Do you have the right to lean your economy class seat back as far as it goes?

Remember last summer’s debate about recline rage on planes?

Betty Austin-Ware doesn’t need a reminder, because she lived it. Austin-Ware, a travel agent from Fort Mill, S.C., flew from Atlanta to Brisbane, Australia, a 21-hour haul, in economy class.

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“The person in front of me reclined his seat as far as it would go,” she recalls. “I couldn’t move, not even an inch. Whenever I wanted to get out, I had to stand on the seat.”

It’s worth pointing out that the airline she flew on, Qantas, has taken steps to make flying even more uncomfortable for the average passenger since her trip. It’s reportedly reducing legroom in economy class by an inch on some flights to maximize profits. At the same time, it’s installing new lie-flat business class seats to reward its biggest spenders.

“Little changes add up to millions of dollars,” Gareth Evans, Qantas’ chief financial officer, said.

And that pretty much describes the airline industry’s reaction to recline rage: Without so much as a shrug, many airlines continued squeezing the seats in steerage closer together to make more money while lavishing elite customers with more perks. It’s as if they’re preparing to shoot a sequel to the dystopian sci-fi film Snowpiercer.

Meaning it’s up to passengers like Austin-Ware to fix this. And here’s where things get interesting. Space is unbelievably tight in the back of the plane. Most airlines allow about 5 degrees of recline in economy class, with an uncivilized 30 to 31 inches of “pitch” (a rough way to measure legroom). This is about 2 inches less space than a decade ago. Crewmembers consistently support a passenger’s “right” to recline the seat all the way, no matter who or what is behind it. So if you have long legs, are trying to work on your laptop or are nursing a baby, you have to either accept the intrusion into your personal space, or negotiate with the recliner.

There are three schools of thought on seat leaning. And, as it turns out, Austin-Ware’s answer lies somewhere between them.

The absolutist position is as rigid and uncomfortable as those cardboard-thin economy class seats they’re installing on planes. One commenter on my Facebook page claimed the right to recline his seat as far back as it would go because “I paid for it.” He labeled anyone who disagreed with him an “idiot.”

Travelers who hold this view have their reasons.

“If the seat construction includes the ability to lean back, use it,” says Ron Lent, who works for a real estate company in Tucson, Ariz. “This is not the passenger’s problem. It is the airline’s problem, or more correctly the entire airline industry’s problem. They have shrunk the per-passenger space to an unacceptable level.”

Lent welcomes a confrontation with a fellow passenger. Why? If enough people clash over shrinking space, then maybe the airlines will do something about it. It may be the best reason to encourage passengers to slam their seats back as far as they go the moment a plane reaches cruising altitude. Let’s start a fight! The airline will lose.

The second group, and by far the largest, consists of the compromisers. Teri Tucker, a writer from Seattle, counts herself among them. She experiences severe back pain when she flies, so she likes to recline.

“However, it’s essential to be courteous about it,” she says. “I always look back and mention I’m about to lean back.”

The dialogue makes sense. Most travelers can’t imagine jamming their car seat all the way back into their child’s lap without first saying something. Why should it be any different on a plane?

At the other end of the reclining spectrum: the never-evers. I’m one of them and several of my travel columnist colleagues are, too. We’re in strange company. None other than Spirit Airlines, which has some of the least roomy airline seats in the industry, locks their seats in place — “pre-reclined,” it euphemistically calls them. The reasons are also sound. Economy class seats aren’t massage chairs; they’re meant to get you to your destination safely. If you need to recline, try a lie-flat seat or drive.

All of which brings us to the solution. It isn’t to scream at the passenger leaning back into your lap. It isn’t to pretend to sneeze on their head or point the vents on their face or invite your 7 year old to use your tray table as a drum set. In fact, the solution is somewhere between the compromisers and the never-evers.

Your flight attendant may support your absolute right to recline your seat, but that doesn’t mean you have such a right. A plane is a shared space. Keep the seat upright if you can, but if you must recline, then ask before you sit back. And don’t claim all the space. That’s rude.

“The airline is at fault,” says Austin-Ware, the travel agent. She tried to avoid a leaning incursion by upgrading to premium economy on her Transpacific flight. To her frustration, she found those seats leaned even more than regular economy.

“There should be more room between seats,” she says. “But airlines are charging more for less.”

Do you have the right to lean your economy class seat back as far as it goes?

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How to deal with ‘recline rage’

Always ask before reclining. Jamming your seat all the way back as soon as you reach cruising altitude and keeping it there is the surest recipe for a confrontation. Remember, it’s a shared space, no matter what your flight attendants say.

If someone leans into your personal space, ask them to unlean a little. Most passengers understand the space shortage. They’re willing to accommodate a reasonable request, even if they know they have the ability to lean all the way back and get away with it.

Move or block. The best solution to recline rage is to ask to move to another available seat. But you also have other options, such as using the infamous Knee Defender, which blocks reclining seats. Note: some airlines have banned this device, so check before deploying it.

124 thoughts on “Do you have the right to lean your economy class seat back as far as it goes?

  1. I hate recliners. I have even put my knees up. the passenger diden’t even complain to my face, but rather pushed the FA button and yelled at the FA to tell me to cut it out.

    if she had said “i have back pain, can i please recline” i might have felt better but no, she was a total b–ch.

    I never recline. I can’t sleep on airplanes anyway, so reclining would have no benefit.
    BUT (and this is a big but) my husband who never flew until the year we married ALWAYS RECLINES. I have tried to talk him out of it, but he say it helps his motion sickness.

    so as a compromise we have not flown economy class for well over 5 years, even if the tickets are expensive, i always have more fun in business class (free movies!) and I no longer feel embarrassed when my husband insist in reclining.

  2. I’m pretty tall, but I dont mind reclining with courtesy. Don’t recline when I try to eat. Only fully recline on red eyes, and then look back and ease back. People who think they can do whatever they want with no regard to others -on or off a plane – frankly make me see red.

    I’m pretty sure there is a special circle in hell for people who don’t give a hoot about anyone else but themselves.

  3. On long-haul and overnight flights, most passengers sleep; just walk down the aisle and you’ll see it. That’s why they dim the lights after dinner. So yes, it’s OK to recline the seat, as long as you raise it for meals. The problem with asking first is that the person behind you might say no, which they are not entitled to do. So recline slowly to give that person time to readjust knees or whatever and, if necessary, recline their own seat. If you’re the rare passenger who needs to work all night on a laptop, then it’s time to try to switch seats.

  4. We have flown several times with our toddler in her car seat. On our first flight, we apologized to the passenger in front of her before the flight, and she was very courteous and thoughtful. She didn’t recline her seat on the 4 hour flight, and we made every effort we could to keep her from kicking the seat in front of her. On the return flight, even after asking the passenger in front of her to not recline, he immediately reclined his seat as soon as he was allowed, pinning my daughters legs painfully between her car seat and the seatback in front of her. After I extricated her legs, I was reluctant to discourage her from kicking him throughout the flight. He might consider what my child did as being rude. I call it karma.

    After the incidents on several flights last year, my wife and I resorted to the strategy that I sit in the window seat directly in front of my toddler. I’m not going to recline my seat, and it’s much easier to put up with the occasional kicks when it’s from your own child.

  5. Perhaps you should have politely asked the passenger in front of you not to recline during the flight; you could then have attempted alternate arrangements for one of you if that was unacceptable. It’s certainly a better solution vs. obstructing the seat should the passenger in front of you have the temerity to use feature provided by the airline for their comfort. The passenger shouldn’t have yelled at the FA, (although summoning the FA is what I would have done.)

    Obstructing the seat in front of you makes about as much sense as sabotaging the reading bulb of your seatmate because you feel you must have complete darkness on a flight.

  6. I wonder what planes you all are flying. I have legs so long, I cannot purchase pants in most stores. (36″ inseam) I fly several times a year, and somehow I have managed to avoid my legs being crammed against the seat in front of me 100% of the time. Sitting up straight instead of slouching definitely helps. Certainly I’ve been a little cramped with my laptop if the person in front of me reclines, but at no time have I been jammed.

    I’d probably have a different experience on, say, Spirit. But I’ve never had an issue on any of the planes I’ve flown. (All the way from tiny turboprops to 747’s.)

  7. I can’t select an answer to the poll question because it’s “both”. Certain planes it’s fine to recline on – the Airbus 319s and 320s at US AIR/American are fine. There’s plenty of space. But get on a Delta (for example) flight and the planes are generally very cramped and even I feel squashed in my seat. Recline your seat on one of those planes and you’re really impacting the person behind you.

    I guess that’s the real kicker – if you recline your seat, be prepared for the person behind you to make your flight as uncomfortable as you’re making them.

  8. you can’t sleep on planes – so?? why is that my problem? I can and I bought a seat that reclines – I use it.

  9. Chris says – “If you need to recline, try [i.e. pay for] a lie-flat seat or
    drive” As Chris is quick to suggest that people who want to recline buy a 1st class lie flat seat – I wonder why he isn’t as quick to suggest that those who want a little more leg room ‘try a [i.e. pay for] a ‘comfort class’ or 1st class lie flat seat’

    I say – if you need the person in front of you not to recline then
    sit in an exit row or bulkhead seat – there the seat in front of you
    can’t recline.

  10. It makes a difference where the leg length comes from. If you have long calfs, no problem. If long in the thigh, big problem.

  11. Personally I would have joined the child in kicking the seat, spilled a sippy cup of milk on him, and told him to F off if I had asked him not to recline.

  12. The fact that when I recline, you can’t move your legs is the airline’s fault, not mine. It’s not that I don’t care about your comfort, but I care about mine, too – when I fly, I have to bring a couple of small, hard pillows with me and recline not to end up in terrible pain. The shape of the seats is designed to cause back pain in people under 5’10”.

    The FAA should mandate certain standards that keep the seats reasonably comfortable, including a few set-aside seats for very big people. Let’s put the pressure on them and the airlines, not each other.

  13. The answer to all of this is deceptively simple — the Federal government needs to mandate minimum seat pitch (34-35″) and seat width (20-21″). Nothing else is going to work, folks! The airlines will continue to try to cram as many seats into the same space as they can. For those who cry “boo hoo” for the poor airlines making money, they’re currently making billions of dollars and still charging fuel surcharges when oil is below $50 a barrel. We regulate other public utilities (gas, electric, etc.), why not the airlines?

  14. “Qantas, has taken steps to make flying even more uncomfortable for the
    average passenger since her trip. It’s reportedly reducing legroom in
    economy class by an inch on some flights to maximize profits.”

    Well, let’s be frank here. Qantas has no profits. It posted a $2.84B loss in the FY ending in August 2014.

  15. I think part of the problem is that many tall people sit with their butts forward. Not to generalize, but many are used to slouching. I’m about the same height as you, and while I don’t feel a lot of freedom to stretch my legs straight and wiggle my toes, I’ve never had an issue in economy either…because I regularly remind myself to position my butt all the way back on the seat.

  16. I find those loss claims to be sketchy. Hubby owns a small business and *on paper* we have a loss every year for tax purposes, but the money we earn is enough to make it worthwhile. I cannot see a business like an airline actually having a loss that big: it would make them incapable of operating.

  17. While I agree airlines make it harder space wide, I find the Knee Defenders just as rude.

    If a seat reclines, then why be allowed to use the defender?

    Goes both ways

  18. Why is it a particular problem for a toddler in a car seat? They’re so much smaller than an adult that I wouldn’t think they’d need the extra room. It’s true that it makes it easier for the child to kick the seatback, but the parents should try to keep them from doing that. Personally, if my seat is reclined, I don’t complain about being kicked; I just turn sideways so that less of me is in contact with the seatback and go to sleep.

  19. I take several long haul flights a year and I do not recline unless the seat behind me is empty (or when I am lucky enough to score an upgrade). I think it is ok to recline, but you should be aware of the impact of your actions on the person behind you – warn them and be willing to recline less than all the way as needed.

  20. At 5’6″ I don’t have many problems with seat discomfort. Yes I have every right to put my seatback to the max, however, if I’m the one behind I would ask politely to move up a notch or two, & if no cooperation, then I have every right to kick, bump or otherwise be an annoyance, as I to have paid for my seat. I have never had this problem though.
    My problems? returning from India to London, a mother with 3 brats who did nothing when asked, including by the attendants, to reign in the kids who were jumping, & falling into the seat backs, & playing slam the food tray games. So every time she fell asleep, myself or others would walk by & bump her awake. She dared not complain.. Only other problem flying Aeroflot from St. Petersburg to Amsterdam, THE WORST experience in my some 50 years of flying. No help at the airport counter people, all the signs in Russian only, really crammed in seats, & rude attendants.

  21. Very relevant article, I always think about this while flying, I tend to not recline unless the seat behind is empty. If I do recline it is just a tiny bit. I had not thought of mentioning it to the person first, but I will now :)

  22. ” I have every right to kick, bump or otherwise be an annoyance, as I to have paid for my seat”

    on purpose or accidentally?

  23. Well, the stockholders and execs are basically in a panic. They’re a bit beyond accounting tricks, I’m afraid.

  24. I’m tall, and I fall into the “never reclines” group, in part because I don’t like the feeling of having my head in a stranger’s lap! :-) I’ve never had someone sitting in front of me give notification before reclining, which would certainly be helpful in case I need to get something from under the front seat. And, recently, I would’ve taken the opportunity to move my beverage before the person in front of me slammed their seat into full “launch” mode and said beverage ended up in my lap. Fortunately I had finished most of the soda so just had ice all over the place. No apology or acknowledgement from the offender. I say, in economy class, lock the seats in the upright position.

  25. This post has been flagged. I want to remind everyone of our comments policy.

    And of this rule in particular:

    Be nice. You know the old saying: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If you disagree with a comment, feel free to respectfully and politely challenge that comment in a civil manner.

    Thank you.

  26. When I fly between the islands of Hawaii, the flights are rarely more than 90 minutes long, so I rarely recline my seat for such a short flight. Yet, when flying nin-stop from Honolulu to New York, you can bet that I’ll be leaning my seat back!. This 12+ your flight .would be very uncomfortable if I could lie the seat back!

  27. and for those that might say the gov’t has no business mandating minimum row spacing it is already done via local Building Codes for every theater, church, hotel ballroom and all other places of public assembly in the country in the name of safety.

  28. I am also tall and would never recline to the fully reclined position. However, I am tall enough that the “head rest” fits me squarely in the shoulders and leaves me hunched forward. I find a few inches of recline remedy this. As for economy class seats that have a full recline that require contortion or climbing to get out of your seat, maybe they shouldn’t be allowed. As much as I don’t like regulation because it usually adds to the cost of things unnecessarily, this would be a safety regulation since you need to be able get out of your seat in an emergency. I guess I’m saying reclining seats are O.K. if there is a limit to how much they recline.

  29. Unfortunately you attacked in a passive-aggressive manner which was met with a passive-aggressive response. You lost the high ground when you chose to attack instead of negotiate. The passenger had a disability that legally merited accommodation under the Air Carrier Access Act. The FA had to accommodate that disability.

  30. It’s not the seats so much as the angle of attack of the plane. I’m not sure if this is allowed, but I wrote about the physics of this issue on my blog (it’s math free):

    http://bit.ly/1ucBSNh

    The only way to fix this is to have the seats face backwards on the plane. Then a lot of people would get airsick.
    As far as seat pitch, there is nothing stopping each of us from writing our congressman. Or starting a petition on change.org. I move for a minimum of 32 inches (the airlines are less likely to fight that number)

  31. So you are suggesting that every airline have seats on all of their planes that basically are the size and leg room of domestic 1st class seats today. The price of tickets would immediately double.

    Airlines are making great profits now, but that is only offsetting the 10 – 15 years they all lost billions.

  32. Of course I have the right to recline my seat. Just as I have the “right” to use any of the amenities provided to me by the airline. But should I have the courtesy to not recline? Yes.

    I rarely recline on a plane if I am not in a 1st class or business seat that is a pod type construction where my actions do not intrude on those around me. I have back issues which cause me pain when sitting for extended periods (it’s rough getting old when everything starts hurting :-)) but the recline in an economy seat makes it worse, not better.

    The only recliners that annoy me are those who recline their seat as far as it will go and then lean forward the entire flight. I then have a seat in my face that restricts my movement, especially during meal service, when there is no need for it. I have reached through and pressed the recline button to raise the seat forward when these people leave their seats. Many don’t recline their seats when they return.

    What is the solution? The slide forward recline function found on many newer planes is much better. The seat bottom slides forward and the seat back barely moves at all into the space of the passenger behind on these seats. I don’t feel the locked in place seats are all that great.

  33. Your response to someone being a jerk is to in turn be just as much of a jerk. That really solves the problem.

  34. Like Free Speech, the expression: “Use it, but don’t abuse it” is valid here. I’m ashamed that 61% percent of the responders feel that just because you can do something, you should do it, but it’s typical of Americans (and I’m one, by the way) to feel that they can do what they want to do, and one of the reasons why people from civil countries don’t like us.

  35. No just don’t appreciate rude, uncaring people. I’m entitled to as much comfort as the next person. ALSO not willing to suffer in silence as you might be willing to do. Although I doubt you would. As I said I would ask politely & if ignored then take whatever action I felt necessary. And yes it probably would solve the problem.

  36. I’ve asked recliners politely to bring their seats forward to some degree (not all the way) with mixed results. Some were nice and agreed to do it; others refused, and one completely ignored every attempt I made to get her attention. I’ve been on flights where I couldn’t get out of my seat to go to the bathroom without being forced to recline my own seat all the way and annoy the passenger behind me (I don’t recline my seat) while doing a contortionist act that really hurt my back.

  37. It’s not right, but I understand the impulse. There was a rude, bratty little whelp with an iPad in the seat behind me kicking me while his overly permissive, inattentive European parents completely ignored him because he wasn’t currently shrieking on my last trip. It took every bit of strength I had not to recline the seat back on him to teach him that there are consequences to being a jerk. But I didn’t.

  38. I don’t “ask”, I “politely advise”. And I have never had a problem with that. The passengers behind me always seem to appreciate the notice. I also inform them I’ll be happy to move it up during meals.

    It’s insane to expect anyone on an overnight flight to not recline their seat. I can see it on a shorter daytime flight, but long haul? Come on. Nobody can sleep sitting straight up.

  39. Ugh, I hate this debate. It’s like religion or politics. Everyone has their view, and it is unshakable. There is nothing any of us can say that will have even the remotest impact on how people feel about this. Rationality does not matter. Explanations do not matter. Facts do not matter. People believe what they want to believe, and there is not a single thing any of us can do to change it.

    It’s like trying to talk a fundamentalist Christian out of believing in God…or an atheist into believing in him. Have you ever tried that?

    That’s what this debate is like.

    Don’t be expecting any epiphanies in here. Nobody is going to change their opinions. It’s a polarizing topic, which serves no purpose other than for click bait.

  40. Agreed. In economy I will gently recline my seat no more than 1-3 inches (measured at the headrest) once we’re in the air, as for some reason that relieves a lot of the pressure on my tailbone when I sit in those torture devices they call airline seats.

  41. Make the seat rigid. Or we lay side by side like the slave trade boats in the pre-civil war era. How giving us all sleeping gas for our flights? Wake up refreshed and ready to vacation!

  42. It’s the old story, Mark, it may not help and it may be obnoxious, but it makes you feel better.

  43. Point taken. But I’m not in disagreement with the post I responded to, rather annoyed by the person who reclined after being asked not to…

  44. Guys, Chris has already posted a reminder that the forum rules require posters to be nice to each other. Remember, last week he put all posts on moderator pre-approval. If this insult exchange doesn’t stop, he might revert to that.

  45. I hate it when someone reclines their seat all the way back. When I was younger, I would accept it and just be miserable. But I am now 70 and I play the “old man” card. When I get up I pull on seat as much as I can, then bump it forward as hard as I can. I then apologize like I really mean it and think to myself “you stupid inconsiderate SOB”. In all cases the person just looks at me, but then sees I am older and just lets it go. When I come back I do the same thing. They usually don’t unrecline the seat but at least I have my moment of revenge.

  46. I have a great idea. Everybody stop flying and hit the airlines where it hurts the most – in the pocketbook.

  47. And I expect the ones who insist on pushing their seats all the way back, and the other passengers be darned, are the same folks that curse at other drivers who cut them off when they’re driving. There’s no accounting for a lack of simple courtesy. You have a good way of handling the problem.

  48. I think it was “only” 37% who said they’d recline, no matter what. (That’s still a lot of inconsiderate people!)

  49. A few thoughts:

    The world is made up of nice people and #[email protected]%&! People. If you read the comments in this discussion,there are examples of both.

    After reading some of the aggressive comments, I’m reminded of a classic psychology experiment I read many years ago in Psyc 101. Rats were put in a cage and after a period of time, the dimensions of the cage were reduced.
    At some point when the space was very small, the rats became very aggressive. I guess it is animal nature and the airlines have begun to reach that critical point with seat space.

    If people would begin to question the seat pitch before making their reservations and not make them if the seats were too crowded, the airlines would react immediately.
    Perhaps they would begin to advertise the luxurious space in their planes to have an advantage over their competition. This happened years ago when the government required airlines to report their departure and arrival times. These are no published. (Although the airlines now fudge these statistics in a number of ways, but the fact is they did respond to competition).

  50. Because of the way a child’s car seat is built, it places them higher in the airplane seat, right in the pathway of the reclining seat in front of them. My child’s legs extend beyond the front of the seat. Because the seat is so rigid, and airline seats are so hard with no bounce or cushioning, her legs get trapped. If the seat in front of her leans back, it touches the front of her car seat. Remember, she’s being held in by a five point restraint, not just a lap belt, and can’t really move. She would have to keep her knees up by her chin with her feet on the seat in order to keep them from being pinned.

  51. Ha! Love it, Joe. Isn’t the age card a wonderful thing? I just turned 65, and as Ronald McDonald says, “I’m lovin’ it.” :-)

  52. Oh, I see! I don’t think I’ve ever been in that situation, but I’ll watch for it in the future. Thanks!

  53. I mean, I’ve sat in front of (and been kicked by) older kids with longer legs, but not by toddlers in carseats.

  54. Seats recline. Reclining a seat is not “an intrusion of personal space”. If you buy a seat in Economy – you know the seats recline. If you need to work – fly business class.

    As a shorter person, the way the seats are curved hurts my neck/back. So I will recline.

  55. If the choice is between allowing someone else to turn the well-known-to-be-small seat area into an office or allowing myself to not sit in a painful position, I am sorry/not sorry, an Economy seat is not an office space.

  56. Yes, that’s precisely what I’m suggesting. The FAA has rules about how fast a plane needs to be evacuated in the case of an emergency. With seats at a pitch of 28-29″, that can’t be done currently. So planes are not safe — the FAA would have good reason to insist on greater seat pitch.

  57. I like how you acussed me of only caring about myself . . . look who is being self-centered/righteous now! Apparently only people behind seats matter. You have some weird logic and seem like a total ass.

  58. You are seriously expecting people flying on a long international overnight flight not to recline their seats so they can sleep? Space is tight but it’s not that tight.

  59. The industry needs to be regulated. The average American size should adjusted to a real level and airlines forced to use that as a standard. Currently the average person is the same model used in the female attire magazines. The only time the government will step in on your behalf is it is for security and safety so,………..

  60. The travel agent exaggerates. To go the BNE from ATL the flight is ATL-LAX, then LAX-BNE on QF for 14 hours.
    There are at least 20 flights longer than that from the USA and Canada mostly to Asia and the Middle East. How many complain? Wimps they are not. .hopper. com/articles/1049/the-worlds-20-longest-non-stop-flights

  61. Allison, Chris has asked everyone to be polite in accordance with the rules. This response is not polite. Please do not engage in insult exchanging.

  62. Seat pitch used to be greater, so leaning your chair back was well-accommodated. Now, with seat rows closer together, it can cause discomfort to those behind you.

  63. I am 6′ 6″ and 70 years old. I’m not as limber as I used to be. When I fly trans-Pacific I always manage to get a window seat and I NEVER recline my seat. I’ve always considered that reclining one’s seat is an imposition upon the person behind me. It makes no difference that the seat CAN recline…only a butthole would take advantage of another person for a dubious reward for oneself. I think that this whole seat reclining discussion is an indication of how far we have sunk beneath the level of humanity.

  64. I totally agree.. While I have run into some cases where even the nicest “please” or compromise effort didn’t get a solution in place, I’ve found that it does so in the vast, vast majority of cases..
    In these kinds of cases I don’t like to use the word “right” as to me in confers some exclusivity and by extension, excludes all others..

    I’ve seen this manifest itself with the window shade whereby the window seated person acted as if the window, and therefor, the shade, was their sole domain — to with and when as they please… and yup, in “retaliation” the aisle person made it as hard as humanly possible for the window person to get out.. also because that person had the aisle seat and took the position that it was his/her sole domain or right… the result? a pretty crappy ride for everyone — and one that I think could have been avoided by some compromise..

    Yes, I do think in life there are going to be issues where two or more people can’t compromise due to values etc.. but I don’t believe that the position of the window shade or access to the aisle would be of that magnitude.

    I think we as a collective society know how to do this.. We do it on buses, trains and other forms of land-based transport.. We move to the side when someone needs to get out of the train, we move in or at least out of the way so we don’t block the train door. We insure that we (out body) and bags, newspapers (the subway fold) don’t intrude into the next persons seating “zone”..

  65. I also bought a seat that has a pathetic 30 inches of “pitch” and I use that by crossing my legs. This sometimes keeps the seat in front of me from reclining, but based on your “I bought the seat” argument, I have the right to use the space in front of me, because I have legs that cross, so I use them.

  66. On one recent flight (I think it was Delta), the act of reclining an economy class seat slid the seat bottom forward, so that the extra space lost belonged to the person doing the reclining. That seams like the best solution to me. Want to recline? Fine. But it’s your knee space you’re eating into, and not the knee space of the person behind you. There. Problem solved.

  67. Chris, this is the best article I’ve seen on this topic. In 2013, I flew with my husband from Madrid to Miami, and nearly the entire flight the guy sitting in front of me not only had his seat reclined all the way back; he also was pushing his leg against the (empty) seat in front of him, which pushed him even farther into my space. As you can imagine, he made my flight miserable.

  68. Jesus. What a bunch of crap. If you want to complain about reclining seats either don’t fly, or pay for business or first class. Preferably just drive yourself so we don’t have to listen to this ridiculousness. You paid for the seat. It reclines. Recline it. They’ll live.

  69. I completely disagree with you. Everyone knows that reclining your seat greatly reduces the amount of workspace, eating space, and leg room for the person behind you. It is just plain rude. From what the original person states, the person in front really sounded like a nasty person. Your argument is horrible and maybe you will think differently the next time you are behind someone that fully reclines their seat into your lap

  70. I so agree with you. The people that defend their rude behavior by saying “I paid for this seat,” are just plain inconsiderate jerks.

  71. I feel it is inconsiderate to recline a seat given the current situation of space. I realize the airlines should ensure everyone has enough space and not allow others to make it uncomfortable.
    However, since the airlines fail at this miserably, I ensure that I do not recline my seat – even on flights to Europe. If the person in front of me is inconsiderate enough to recline their seat, it does not justify me doing the same thing to the person behind me.

    We should all be polite and considerate of our fellow passengers, and this includes not slamming a seat into their face, whether it is physically possible to do this or not.

    I am 6’2″ tall, and it certainly is not nice to have a reclined seat in front of you.
    In response to some of the ridiculous comments about don’t fly or buy a business class seat, often they are full, actually. I do buy extra space when I can.

  72. I’ve had a lot of tall people sit behind me, I would have crushed their knees if I had reclined. In fact, it has happened where one might get the feeling they are a “seat kicker” but in fact they were just trying to fit.

    I have a nice reclining chair at home and I use But not on an airplane.

  73. yep. business class or exit row for these people would really ease the problem. what always gets me when there are obviously people fighting the “don’t you dare recline an inch” fight when they could’ve just avoided such a rigid conflict in the first place, by finding a better seat. meanwhile instead of the 6’4″ 250lb 40 year old guy, there’s a 4 foot tall 79 year old 79 lb lady in said exit row, who could never possibly remove the exit door or assist a fellow passenger if she tried, thereby all of us on board are screwed. I think, but it’s the bald, aging, entitled bozos who always need to recline their seat 8″ the second the plane gets above 10,000 feet (come hell or high water) that really get me.

  74. I stated quite clearly I would ask politely. As a last resort in order to get a bit of comfort I would illustrate discomfort to the person in front.
    Perhaps you would do nothing & endure, good for you ( although I doubt you would). No reason for calling me a jerk. But I guess holier than thou works for you.

  75. I should have chosen my words better.

    We have never met, probably never will. All we have to judge each other’s character from is the words we see post here. Your posting struck me the wrong way.

    And I am not taking a holier than thou attitude. I truly do not react to situations like annoying brats and seat over-recliners on planes with a “kick, bump or otherwise be an annoyance” as you put it. That does not solve anything nor does it give me any comfort as I found out long ago. My approach is Zen and I do find that Karma catches up with those people soon enough and they end up missing their connections, the airlines loses their luggage, or their reservations disappear from the computer. I have much more productive uses for my time and energy than playing adolescent games with those seated around me on the plane.

  76. Thank you. This is much nicer. Let’s agree to disagree on this topic. As a77 year old cranky old man, I relish my comfort. As I don’t believe in karma, fun shwei (pardon the spelling) or similar I resort to what I hope will work. Good for you & all I can say is I wish I had your temperament.
    Let’s hope we don’t encounter rude passengers & enjoy our travels

  77. And for those of us with chronic pain, not reclining greatly increases our discomfort. Your right to work on your laptop trumps my right to not die in pain? And don’t say buy a better seat. Why don’t YOU buy a better seat? It’s one thing to ask for semi-recline, but to say “reclining is rude”, which is basically what you said, is just going overboard. This drives me crazy. The “never recline” crowd always complains about how they can’t eat, or work, or whatever and they think their right to do those things trumps the rights of the person in front. At a minimum it’s got to be compromise. I agree with the go ahead crowd… my seat reclines. If you don’t like it, lobby the airlines to fix it. I’ll happily pay for a seat that reclines… I just automatically get that right now. But I’d pony up more money for one. I usually get economy comfort on Delta anyway, so paying for a reclining seat is fine by me. Instead of complaining, see if you can get it fixed. I’m totally for having seats that recline and seats that don’t. That would solve a lot of problems… people could just pay for the seat they want. If recline is more expensive, so be it. Then we’ll find out who needs the reclining seats vs who just “wants” them.

  78. Some of us really are in a tremendous amount of pain. Would I buy business class if I could afford it? Hell yes! I was able to fly it once from Honolulu back to Japan after a neck surgery and it was amazing. Unfortunately, I can’t afford business class. I WILL pay for economy comfort pretty much always, but there have been issues with reclining in economy comfort, too. Let me put it this way, imagine how uncomfortable you are during that flight and put yourself into 10 times that discomfort on a daily basis. And THEN imagine 20 times that discomfort on the flight. Do you see why hearing a person who is NOT in chronic pain complain is irksome? You are supremely uncomfortable for a few hours. I, on the other hand, can be in extreme pain due to lack of recline and it can affect me that way for days afterwards. Until you are the person in pain, it’s impossible to understand. Trust me on this… my mom is partially paralyzed due to a slow growing neck condition that nearly crushed her spine. Even after she woke up paralyzed after surgery, I still thought she was exaggerating. And then something similar started happening to me… it’s just not describable until you’ve actually felt it.

    And if you ARE in pain from something, I’m sure you do whatever you can to get out of it.

  79. That would also include those who refuse to let people recline at all, I’m assuming? I’m totally fine with having a conversation about it. If my need to recline conflicts with the person behind me, I’m happy to do a swap of seats multiple times if necessary.

  80. I seriously think people exaggerate the amount of discomfort they are in when someone reclines their seat. I’ve flown a lot…not as much as many here, but still a lot. Enough that by the time my daughter was 2, she’d been on at least 30 flights. And I have rarely, if ever, seen someone so tall that their legs have been crunched. And I have also never run into someone who yells at me for reclining my seat. I just think the people here travel a lot and therefore have a lot of particular desires, and that’s okay. I still think there needs to be compromise… having it to either extreme just causes problems. For those who refuse to allow reclining, the person in front might really need to recline for medical reasons, and for those who always recline immediately, the person in back might have other issues.

  81. Agreed. I don’t know why I have to be the one to buy a better seat. And for someone who is all pro-consumer and wants people to pay as little as possible for things, I find Chris saying I should buy business class seats to be rather elitist. Sorry Chris, but it’s true. I’m not saying YOU are elitist, because you’re not. I’m saying this “no recline ever and if you want to you better buy that $3,000 seat so I can buy my $300” attitude elitist. There is a difference.

  82. That’s true. 90 seconds. Planes must be completely empty within 90 seconds for everyone to have a good chance of survival. They’ve done studies on this… it started because of a crash in England back in the 80’s I think. They figured out that everyone should have gotten out but three minutes into the evacuation there were still people inside and half of the passengers died. They ended up changing the galley configuration because it only let one person through. But that was only one problem. Packing seats in is another problem. I’ve been research airplane crashes and I’m getting kind of scared. I’ve actually thought about the pile of seats they are cramming in these days and really think a disaster is just one crash and fire away.

  83. And I’m totally cool with that solution (the seat moving instead of the back). I need to recline on flights, there is no question. I would die of pain if I didn’t. But I’m also more than happy to give up leg room to recline. Of course, I’m only 5’4 so it doesn’t matter to me either way, but I still think the seats moving is a better solution. That way, if someone wants to recline, he/she has to choose to give up leg room in order to recline and it really only affects that person.

  84. Did you consider that the person in front of you might have been in extreme back pain as well? I’m not saying that them igoring you is right… it’s definitely rude. But you just pointed out that you had to contort yourself into a position that caused you pain… it was bothersome enough that you remember it enough to discuss it here. So if you felt that kind of pain for a little while, would you want to be in that kind of pain for an entire flight? What about for days after the flight? Because a lot of times pain can linger if it is exacerbated. I’m not saying we shouldn’t compromise. I’m just saying that I believe at least a sizable minority of recliners really need to recline for their own comfort.

  85. Sorry, I’m not sympathetic. Their extreme back pain doesn’t mean it’s okay to crush me for the rest of the flight.

  86. Yeah, and people who are in pain because they can’t move when someone else has their seat all the way back? Everyone has a different pain threshold, and I’m not sure it’s fair for you to assume that the pain you get from not reclining is so much worse than the pain someone else might get if they can’t move their legs at all.

  87. That’s why I don’t assume someone is a seat kicker unless they’re short little kids whose feet don’t even touch the floor, let alone their knees touching the back of the seat.

  88. I’m 5’7″ and the seats hurt my back and neck because I can’t kick my legs out far enough (even though my legs are short for my height) to get in a better spot. So what do I do? I try curling up sideways, I put my feet on the ledge (I always get a window seat), I angle my legs toward my guy, I try a lot of things. Frequently, I’m still uncomfortable. But knowing how much worse it would be if the person in front of me reclined, I refuse to do that to the person behind me. The only times I ever have, I maybe reclined it an inch or two tops, just to change the angle slightly.

  89. I Like to recline because of a lower back injury. But I always let the person behind me know, bring up completely during mealtimes, and let them know when I will be moving, just in case. And if they are working, I am always ready to compromise – which has usually worked out well.

  90. true – had a gent behind me reclined all the way back in HIS seat, who kept trying to push my 1/2 way recline up, so I could not invade “his” space – the FA walked by and told him to smarten up, or she would move him to the back row. Even his travelling buddy apologized, saying he was an ….. Frankly, I was only a bit back (long flights hurt my back, so recline just a bit), and this was AFTER dinner, and I saw he was already reclined, so figured I wouldn’t be a problem – who knew?

  91. and of course YOUR comfort is so much more important. 77 and still have not learned how to behave YOURSELF.

  92. I did not say my comfort was more important, & only after asking politely would I do anything, including calling a F/A, not that it would do any good. My comfort is just as important as the passenger in front. Read & understand before going off! What would you do? Sit for hours cooped & unable to move? What is your answer to rudeness & uncaring passengers?

  93. To me, this whole topic seems like much ado about nothing. I don’t get it. What airlines are you people flying that allow the person in front to recline “into your lap”?? And I’m asking this seriously, because I’ve never had anyone able to recline THAT close to me. I’ve had people recline in front of me and seriously, what is the distance? Maybe 5 inches? I also use my laptop on my tray table to watch movies, etc… and I’ve never had anyone “slam into it” and I fly pretty much monthly, always economy since I work for Gov. and they frown on luxury for us lowly types. Sometimes I recline the seat an inch or two since the lumbar bump and the head rest on some airlines hit me in such a way they sort of shove parts of me forward at an odd angle, but that’s about it, since I’ve never found the “full” recline to be really any significant comfort difference, so why bother.

  94. This debate reminds me of when smoking was banned on flights. Until then, they had “no smoking” sections which was a bit of a joke (since the planes all had poor ventilation).

    But… maybe I’m onto something there. Why not have reclining and non-reclining sections? The recliners aren’t like smoke and won’t spread to other sections of the plane. Yes, it cruel and sad when some poor guy winds up in a kid section of the plane. Or the reclining section. But then again, it would at least give people an idea of what they’re in for.

    As a flyer, I view all the buttons on the plane as fair game within reason. I don’t ding for the FA every 10 minutes (or at all during a flight for the most part) but if I’m trapped by a window with two sleeping passengers blocking my exit, I’ll call for the FA to bring me a glass of water. By the same token, I’ll carefully recline my seat if I’m planning to rest or relax and there’s no meal service. If someone has a problem with it, they can certainly ask me.

    I also suggested previously on this forum to redesign airline seats to deal with the cramped space better. Raise every other row about 6 inches up and reduce overhead baggage space. Make everyone gate check their significant bags and only bring medicine onboard the plane. When a seat reclines, make it La-Z-boy style (recline back but seat moves forward to offset.) Set up recliners in certain columns so that people who like to recline can be in one column and non-recliners in another.

    The problem appears to be that the airlines just reduced space without doing a lot of ergonomics to offset the comfort issues.

  95. You just said you’d make their life miserable if they didn’t do as you liked – whether or not you asked first, that is still being just as rude – just because you would LIKE them to respond to your wishes, does not mean they HAVE to. Your actions here speak volumes.

  96. I see that all your interested in is fomenting arguments.
    ! can tell you never fly coach, if you do in fact fly.

  97. As airlines describe the seat as being so wide and having x amount of legroom, then if someone does something that removes that amount of legroom, you are not getting what you paid for. the customer may be able to put the seat back all the way, but it also means that you should be able to go back to the airline for a partial refund on what you paid for.
    I’m a pretty big guy, so I make sure my knees are in the back of the seat in front of me. people try to recline and they hit my knees and can’t go further. they’ve tried and I make it known they are causing pain. that usually keeps them from trying to recline further.

  98. This just happened to me yesterday. I had to switch planes due to a delay and I ended up going from an upgrade to what I call economy minus. Though I had an aisle and the middle seat was somehow open, the guy in front of me slammed his seat back well before we were above 10,000 feet. When they came by for drinks, I had reclined mine some so I could angle my iPad in such a way that I could read using a stand. The flight attendant pointed out that the aisle behind mine (a non reclining row) was open. By moving to a non reclining seat behind an empty seat I was so much more comfortable.

    All I ask is courtesy and cooperation. I like to recline but I don’t want to make your trip miserable when I do it.

  99. Realistically, there are only 12-18 seats on the entire plane (most narrow bodied planes in use today have one bulkhead rowand at most two exit rows), and 1/3 of them are the dreaded center seats. Sometimes these seats are already taken. Some airlines hold the bulkhead for gate assignment. Sometimes you get rebooked and have little or no choice of seats. I don’t like the attitude of absolutely yes or no. I prefer to consider the comfort of everyone and find a compromise.

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