake, someone else said that I’d been unclear in another post, I apologized for those and moved on. Same old, same old.

            Addendum: Oh yeh… If I were “covering my tracks” as you say, why wouldn’t I have deleted that mistake I’d made about your “verbatim” comment? Why, instead, did I cross out that part of my post and otherwise leave it here? When one covers one’s tracks, one doesn’t post a sign, “Please ignore these tracks.” One erases them. I, on the other hand, left that text there to show: I said this; it was wrong.

            Again, same as always.

            And as for editing in general – Uh, yeh, sometimes I post, read what I posted, then fix it. It’s a disqus feature. Like if I’d accidentally posted “college” when I mean “colleague” or forgot the apostrophe in “What’s”. Or, if I simply wanted to express my thinking more clearly. In any event, assuming that my initial prose was harsh and then I changed it here, what’s your point? My point is that the people reading your stuff and my stuff here read what’s posted here.

          6. Except you completely changed around your entire posts, removed insults and curse words, and added sections finally addressing mine after I replied, only crossing out what I specifically addressed. That is covering your tracks. Although, I don’t think I should even bother replying to you anymore as its not worth the stress, so this will be my last message. Enjoy your life, and good luck to you.

          7. Really – You’re upset because I took the time to proofread my stuff? You’re calling the Hall Monitor because I moved the order of my paragraphs? Wow.

            Or… You’re complaining that I’m not telling you to **** *** using the words **** ***? OK. **** ***. How’s that? Is that more to your liking?

            Thing is, I never expressed that – until now – even by tone or metaphor. But if you’ll feel better with me posting harsh words – instead of the polite one’s I’ve posted everywhere else in this thread – well, there it is.

            Enjoy your issues. And I’ll enjoy helping people who need Knee Defender.

    4. If someone uses that on me, I would sue them and the airline. My personal space ends where my seat stops reclining. If someone tries to deny me a service I paid for, then I have a serious problem with them.

      1. And you’d sue them for… What?

        In any event, even without the person behind you using Knee Defender, your seat recline may well be stopped by that person’s knees. That’s it – The person sitting behind you, in a normal sitting position, if his/her legs are long (specifically, his/her femur), you’re likely to hit their knee caps before your seat reaches its full recline.

        And that’s why the product is called “Knee Defender™”

        1. If someone doesn’t fit in a seat, perhaps they should fly a different airline or pay for a bigger seat. They could also buy two seats, I mean the one in front of them and theirs.

          But in no way does someone have a right to forcibly prevent me from reclining a seat that I pay for, that is supposed to recline. There is a reason when booking a seat the airlines say which seats have limited recline, and I don’t choose them.

          If someone asked me to move up a little, I would do it. But if they prevent me from reclining the start, then they are looking for trouble. Your product should be called “I’m too wimpy to ask someone to give me more space, so I deny all of their rights without saying a word.”

          1. I agree, people need to fit in the seat – while the plane is at the gate. People with long legs do fit in the seat at the gate. After that, their long legs may block your recline – while the plane is in the air.

            Knee Defender is no more “wimpy” than the lock on the bathroom door. Both of them mean “Ocupado”.

          2. Except someone paid for a seat that is supposed to recline. No one is going to be in the bathroom the entire flight.

          3. Oh, and a lock on the bathroom door is to keep someone out. Your product is more along the lines of locking someone in.

          4. Adam_The_Man said, “Oh, and a lock on the bathroom door is to keep someone out. Your product is more along the lines of locking someone in.”

            Not from where I’m sitting. (Rimshot!)

          5. Incredible! I’m 5’10” – hardly tall – and, if someone slams their seat back to full recline, they’re gonna bang my knees. I should pay for an upgrade? Really?

      2. Like everyone so far on this topic with similar attitudes, you express your “personal space” as encompassing your body to a certain space BEHIND you. What do you feel is your personal space IN FRONT of you? I believe that the folks who disagree with you – me included – would feel that their personal space extends to some nebulous amount of air in front of them, too; and that you’re violating that part of their personal space by backing into it with your seat. Neither one of us is RIGHT and the other WRONG; it’s just that we have differing opinions as to personal space.

  10. After reading this story and thinking more about it, there is one part that is really bothering me, the part about him having a light saber. The sentence, “The attendants didn’t want to confront Mr. Star Wars because they shared my misgivings, that this particular character might not be completely stable.” really kind of bothers me. Why did you think he might not be completely stable? Just because he was carrying a plastic toy? Was he playing with it or just holding it? Could it have been a gift he was bringing home to a child or other relative? Didn’t he have to stow it before taking off, like we have to stow everything else? Did he bring it back out after taking off?

    Do you view all people who carry such items as possibly not stable just because they may have a strong enjoyment of that? Seems we could look at you the same way that you are so attached to your laptop that you may not be completely stable.

    I’m sorry, but this story, to me, makes you look like one of the entitled travelers we make fun of all the time here. What do you think the reaction would have been if you had presented this story as coming from someone else who wanted you to mediate a refund because of it?

    This is almost starting to sound like the argument against “large” people should have to get an extra seat so as not to interfere with the person next to them. If you are of such stature that your knees are pushing into the back of the seat, even before someone reclines, wanting them not to lean back seem to me almost the same as the large person wanting the passenger next to them to keep to one side so they have more room.

    1. At age 25, I once flew halfway around the world carrying a teddy bear, a recent gift from my boyfriend. I was moving to work in a different country, and my bags were jam-packed–and I knew if I tried to pack him, he would’ve been smushed. I’d like to think I’m pretty stable! The FA’s seemed to think so; as I recall, they thought the bear was adorable. I still remember one Lufthansa gal happily patting him on the head (something that I myself did NOT do, on or off the plane). 🙂

      1. I think that a 25-year old male would have gotten a completely different reaction if he was carrying a teddy bear. Not saying it would be fair or justified, just believe it to be so,

  11. Tough one, but since the answer should cover all types of flights, I voted “no.” I cannot imagine a transcontinental flight in the upright (or nearly so) position. Pure hell. Next time plan on doing your reading, rather than writing, on your flight. Without the need for a keyboard, you can read on your Kindle, Nook or iPad, or even a hard copy.

      1. Silly? Not when you live in a corner of the country, like Miami Beach (me), or LAX, or SEA, or BOS/NYC. Lots of people live in the four corners of the continental USA, not a silly extreme at all.

    1. I live near Tucson so most flights for me are transcontinental. I can get a great deal of work done on flights as long as those. How about instead of your dictating what I can and can’t do on a flight you allow me the personal freedom of doing what I prefer to do on a flight?

      1. Your personal freedom? How about my personal rights? The airline gave me a recliner button for my seatback. The airline did not make any effort to say their flight was suitable for you exercising “personal freedom” doing business, unless you pay for first class.

        If I pay for a recliner seat on a full-service airline, then I have paid for that service. If I choose a cheapo airline with no reclining seat, then I cannot recline and you get your work space, albeit with a 30-31″ pitch.

        1. Your rights end where mine begin, just the same as my rights end where yours begin. And you’re not paying for a reclining seat; you’re paying for a seat. Reclining is optional.

          1. You are paying for a seat WITH a reclining function. Unless you get one of those seats against a bulkhead. Then you don’t get a reclining function. Sounds like you are trying to say that your rights extend into mine when it comes to using a button to operate a feature on the seat I paid for *AND* you know very well will recline back into the area in front of you. If your personal freedoms can’t work in that space, that’s your problem, not mine. Show me in the ticket rules anywhere it says I can’t use the reclining function or that its use is optional and dictated by the person sitting behind me..

          2. No, you should study up on the travel industry. Reclining is now a bonus feature, as fixed, no-recline seats (or “prereclined seats”) are proliferating. Other airlines feature brand new sliding-seat-bottom devices rather than reclining backs. You have a choice of airlines and seat technologies and so do the those who want to exercise their freedom to recline. As long as the airline provides the button and seat technology, it is giving the passenger the right to recline. Fly Spirit Airlines and Ryanair for your no-recline personal freedom.

  12. I agree with Chris, but the perspective of “it’s my seat, it reclines so screw you” permeating these comments is sad. Since when is compromise a bad thing? It is a shared space. But frankly, as a tall man, I often find myself with my knees wedged into the seat back of the seat in front of me. Especially if I’ve stowed anything under the seat, my knees are in the back of that seat. And guess what? It turns out that reclining the seat in front is severely impaired when your knees are stuck there like that. I’ve had someone ask me to move my legs so they could recline and I declined. I was already cramped and sorry, no reclining for you. I felt bad but after reading these comments I’m seeing since I paid for my seat and since the airline made it so small that my knees prevent the guy in front from reclining, its his tough luck that I sat behind him. .

  13. Yes, when airlines decrease the leg room they should correspondingly reduce the amount of recline.

    Southwest recently redid their seating where they managed to squeeze in another row of seats. The seats used to be far enough apart so that even when fully reclined there was ample room for people to be comfortable in the row behind and even get in and out of those seats without difficulty in most rows. The new arrangement gives you the same legroom as before (the new seats are thinner by the number of inches the seats were moved closer so they claim it is a net zero change) but the seats are so close that you cannot put your tray table down fully since they didn’t change the dimensions of the tray table and the supporting mechanism. You are also breathing on the person’s head in front of you when they recline.

    Most airlines based in the US now have seats that are closer together than the aircraft manufacturers designed for. Why do you think the recent bout of loose seats on those 757s happened? But airlines will continue to squeeze seats closer together until people quit buying the seats – and we know that will never happen.

    1. I would belive that leaning over and sneezing very close to the person’s head might get them to raise their seat to the full upright and locked position . . .

  14. I do not recline my seat even on long Trans Altantic or Pacific flights. It just isn’t worth it.
    I blame the airlines for all of the problems. IMO the recline angles were designed when there was more distance (pitch) between rows. When they reduced the pitch, they should have reduced the ability to recline. But they did not.

  15. I had an immediate knee jerk reaction to your problem, but after reading so many insiteful comments, I came to this conclusion.
    As one comment here stated, “The plane was not ‘your office.’ If you use it as such, as a professional writer, you should have booked a first class seat and racked it up as a ‘business expense’ (tax deductible).
    What really bugs me is you ‘pressuring’ the attendant to accomadate you, where she set up a tray for your laptop by their serving galley, which would, i imagine be a great inconvenience thruout the trip to dance around you.
    You talk about etiquette, but your whole tone seems to be, “Me, me, me!” and little concern for other passengers.

    1. You need to figure out how tax deductions actually work. And how was Chris any more “me, me, me” than the guy who refused to move the seat up a bit to accommodate him?

  16. I usually don’t mind the person in front of me reclining because I usually don’t work on the plane and just try and sleep or listen to music. And I also don’t recline my seat fully either because I find the degree of recline uncomfortable and find myself sliding forward in the seat. (I am over 6 feet tall, so economy seats are painful no matter what, but I deal with it.)

    What does bother me about recliners is those who immediately push their seat fully back as soon as the plane reaches altitude and then spend the rest of the flight leaning forward or walking around the cabin. If you aren’t sitting in your seat and leaning back, why not bring the seat back forward?

    1. That’s what I always see too, only they seem to do it the second wheels are up, they don’t even wait until we reach altitude. Then they lean forward and read their paper and walk around leaving it back. One time I pushed a guys seats back forward when he was gone, and when he came back he lectured me about “His Space ending where his seat goes when its reclined all the way back and I had no business to touch his seat.”

      1. I beg your pardon! I’m a 5’1″ woman and I NEVER slam my seat back. I consider that the height of rudeness for anyone to do.

      2. What skoc50 said! I too am 5’1″ and I am always considerate of others. But I do expect the same courtesy. RetiredNavyphotog, it is obvious that you have never met any good “short women”. More’s the pity for you. 😉

  17. Chris, This is when you should inform your fellow passenger in front of you that you have leg spasms and they can happen at any time…. if you get my hint! I am 6’3, and don’t usually have an issue with people reclining their seats because most of the time it doesn’t happen on short flights (which the majority of my flights are). If there happens to be someone trying to recline and they can’t fully recline because of my knees (i.e. my knees are crushed under their seat) I then begin shaking my legs up and down so it bobs their seat. Crushing someones knees so you are a tad more comfortable isn’t right.

  18. I’m amazed they haven’t done away with reclining seats already. I’m sure the non-reclining ones are cheaper to produce and there’d be less repairs needed. Possibly they’d even be slightly lighter due to the reclining parts being removed. All those would be helpful to the airlines’ bottom line.

  19. Chris, as much as I would have liked to get the other person to incline his seat, I don’t think airline can make him do that if the seat reclines. It will vary from situation to situation. Unless one can measure the recline angle or arc distance, there would be a huge mayhem about how far one can recline. Passengers in the back seat come in various shapes and sizes. It would be unfair to the passenger in the front seat to adjust the seat based upon the passenger behind him/her. If there has to be a rule, it should be applied evenly.

    The way you have posed the question, it may have two meanings. First way is to limit the amount the seat can be mechanically reclined. Second way is to not allow the passenger to recline the seat all the way, even though it’s mechanically possible. I answered YES believing that your question was about the first option, having a mechanical threshold.

    My answer would be NO if you could have airlines mandate what percent of a reclining seat one can use based upon the size of the person behind the seat. It falls in the similar category as having another passenger encroach onto the next seat due to physical attributes, by lifting the armrest just because it can be lifted or by stretching legs to the side because the legroom is insufficient. Just that the role is reversed in this case, as the physical attributes of the person behind are controlling what all facilities provided to the person in the front can be used.

    As often as I travel internationally in economy class, complaints like this are very common. I have seldom seen any airline staff requesting the passenger in the front seat to incline the seat for the comfort of the passenger behind. I have seen them telling the person behind to recline their seat too, just to get enough breathing space.

    These are long flights, with considerable time spent sleeping. There are other things that I have done while on the plane, like using a tablet instead of a pc, reading a book, listening to music etc. It is not the most efficient use of my time but certainly the most efficient use of the space available.

  20. This has always been my biggest pet peeve since I have been flying for work! It infuriates me that they would even design a seat in a way that allows one person to take away space from another, that’s just asking for trouble. Also, more often than not, the person in front of me seems to recline all the way, and only once in all my years has the person in front of me ever been gracious enough to give me a few extra inches when I ask. While I haven’t personally suffered a broken laptop screen (The people in front of me tend to recline before we can even use portable electronic devises) many of my co workers have suffered that fate.

    The most common response when I ask is what Chris experienced, they ignore me, and if I push it they complain about no sleep, or their bad back, or something. The next most common response is that if they weren’t allowed to recline, the airline would not have installed reclining seats, or something to that effect. The “bad back” argument really bothers me as when I was hit by a taxi a few years ago and hurt my back, the Dr. knew I flew every week and said not to recline, he said reclining my back only, while leaving my legs on the ground and seat bottom non-reclined puts more stress on my back. After I recovered I did try reclining when I had no one behind me to see if it was as great as people say, and it was actually more uncomfortable. I wish the seats were actually more upright.

    The worst part is if I am not in a row with extra leg room like economy plus, when someone reclines, their seat slams into my knees and is very painful. Often I have to turn sideways which then leads to a few days of hip pain. I know people say that anyone can fit, but it is simply not true. I am 6’1″ and have a lot of length in my femur. I simply don’t fit when someone reclines. This made for a painful MUC-EWR trip on LH recently when the flight was full and the person in front of me reclined all the way back the entire flight. The plane only had 30″ pitch to begin with. And the flight attendants did not like me standing in the aisles.

    What they need on all planes, which I have only seen on one before, are seats that recline by sliding your own seat bottom forward. I can’t remember which carrier it was, but I thought it was ingenious! If someone wants to recline, they can, but they take up their own space to do it. Its a win-win!

    1. I realize that **your** doctor told you that reclining didn’t help **your** back for **your** injury at the location on **your** spine. But others may not have the same injury, or may have been born with back issues. Spines are pretty complicated – there are bone issues, herniated disks, muscle issues, etc. Different people need different things.

      While you can see long legs, you can’t see back issues. Some people really do have bad backs and really need to recline on long flights.

  21. This has always been an issue for me. Thanks for a well-reasoned analysis, Chris. I never, never put my seat back if there is someone behind me, no matter if the person in front does. Another pet peeve: the person behind who grabs your seat top to pull him/herself into a standing position. Been awakened many times by such inconsiderate behavior. Peace, all.

    1. But I guarantee that if I asked someone to un-recline their seat a smidge in order to allow me to move my legs at all, and they didn’t, I would be tugging on the back of their seat every 10 minutes or so in order to get out of my seat.

  22. I am only 5’3″ and I have experienced many a pulled muscle in my neck or back trying to get something from under the seat in front of me when that seat is also reclined all the way back. Reclining my seat does nothing to help and I don’t want to put the person behind me in the same predicament. Heaven forbid if I am in the center seat and this happens.

  23. Here’s a passive aggresive solution – turn the air on all the way and point it all the way forward. it lands right on the top of the reclining persons head. It almost always works.

    1. Putting a couple of books in your seat-back pocket, an then continually taking them in and out, also works wonders. But please, save this for the inconsiderate fools who simply whomp their seat all the way back and then don’t actually recline.

    2. Awesome suggestion! Never thought of that! As for me, if I feel the need (which isn’t often) to recline my seat I always ask the person behind me if they mind. Most of the time we’re able to find a happy medium.

  24. The flight attendant had it right with the “Kindergarten” line. Looking over these comments, it’s pathetic in both directions. On the one side there’s the “screw you all, I’ll recline whenever I feel like it” crowd but they’re not a whole lot worse than the “act like you sneezed on the guy” or “leg spasms caused me to kick the seat” people. Just a lot of folks who seem incapable of handling situations that aren’t entirely optimal to them.

  25. Oh my gosh, is this a pet peeve of mine!

    Recently, on a Delta flight, I had someone in front of me who also felt he paid for a full recline on his seat. I’m just over six feet tall and this causes me huge problems when the seat in front of me is jammed against my legs. Add to that my Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and I’m not having a good day.

    I asked the man to please put his seat up an inch or so and he refused, put on his ear buds and ignored me. I asked an FA for help and he refused her, too. At this point, I’m in real pain so I asked if I could please move to one of the empty Economy Comfort seats, citing my RA as a handicap. I was told I “didn’t look handicapped” and unless I was willing to pay more for the seat, the answer was “No”.

    I then put into action my “go to” plan for people such as this. Every time I stood up, I pushed down on the top of his seat, forcing it down a couple inches and released it quickly after standing so it flew back and jolted him. Every. Single. Time.

    Every time I sat down, I did the same, sending him flying. After about the fourth time I did this, he put his seat back up. Sometimes, people need to be taught manners.

    1. Teaching manners by being rude is like trying to teach a kid not to hit by spanking him. Sounds to me like you were both in the wrong.

      1. So I should have remained there, crammed in my seat, in tremendous pain because it offends your sensibilities that I respond to an incredibly rude person? I give what I get, Period.

        This particular leg was the end of my trip and that seat being reclined as far back as it would go resulted in my having to go see my rheumatologist as soon as I landed and spending three days in bed, taking morphine. But, yeah, you’re right. I should have just shut up and done nothing at all once my repeated, polite requests he not put his seat back all the way were ignored.

        1. I don’t think you should have shut up and done nothing, but what about asking him to switch seats with you. This way, he could recline as far as he wanted without causing you pain, and you could sit in comfort. I’ve switched seats with people before because I need to recline due to my back. I never recline all the way, just enough so that I am not in the locked upright position. I think there are other ways to handle it rather than resorting to tipping the chair. I’m sorry you had to seek medical treatment though, no one should have to go through that after flying.

          1. Do you really think that someone who ignores a polite, reasonable request by cramming earbuds into hi head is going to go through the incredible inconvenience of switching seats? Especially after digging in his heels on the issue in the first place? What color is the sky where you live?

        2. ExplorationTravMag I have read all your commments and I COMPLETELY agree with you. 99% people who recline their seats fully don’t need to do so, they just do it because they think they have more space and don’t giving a dime about others NOT having space?

          And you people say that it is YOUR seat and YOUR space? Ok how about hitting my table every 5 seconds to force you to move your seat up? It is MY TABLE I can slam it for whatever reason.

          What about turning the air on all the way and point it all the way forward to land right on the top of the reclining persons head? Is that my right?

          Or what about Putting a couple of books in your seat-back pocket, and then continually taking them in and out? Is that MY RIGHT?

          I don’t care if these are rude acts. And when other people don’t have manners believe me I can do much “better” than them.

      2. How does one teach manners to an adult? And if they simply ignore you and continue being rude, you should simply give up, too. And let them go on their merry way, tromping on people, ignoring common courtesy, flouting manners.

    2. I’m sorry but I can’t condone that action. I never recline my seat – even on long overseas flights. I do have a back problem and bring a small pillow for my lower back, which helps considerably. On a flight once the woman behind me used the back of my seat (which was NOT reclined) as leverage every time she got up and sat down, causing it to snap back into place every time she let go. I ended up with a severe case of whiplash which required almost 2 months of chiropractic visits and considerable expense. The next time someone does that to me I’ll be asking for their contact information so I can send them the medical bills.

      1. You had a case of an imaginary disease which required two months of visiting a pretend doctor? My heart so bleeds right now.

    3. Good for you. I’m always flummoxed when I’m told that it’s rude to be rude to rude people. My theory is, if rude people are allowed to be rude with no consequences, they will NEVER learn and NEVER change. If you confront them with their rudeness, they MAY change. They may not, I know. But, at least you know you tried and, well, there is that little bit of satisfaction 🙂

  26. Let’s me start by saying that this is the airline’s fault for squeezing in extra seats to the point that it ignites these petty wars between strangers. If every airline had 34″ of seat pitch (like JetBlue and United’s Economy Plus) we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

    I’m short, but I find the angle on most airline seats so upright that it hurts my back, so I need to recline a little just to take the pressure off. When I do lean back, I do it slowly and in very small increments, just enough to keep myself comfortable. (I also check out the person behind me and keep in mind if they are big or tall.)

    I also nearly lost a laptop to a rapid recliner. I went out and bought a netbook. Problem solved. I also fly United Economy Plus and Jet Blue most of the time.

    I’m dismayed by the number of people commenting that reclining is their God-given right. It reminds me what a bunch of selfish a?????es people can be. Is it your right to recline? I suppose. Is it your fault that the airlines pack us like sardines? No. But that doesn’t mean you can’t exercise a little common courtesy and a “we’re all in this together” attitude. Would it kill you to inconvenience yourself a bit for the sake of the person behind you? No it wouldn’t, so don’t be a jerk.

    Chris, a hint for you: Airlines often hold the exit rows open until the last minute. Ask for a seat in the window exit row (or the second one if there are two window exits). The seats in front don’t recline.

    1. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I love it when the people look, then recline slowly, and don’t go all the way, its a win-win! Also a few times I have had people ask if they can recline, and I always let them, but when I am in a low pitch seat, I ask them if they won’t mind not going back all the way, and those who are nice enough to ask, always comply.

    1. Why should we be any more polite than that guy with the light saber? this is rude behavior and needs to be pointed out as such. With all due respect, Chris, if you can think of a better way to describe someone who is concerned only with themselves to your detriment, I’m all ears/eyes.

  27. What does everyone think of the Knee Defender things that prevent the seat from reclining?
    I’ve thought about buying them but somehow feel wrong doing it.

  28. The moral is, if you need or expect to work in-flight, buy a seat in C or F. Appeals by FAs don’t work. I watched a fellow traveller use his Blackberry throughout takeoff and landing despite repeated requests from crew and a PA from the Captain.

  29. Economy Airlines Seat are not designed for work. Unproductive and wasting rest time. That’s the reason the upper class called Business Class so people can do business and work if they feel the need to.

  30. Do we have the right to recline?
    Do we have the right to not be crowded by the seat in front?

    Here’s another perspective: does the right to work on a laptop trump the right of the person in front to recline?

    Maybe that makes it a harder to choose sides. When we buy an economy seat, we really haven’t got the right to demand either one. We get what we pay for – and all we paid for is a seat to sit in until we get to our destination.

  31. I always ask and I never recline all the way back. I’ve asked people in front of me to move their seat back up – not all the way, but just enough so I can work – and I’ve had polite responses and rude responses. I wish they’d restrict the mobility of the seats. It would just make it easier on everyone. An extra few inches back isn’t going to make you more comfortable, but it is going to infringe on the space of the passenger behind you.

  32. I’ve been fortunate ~ 85% of the time and have had the person raise their seat back. I’ve even told them they can bring it back a little. The one or two instances where the passenger did not raise the seat back was uncomfortable and my getting out of the seat for other passengers in the row did aggravate that passenger. 🙂

  33. We all become alphas during ordinary flights, in ordinarily small seats. The smallest 94 pound passenger, is the one that must recline 100%. This happened to me on Delta Paris to JFK. At 6’4, I could not even eat and the Delta crew was totally unsympathetic. I put on my headset and kept beat to the music underneath the seat until the ungrateful passenger complained to the attendants. “Children!”
    She went to the restroom in anger, I shoved the seat up and blocked it with my knees until we landed. Vote today for courtesy, not politics. It makes you happier.

  34. I’d be happy to be courteous for the fellow traveler behind, but what if the passenger in front reclines? If I don’t recline I’d feel squeezed. Does that mean that we should ask all passengers in the row to bring their seats upright?

  35. I think coach / economy seats should not recline, not even one inch. I never recline mine, because I think the person sitting behind me deserves that space.

    If the chairs are really so much more comfortable in a reclined position, then the airline should lock them all in the same reclined position.

    It’s just not right to give two different passengers a claim on the same space. It’s either my space, or it’s someone else’s. Locked seats make the boundaries clear.

    1. I need to recline my seat just a bit to alleviate pressure on my lower back. And I do mean a little bit. I don’t feel I encroach on the space in back of me, but I am very uncomfortable in a straight-up position. Usually, the small commuter planes are already comfortable for my back, but the bigger planes are not.

      1. That’s my problem, too. I can’t sit in a straight up seat with massive pain. And not traveling isn’t an option for me.

      2. That seems fine to me – then the seats should all be locked into a slight recline. I don’t really care where the seat lean is set, but the way the airlines have arranged this is analagous to selling two different people tickets for seat 21A. Two people can’t sit there. Only one person can use that seat.

        It’s the same way with the space between seats: only one person can have their body/seat in that space, but the reclining seats give two people a “ticket” for that space. No wonder there are fights!

    2. I actually have to recline my seat just a hair, and I’m talking just out of the locked upright position, or else I am in pain. I have 2 rods in my back holding my spine straight, so sitting in a rigid position gets quite uncomfortable for me. However, since I know the person behind me has precious little space, I only use the bare minimum. While I know I could fully recline, It would be rude for me to do so. I’ve never had an issue with the person behind me thus far, and I’ve never had issues with people in front of me wanting to recline. I think that by locking the seats so that no one can recline is just absurd. If the person behind me were to have an issue with me reclining, I would be perfectly willing to work out something with them so that we both are comfortable. I’ve even switched seats with a gentleman who was very tall, and he was appreciative that I was willing to do that so that we both were happy.

    3. I never recline my seat because most aircraft seats are too reclined for me even in the, so called, upright position. I think the airlines are doomed if they do and doomed if they don’t, but I think that Carrie, Julie and I show that different angle of seatback is required by different people, perhaps reduce the amount of recline, but allow some.
      I’ve been on flights where my knees have stopped the seat in front reclining and one where I stood the whole way because the only way I could get into my seat was to have my knees up on the closed table and my feet well off the floor.

  36. I tend to be a little more aggressive after being nice fails –

    Step 1: “Excuse me, but when you recline all the way I cannot open my laptop and have no leg room . . .

    Step 2 after being ignored: “Excuse me, but you are not the only person on this aircraft and I would appreciate if you could move your seat forward a little bit.

    Step 3: I cross my legs and start moving my legs – kind of like I have restless leg syndrome – a constant drum beat against the back of the seat in no particular rhythm – like a small child kicking. After about 4-5 min of that the seat magically goes forward and the problem resolves itself.

    About 70% of the people fall into category 1, 25% category 2, and a few rare buttheads require category 3.

    I have had a flight attendant come up to me one time and ask me to stop ‘kicking the seat.’ I explained to him that I nicely asked him not recline the seat so far twice and was ignored both times. I asked the flight attendant what he would do if I asked him to have the complainer move his seat – got the DFAL – “dirty flight Attendant Look” and the F/A said to the complainer “Sir, if you move your seat forward a little bit I’m sure you will no longer be in contact with his leg.”

    I realized I should have just said I was disabled with restless leg syndrome – which would have shut the FA faster than asking him to cover a red eye – but it was the 5th flight in 2 days and I was tired of being nice –

    1. True. Well, sorta true. Those seats are not necessarily “next generation”.

      Those types of bottom-slides-forward seats have been around and available to the airlines for about 10 years, but US carriers haven’t bought them. Some Asian carriers, yes; US, not so much (AFAIK).

    2. Cathay Pacific 777s have had this for years. It is like a bucket seat with a fixed shell. The back and the bottom slides down and forward, respectively. This is my standard equipment in coach for my Asia flights and I’ve got to say there are not really comfortable; but they solve the reclining issue.

      1. I like CX’s design and I would propose all airlines to follow, because even if ‘they are not really comfortable’, seats should not be designed to make one person comfortable only, they should be designed to max comfort for all including the one behind you. Having the reclined seat within your cell is the best trade off if one doesn’t want to pay more for more space or can’t afford to. Of course this would be different if airlines change their seat strategies !

  37. Flight attendants should have more “power” to make flights bearable. Besides the pitch of seats they should be able to force those who bring two carry-on items to put one under the seat when the flight is full. I also found out when a passenger was exceedingly loud that the FA was thrilled when a few of us asked her to have the passenger quiet down. Apparently FAs can’t do that but if another passenger complains, they can do something. In this case, the loud passenger was so drunk that the pilot considered landing early to put her off the plane.

    1. While it’s not especially fun to share a flight with a drunk person, in these days of locked cockpit doors (so they’re no danger) and security hysteria (so they may be perceived as one anyway), anyone who complains about a drunkard to the extent that they risk actually having the flight diverted is being almost as antisocial as the drunkard. Shut up, bear it, don’t end up making your fellow passengers who are shutting up and bearing it have to end up several hours late home after an impromptu stopover in Albuquerque .

      1. They may be no danger to those safely locked behind that door, but they can still be a danger to the rest of the people on board. NO ONE should have to shut up and bear it.

  38. I have a spinal condition that makes it very painful for me to recline my seat, so when the person in front of me reclines fully I have to be squashed in what is left of the seat. Since there is so little space between seats, there should be limited reclining

    1. What about the rest of us who have spinal conditions who MUST recline the seat? There are at least three of us who posted that we have this problem.

  39. I am a frequent flier. I have never, not once, reclined my seat on a domestic flight. Oh wait…once I was upgraded to a lie-flat seat in first class and I admit I played with it. But, even then, I opted for upright most of the way. I don’t get the appeal of putting the seat back, I don’t find it at all comfortable. It would be nice if airlines would opt to design seats for adults, but I know that is not really on the table.

  40. I voted no, but that’s because I’m opposed to restricting the ability to recline in any class. If there’s not much space between the back of one’s seat and the row behind it, I think reclining at all is inconsiderate. I’ve been on my share of flights crammed in behind recliners, and I’m not a tall person-only about 5 feet 3 inches.

    I think the airlines need to put in seats that don’t impose so much on the spaces behind them. But of course, they won’t because profits are everything and they’re too expensive.

  41. Technical problems should have technical solutions.

    It’s wrong to copy movies, so the discs they are distributed on have DRM so that you can’t. (or at least you know you’re doing something wrong by breaking it).

    If it’s wrong to lean the seat back more than x inches, the airlines should reset the limits on the seats so that they can only go back the appropriate amount of recline.

  42. On a Delta flight from Atlanta to Amsterdam this year, I was stuck in a window seat economy; my company was cutting back on expenses and business class wasn’t allowed. After dinner, when the cabin lights went out, I snuck a peak at the middle-aged couple behind me. Their seats were reclined and they appeared to be asleep. I eased my seat back, only to have it rudely shoved forward by the woman. I turned around to see if there was a problem. She very nastily said that I couldnt’ recline my seat because it hurt her knees. I had seen her in line for the restroom earlier, and noticed she had on trendy 5″ platform sandals, so I kindly suggested that perhaps she could remove her lovely shoes and her knees wouldn’t be so high. She snarled at me and called me a “princess” and told me to “get over it”. Then she pulled her blanket up, leaned back, and went to sleep. I waited 10 minutes and quietly eased my seat back. She immediately shoved it forward again, and called said “I told you NO, you f***king b*tch!” I turned around and saw her husband was glaring at me too, but strangely enough, he had not shoved forward the seat in front of him, which was leaned back and occupied by a businessman. I said “I am allowed to recline my seat, the same are you are doing”. The husband said “you want to make a f***king bet?” I rang the flight attendent call button and told her what was happening. She told me to lean my seat back, and i did, and the wife shoved it forward again. This scenario continued 4 times in rapid succession, right in front of the flight attendent. The flight attendent told them I had the same right to recline as they did, and they even told her that I didnt!! Finally the FA told the nasty couple behind me that if they did it one more time, she was going to have the captain come back, and if that happened, there would be charged filed when we landed. They finally stopped shoving my seat, but I was treated to foul name-calling and seat-kicking the entire remainder of the flight. As a million-miler Diamond, I can honestly say I have never met any traveler more worthy of the title “Ugly American”. I emailed Delta and they gave me 25,000 miles for my troubles, but it didn’t really take away the bad feelings the experience gave me. When flying domestically, I rarely lean my seat back, but internationally, we all need that precious few inches the recline that give us.

    1. That’s vile and I don’t envy you such a foul flight, but highlights the vile hypocrisy of the couple involved rather than the reclining question (since they were reclined themselves). If the lady had been seated upright and trying to work, the conflict would have been much tougher to resolve.

    2. As ugly as they were about your reclining, I think the name calling is reprehensible. It never fails to astonish just how awful people can get so quickly in an exchange.

    3. Seems to me that the F/A had the right and responsibility to have those two jerks charged with disrupting an aircraft in flight. Foul language, seat kicking, arguing, etc., IS, in my opinion, grounds for charges to be filed. Everyone has the right to expect a relatively “hassle-free” flight and it is the F/A’s responsibility to do what they can, to ensure safety and civility are adhered to. Had charges been levied and the jerks “greeted” by the authorities, I venture to say that they’d think twice, the next time. Or better yet, Delta should bar them from flying!

  43. Common courtesy dictates all else if it is requested or shared politely. People feel so entitled as to what is owed to them and toss out a ounce of decency.

  44. I like to get up frequently (I always do an aisle seat) and stretch my legs when someone does this to me. I grab the head rest to help me up and as expected it wakes the person up. I smile sheepishly and apologize and explain it is a tight squeeze with the seat all the way down. That also does the trick. Next time i’m going to try the overhead air trick.

  45. It seems that most of these issues would be solved if the airlines would get seats that don’t recline quite as much. Going back and fixing existing planes might be tough, but I’m sure there is someone out there who can design a better airline seat and the airlines should demand that airplane builders give them better options.

    1. The airline order the seats installed in the planes they fly as a custom option. It is entirely up to the airline as to which seat is installed in any given plane as well as specifying the seat pitch.

  46. So, the seat was reclined while you were in the bathroom, and yet you still know it nearly cracked the screen of your laptop?

    You should know better.. We don’t react well to people who exaggerate round these parts.. lol

    1. Oddly enough (and this didn’t make it into the final story) there was a fellow passenger who claimed to work for Apple sitting two seats away from me. He told me that I had better put the computer away, because the way the seat reclined, it would crack the screen. So I defer to his expertise.

  47. I recently listend to a story on This American Life where the protagonist used a product called Knee Defender to limit the recline of the seat in front of him. It seems completely passive agressive, but I’d be curious to see what the FA would have said if Chris used something like that.

    What a sad state these airlines are in that a product like this even has to exist.

  48. Maybe someone already called you out for this Chris, but the hyperbole is both over the top and inaccurate.

    You open by saying that, “After we reached our cruising altitude, I got up to use the restroom,
    and when I returned, I found that he had reclined his seat — all the

    Then when you are trying to gin us up, you say, “Mr. Star Wars nearly cracked the screen on my laptop when he forced his seat all the way back.”

    So which is it? They cannot both be true statements of fact. If you are going to mislead your audience like this, then you have no leg to stand on when trying to advocate for consumers who are misled. I like your message Chris, but please keep it straight, else you lose valuable credibility.

  49. I find myself in the described situation twice every day — on an NYC express bus. I consider being able to recline my RIGHT. Consequently, I NEVER argue with the person in front of me exercising this right, no matter how uncomfortable that makes me sometimes. The only exception would be if the seat is broken and reclines too much. Like most people, I try to catch some Z’s on the bus. My plane trips are a lot less frequent, but I treat them the same way.

    Please, Chris, you don’t have a right to work. Sleep, read a book, watch a movie on an Android tablet or phone. Let the recliner recline and pass out.

    1. The only thing that really worths a response from what you said is:

      “Let the recliner recline and -pass out-”

      I would say -pass away- it would make the world a better place

  50. My wife and I were on a KLM Asia flight from AMS to HKG and just as the meal service started the person in front of me dropped his seat back and went to sleep.

    When the flight attendant tried to serve my meal, I pointed out that there was not sufficient space to put the tray on my table, open it and have access to it.

    I asked the flight attendant to ask the person to return his seat to the upright, at least so that I could eat my meal.

    She told me that she could not do this as he was asleep. I asked her, again, to do this. Again, she refused as he was asleep.

    My meal was getting cold so I hammered his seat, he awoke in a panic at which, I informed the now startled F.E. that he was now awake and would she please ask him to allow me to eat my meal.

    It worked for me.

    I always ask the person seated behind me if they mind if I recline my seat. It’s common courtesy.

  51. I thought the flight was only 2 hours if it’s nonstop MCO-DCA. Of course I realize it could also be any number of permutations with one stop or to Dulles.

    However, maybe the Amtrak Silver Meteor next time? I recently took a short trip on a long-distance line riding in a Superliner coach car. I was amazed at how much legroom and recline there was, without impacting anyone behind me. The footrest was a nice touch. I don’t know if the Amfleet coach cars on the Silver Meteor have quite that much space, but I’m thinking probably yes. And even if someone was being a jerk, one could relocate to a lounge car or a cafe car.

    1. philoprof, before I invented Knee Defender, I was on a flight and, spur of the moment, used a compact umbrella to do the same kinda thing you did with the PVC pipe – I just laid it across the two arms. That’s how I discovered the dynamic involved. As an inventor by nature, just that discovery was enough for me: I saw how the problem could be solved. It was only a few years later, after friends urged me to create a small device to accomplish the same thing, that I went into my workshop to do that.

      As for using the magazine, I’ve also seen that. Hey, whatever works.

  52. I like the sneezing – have to try that next time.
    But I really like the air vent blowing on top of the head.
    Why? I hardly ever recline. And if I do recline on an international flight, I look to see who is behind me and I ask if it is OK.

  53. You know, here’s the thing – your right to be “comfortable” behind me doesn’t trump my right to be comfortable IN MY PURCHASED SEAT. You can ASK if I could not recline my seat all the way, and I will probably say yes, depending on your situation, but if it’s just because you’re tall, forget it.

    I have massive back issues and I’m simply not comfortable in airline seats unless they are reclined. I mean, I am talking MASSIVE PAIN if I don’t recline. Not a little pain. MASSIVE PAIN, as in, I want to scream it’s so bad. I had neck surgery for a herniated disc, but I need more surgeries to fully resolve the issue (and before you start bashing me about why it’s not done, it’s because I live on a tiny military base in Japan and just getting the MRI for my neck took 10 months and was like pulling teeth… I currently have a request in to move home so I can get my surgeries done in a timely manner, so I have reasons for why it’s not done).

    So, no offense, but I just don’t think your right trumps my rights. My solution would be to switch seats with you and your family if possible so you can sit in front of me. I’m ALWAYS open to suggestions. But if the only answer is “I’m not comfortable so you can’t recline your seat”, that’s not good enough for me. I have a right to be comfortable, too. And, you know what? I try to buy economy comfort seats that have more leg room, just so I can avoid this issue. Sometimes people have legitimate reasons to recline, so I think it’s really rude to just cast aspersions on everyone who likes to recline. You don’t know their situation, just like I don’t know yours. So can’t everyone work together to find something that works?

    1. I get the massive pain thing. The pain is so bad you want to pass out but can’t. If feels like someone is taking an arc welder up and down some of the nerves.
      I think the “don’t recline” people don’t get how bad it ireally is.

  54. I have a good solution… just do the “buy what you want” thing… have a section of seats that don’t recline at all. That way everyone who doesn’t care about reclining can pay less and the rest of us who like to recline can pay more. I would happily do it.

  55. Chris, did you *seriously* ask the F/A if you could sit in the jumpseat, knowing full well that’s a big-time FAA violation? please tell me you were just trying to make a point…

    1. I think my exact words were, “I can’t sit in the jump seat, right? That’s against the rules.”

      And no — I haven’t read the FAA regs. Will take your word for it that it’s a very strict no-no.

  56. My solution:
    “Dude, I know you need that thing to impress your GF because what you have below the belt ain’t doing it. Now sit up and be a man.”

    But then, I’m a jackass.

  57. I take exception. I would say the following: US offers “standard” recline in Y. The reality is the pitch (or lack) is based on what people are willing to pay in fare. If you wanted the larger seat/pitch, you could purchase a first class ticket. You could also pay the fee for the exit seat.

  58. watch where you sit.
    You can choose to sit behind a non reclining seat.
    or reclone your own seat.
    you have no right to control another seat.

  59. if you want more space pay for an upgrade.When i pay for my seat i also pay for the recline or else do not make seats that recline . If i want more space on a longer flight i will shell out more for my family if you don’t want to do that then dont travel

  60. I have a zero tolerance policy myself. I’m a larger guy (not overweight, and I fit just fine in a normal seat) – if I see the person in front of me setting up to recline, I put my knees a little ahead of where they’re comfortable but block the person from reclining more than a reasonable amount (I always allow them some space). They either hit my legs and give up, or ask me to move them – and I simply say no. There’s no argument against it, you want to recline, I want to be able to fit.

  61. How about eliminating reclining seats altogether for shorter & daytime routes. You really don’t get much of a recline anyway. Only allow them for red-eyes, where people do try to get some sleep. I think that would help avoid nasty confrontations between fliers.

    1. What would really eliminate those nasty confrontations is if the airlines would just return the pitch of the seats to a reasonable distance!

  62. I might believe your story if you didn’t include the part about the guy in front of you almost cracking your computer screen. Since he reclined it while you were in the restroom, I doubt that actually happened. He also likely reclined it before you got up, since you can recline a seat once you reach 10K altitude, long before cruising altitude.

  63. Personally, I think that you if purchase a seat in Economy, you are free to recline at your leisure and be as comfortable as you want, as you paid for that right. I don’t view it as shared space, rather the space that you bought, and are in control of. If space for “working on a laptop” will be an issue for you, upgrade or book the seats behind those that don’t recline or in a bulkhead row.

  64. I was on a flight from MUC to IAD a few months ago and tried to lean my seat back, slowly, and it lurched. The old German woman began screaming and kicking as if I had attacked her. I thought maybe I knocked something down. I then quietly tried to do it later and she did the same thing again. This was after checking to see if she had room.
    The bottom line is that some people are sociopaths and this woman was one of them. I heard her griping loudly in German about the food, floor space, etc. Some people think they get ahead in life by stepping in front of others and screaming literally at the top of their lungs when their “space” is invaded. If I had been in a stronger mood that day (I was worn out from another incident with a crazed airport worker that day), I would have told her off.
    Sure, the guy in front should have leaned his seat up to allow the guy to work on his laptop but acting snobby about it doesn’t help. If the seats lean back, you should do so (slowly and seeing if they’re ok, no laptops open if possible.). We shouldn’t have to get a written invitation everytime.

  65. Perhaps we should be having a discussion with the airlines – 31 inches give or take is physically uncomfortable and the reclining was not an issue until the airlines crammed more and more people in to save on cost of running additional flights…

  66. My personal rule is the equivalent of “two notches” on my seat unless someone is trying to work behind me. Even on overseas flight I normally don’t recline at all and I am a big guu. (Try United economy plus – when you get that rude bast**d in front of you going into full recline you are still OK). In the event I get someone who is in my space on a longer flight. I find the knee in the back of the seat, moving the tray table constantly usually get the job done is a short period of time.

    I also find those that choose the full recline are normally not business people of others that fly for a living. The same people that squwak when the plane is 20 minutes late and they have a 90 minute connection or the flight attendant didn’t get them a third Diet Coke within 2 minutes of turning their light on.

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