Reclining Your Airplane Seat: Right Or Privilege?

Filed Under: Advice

Last week we saw a story go viral about a seat recline confrontation that happened on a recent American Eagle flight. I feel like one of these stories going viral is almost a monthly occurrence, and it always blows my mind how it becomes a global story.

Perhaps the reason this always goes so viral is because of how polarizing this topic is. Don’t get me wrong, I have my opinions, but fundamentally my belief is simply “let’s all be considerate to one another and minimize confrontations.” That belief doesn’t seem to be shared by many people.

I imagine these kinds of situations will only get worse as airlines squeeze more seats onto planes, so in this post I wanted to share my in-depth take on seat recline, and also address some of the arguments that I frequently see.

Let me start by sharing my overall thoughts on reclining seats on planes, then address some of the frequent arguments I hear, and then I’m curious to hear what you guys think.

Reclining Your Seat Is A Right

For me it’s quite simple. Reclining your seat, when the functionality is available, is a right. After all, the recline button is located at your seat, and not the seat behind you.

There seems to be a common misconception about legroom being reduced when the person in front of you reclines:

  • Only the upper part of the seat generally moves, and not the lower part
  • If you recline your seat as well, then you’ll still have the same space between you and the seat in front

Again, none of this is to suggest that everyone should recline, but I do firmly believe that the right to recline belongs to the person with the button.

You Should Still Be Courteous

While you have the right to recline, that doesn’t mean that you actually should. If you’re going to recline your seat, you should be courteous with how you go about it. If the person seated behind you kindly asks you not to recline your seat (and has good reason for it), you should do the right thing, in my opinion.

For example, personally if I’m traveling in economy I don’t recline my seat at all (in fairness, I’m fortunate to generally not fly long hauls or redeyes in economy). Space is limited enough, and I am happy just sitting upright.

How To Go About Reclining Your Airplane Seat

If you are going to recline your seat, I think there are a couple of things that you should do:

  • You should make eye contact with the person behind you, or somehow make them aware that you are reclining
  • You should slowly recline your seat, so that they have time to shift a laptop or whatever else they might have on their tray

What If The Person In Front Of You Reclines?

My stance on being reclined on from the seat in front of me is as follows:

  • If you’re reclined on and it’s absolutely unbearable, kindly ask the passenger in front of you if they wouldn’t mind keeping the seat upright; remember that you’re asking them a favor, and that you’re not entitled to that, so phrase the question accordingly
  • If they have an issue with it and it really is unbearable, kindly explain to a flight attendant and see if they can reseat you or somehow intervene
  • If you know in advance that economy will be extremely uncomfortable (for example, if you’re really tall), pay extra for a seat with more legroom — almost all airlines will sell you extra legroom seats for a premium, and that can be worth it to avoid misery
  • If you really have an issue with seat recline, fly an airline that doesn’t allow you to recline seats, like Spirit

Avoid Confrontation At All Costs

This should go without saying, but given how often we hear stories about people being removed from planes, and given the story that recently went viral, I guess it needs to be said. At 35,000 feet and in a post-9/11 world, you should never:

  • Do anything that would provoke another passenger to take physical or verbal action against you
  • Approach another passenger in an angry way in order to “take matters into your own hands”
  • Do something passive aggressive

I’m Not Opposed To Non-Reclining Seats

While I do think reclining your seat is a right when the functionality is available, I’m not opposed to the trend we’ve seen among some airlines to introduce non-reclining seats. If airlines are going to keep seats as tight as they’ve become, I think it’s not a bad idea.

The thing about seat recline is that it’s a useful feature when everyone is on the same page. For example, on a redeye I think just about everyone is happy to have a reclining seat, since most people want to sleep. If everyone reclines, everyone is better off.

The issue arises from flights where people aren’t on the same page — where one person wants to sleep, and the person behind them wants to work on their laptop, for example.

Delta is a customer centered airline, and they recently reduced seat recline on their A320s without completely eliminating it, and it’s not a bad choice, in my opinion.

Arguments That I Don’t Agree With

Looking at the comments on my recent post about the infamous recline video, I see people making some arguments that I don’t personally agree with, and I want to share why. Again, to me this all comes down to just trying to be a reasonable human being who is looking to minimize confrontation.

“Airlines Are At Fault For Making Seats Tighter”

There’s no denying that airlines are making seats tighter, and consumers don’t like it. At the same time, the introduction of these dense planes (look at the business models of Frontier and Spirit, for example) has allowed airfare to be at among the lowest we’ve seen in history (adjusted for inflation).

This makes travel more accessible for all, and I’d argue on balance that’s a good thing. For the most part airlines give passengers opportunities to purchase seats with extra legroom, so if you want to look at it differently, you’re still usually coming out ahead buying a seat with extra legroom compared to what airfare used to be in the “good old days.”

“Tall People Should Just Buy First Class”

To counter the point that airlines are at fault, some people say that tall people should just buy first class. Obviously that’s not always possible financially.

I do think there’s an important distinction to make here, though:

  • People who will be physically uncomfortable in economy as a result of reclining seats should try to do what they reasonably can to avoid those seats (whether that’s booking an airline with non-reclining seats, or paying for an extra legroom seat)
  • Sometimes that’s simply not possible, and in those situations we can still be compassionate and considerate to those people who are really uncomfortable, rather than doing things to spite them

“Just Point The Air Nozzle At The Person Reclining”

Some people suggest that if the person in front of you reclines, take your air nozzle and point it right at the head of the person in front. There are several other similar suggestions I’ve seen people make, and all of them come down to people being jerks.

It shocks me that people see this as an appropriate response:

  • Generally speaking, people aren’t reclining their seat with malicious intent
  • If you point your air nozzle at someone else, that’s malicious and passive aggressive

Someone else countered that point by suggesting that if you’re going to point your air nozzle at them, they’ll “accidentally” spill hot coffee on you.

Can we all stop and be reasonable already? Can we try to just be courteous to one another, express concerns with words rather than passive aggressiveness, and try to make situations better rather than worse?

Bottom Line

Personally I think seat recline is a right and not a privilege, but I actually don’t think it matters (and this is my key takeaway from all of this). There are people who have very good logic for believing it’s a right, and there are people who have very good logic for believing it’s a privilege.

Short of airlines creating “pro-recline” and “anti-recline” sections of the plane, we are just best off being considerate towards one another.

A vast majority of people aren’t boarding a flight looking for a fight, but rather they’re just trying to get between two points as comfortably and punctually as possible.

If you are going to recline your seat, do so slowly, and make sure the person behind you knows. If you’re being reclined on and it’s unbearable, politely ask the person if they wouldn’t mind putting their seat back up.

No matter what, don’t be a jerk. If you can’t come to a reasonable agreement with the other person involved, immediately ask a flight attendant for help, and don’t try to take matters into your own hands.

Where do you stand on seat recline etiquette?

Comments
  1. Not this again… You’re right, it will never be settled but there is a VERY simple answer that I never see when this comes up: just be a nice/polite person and recline slowly and not necessarily all the way. No one will ever have a problem with you or that if you are polite about it. Mystery solved.

    I have never in my life had an altercation when reclining my seat and I always recline, even on a short 45 min NYC-BOS segment.

  2. Can’t wait until all airlines set recline at a fixed level. Nothing worse than a DYKWIA going full recline into what little personal space we already have. Don’t be inconsiderate. Don’t do it!

  3. The seat maps are readily available and while some may have to pay, there is ample opportunity to pick your poison….including reclining options and those in front on you….as well as including other transit altogether

  4. When I fly economy, I’m one of those people who introduce myself to the people around me, including the people sitting in front of me (even though I’m an introvert.) I do kindly tell them to inform me before htey recline so I can at least prepare myself for it (put my ipad/laptop away, etc.) and also tell them to please put their seat upright again during meal service as it’s hard to eat a meal when the person in front of you is reclined. That’s all I ask. I agree with you it’s all about communication and politeness and being reasonable.

    I’ll admit though that if the person in front of me reclines their seat, I will then inform the person behind me that I will also be reclining my seat. I wonder if it’s a domino effect.

  5. Disappointed with you for bothering to write about this. USA TODAY can be forgiven because it’s their job to run articles for social media attention like “is tipping good?” or the perennial favorite “what if the person sitting next to me on an airplane is wide?”. But at this point I genuinely expect better from travel blogs than to waste column inches on pablum.

  6. As someone who is 6 feet 8inches (203cm) tall, I feel that reclining is more obnoxious to the people behind you than beneficial to yourself. I understand reclining when on a redeye, but otherwise I make it a personal habit to not recline, despite occasionally being in domestic first class. The one other time I will break this rule, is if in a seat with a hard back, so reclining does not affect others. Lastly, the statement that leg room is not reduced while reclining is incorrect. Many times in my life, I have had people recline directly into my knees. There might be less than 2 inches difference, but it could be the difference of having my knees a few CM away from their seat, or having my knees dug into their back. I know that I will never be comfortable flying, but I do what I can to make it as pleasurable as possible for myself and others.

  7. When you are 6’4 (1.95) and the passanger in front of you who recline his seat is 5’2 (1.60) and he doesn’t care, then you know how stupid people can be.

  8. I will only recline my seat if there’s no one sitting behind me…which is pretty rare with how full most flights are.

  9. Ditto on the “I’m tall and get really annoyed when people in front of me recline” idea. There simply isn’t enough room to recline, so doing it is inconsiderate and impolite when someone is behind you. Recliners may gain a small amount of comfort, but if they cause a large discomfort to the person behind them, it’s not ok. Empty seat or a child behind you? Go nuts. Just please don’t crush my poor, already dysfunctional knees.

  10. If you’re 6’4” or 6’8” You’re probably going to have a bad time in economy either way even if the seat in front of you is empty. Pay the extra $25-50 or so to be on bulkhead/exit row.

    As for me, I only recline in long haul when I literally need to doze off. Usually right after meal service. Seat up at all times otherwise.

  11. There’s absolutely no reason to recline in standard economy. Period. The marginal amount of comfort gained is hugely outweighed by the discomfort it causes the person behind. Extra legroom sections? Sure – maybe. If done with respect. But nothing worse than the jerk in front of you reclining rapidly and full force, especially during meal service on a long haul flight. I get that it’s called economy for a reason. But I personally enjoying drinking my plonk and eating my wilted lettuce and mushy pasta without using tiny T-Rex arms.

  12. Paul and Kyle have obviously never had back pain

    If they did, then they would know that height is not the sole determinant in whether or not a person is obnoxious or stupid

    I rarely recline, partially because almost no seats recline anymore. (I can’t remember the last seat I had that reclined more than 1 inch) partly because I know some people become upset about it

    However, airline seats are a unique sort of hell for me, due in large part to the weird angle of the seat back, made 1000x worse if it has a thick headrest.
    This forces me into a slouch.
    Within minutes my right arm goes numb and after an hour I’m in agony

    Reclining a seat can sometimes be helpful, sometimes not

    I’ve resorted to bringing a lumbar pillow which causes a pseudo recline
    This is not possible on a plane with 28-29 inches of pitch

    Thus, I avoid all such planes
    I mainly buy extra legroom or J or F seats

    But I’m fortunate to be able to do this
    If I were a middle class traveler I would likely recline in a coach seat

    And I would be neither stupid or obnoxious

    Regardless, this is a dying debate
    Are any new planes coming with recline?

  13. Considering that reclining mostly doesn’t do any good, I pretty much never do it and I’m in favour of airlines removing this feature (quite common with new planes in Europe).

    Reclining doesn’t really make the flying in economy class that much comfortable, it’s mostly short people and kids doing it just to enlarge their space, and being a tall person I can totally understand that it can be a nuisance behind me. I have a simple equation that the more the seat is reclined, the more likely my knees will hit it and the person in front me probably feels it.
    (I do book exit seat whenever possible but the options within Europe are rather limited for anything else)

  14. If the seat reclines, I have the right to do it. It’s that simple. Otherwise just make them so they don’t recline. That way I won’t be able to do it and the person in front of me won’t be able to do it as well.

  15. Some months ago was on a BA short haul from LHR to Oslo connecting off a long haul from the U.S. I was tired and was sitting in row 1. A guy behind me in row 2. He had the seat empty next to him.

    I reclined to sleep. Upon doing so he started brushing his paper against my head. Soon he was pretending to cough on my head. After a bit he started using a book and resting it with it touching my head while mumbling. I asked him if there was an issue and could he please stop touching my head.

    He went into a rant about my reclining. I pointed to the empty aisle seat next to him if it was so difficult and suggested that he might consider a tablet in the future for reading – or perhaps flying a private jet if other passengers disturbing him with reclining was such a painful experience.

    I tend not to recline in a full coach cabin out of courtesy. But there was plenty of room on the flight for him to move. Further, many passengers were coming in off of long haul flights and deserved to recline for sleep.

    It was very close to a full out fight. Only when I stood up to confront him did he back down and go quiet.

  16. I paid for the right to control the seat I paid for and the passenger in front of me paid for the right to recline their seat with their seat controls. I also have the right to turn my overhead cold air blower as far forward as possible, even if the cold air hits the reclining passenger’s head with full force while they are reclined back.

  17. Recently we were stuck on the tarmac for two hours at PHL and the gentleman in front of me asked if it was okay if he reclined…I told him yes and thanked him for asking. That’s how it’s done folks

  18. Quite simple really!

    To avoid any confrontation or annoyance I always book the exit Isle row.

    This means that the person in front can’t recline into me.

  19. Interesting that the discussion and the blame are always assigned to the passenger. How about placing some of this on the airlines who choose seat pitch and legroom at such a minimum.

    I tried to work with people to propose legislation a couple years ago where legroom minima would be tied to flight length ( 10 hours, 32″ but this went absolutely nowhere.

    We forget on blogs like these that the overwhelming majority of people fly Y– and while it’s great to have all aisle access flat beds in business class, economy class should have at least marginally comfortable basics.

  20. It’s much simpler than this. If the person behind you is reclining their seat, go ahead and recline yours. If the person in front of you reclines their seat, tell the person behind you that you have to recline your seat as well because you now have no space. In both of these scenarios you will not get a complaint.

  21. Agree with your position on this but I must note that without fail it is always a 5’2″ 90 lb. petite woman who thrust that seat back the moment wheels are up! I’m 6’1″ and rarely recline in economy.

  22. The only time I would consider reclining is during long haul flights where I intend to nap or sleep. On short flights I don’t bother. When I do, I never do it during meals or even drink service. I do admit that I tend to be more conscious of the person is tall. If it was a person that was smaller, I have less hesitation. If it matters, I’m 6’2″.

  23. I actually think this a totally reasonable topic for this type of blog. And I agree with your take on this. Generally I will recline my seat a bit if I don’t think it will bother the person in back of me.

  24. If “I’m tall so you can’t recline” applies, then does “I’m overweight so you need to leave the arm rest up” also apply?
    I fully agree courtesy is important in these situations, but those who feel strongly about space constraints need to focus on the carriers, not their fellow passengers, for relief.

  25. The four ruptured disks in my lower back mean I have to recline if I want to be able to stand up again at the destination.

  26. How about a simple glance behind before reclining more than a couple of inches? Not in the name of courtesy, as the “it’s my seat, my right to [FILL IN BLANK]” type of passengers would undoubtedly laugh. Just some common sense so your seat back doesn’t hit any passengers reaching for their underseat bag.

  27. You’all must be on airlines I’m not on or flying in the privileged section. My experience is that the seat back moves maybe 2-3 inches, has nothing to do with legroom.

    I feel it’s my privilege to adjust my seat, I paid for that space.

  28. I’m 6’8″ so economy is a struggle for me. Period.

    My worst was when I was flying from Heathrow to Miami and the chap in front of me had a broken seat. Which meant he almost had a our flat bed and I had 9 hours of no table, no ife and a man’s head in my lap. But the worst was how even if I moved a tiny bit he would give me a dirty look and when I politely asked if he would put his chair back he told me to f**k off then pretended he didn’t speak English.

    So it was a shame when I spilt coke on him cause I couldn’t use my table.

  29. Its your seat, you paid for it, if there’s a recline its up to you. Person behind has no recourse. Live with it. So over these people who go on about declining people right to recline.

  30. While I personally try not to recline my seat in economy, what personally irks me is when the person in front of me fully reclines their seat, and then proceeds to sit forward for the rest of the flight and not take advantage of the recline at all.

    My remedy for this situation is to wait for said person to go to the bathroom, and when they do, I quietly reach around and push their recline button so that the seat returns partially or fully to upright. Most of the time, when the person returns to their seat, they rarely notice the change, and I am a contented traveler.

    I know, it’s a bit petty, but it works.

  31. I’m 6’3” and reclining passengers absolutely impact my legroom.

    I understand that it’s their right to recline, but it’s also my right to place my knees in the back of their seat and use the seat back pocket to store as many things as I possibly can fit.

  32. I am 5’0″ tall and almost always recline my seat a little. I have had back pain since I was 18 (I’m 63 now). Even just a little bit of recline helps my back. I recline slowly and always put my seat back in upright position for drinks and meals.

  33. did u run out of stuff to write about Ben?

    obviously everyone can recline whenevr they want.

    I noticed youve been writing “in my opinion” 8298278981 times per article in the last few….

    dont let the haters get to you. no need to justify, its your blog.

  34. It is neither a right or a privilege. It is simply something a chair with a recline button can do. If this is a major issue why can’t you do something about it yourself and figure it out? Are you incapable of solving this? You do not have the right or privilege to impose your hang ups on me or others.

  35. I paid for the motherf***ing recline, and I will motherf***ing use it. If you don’t like other people reclining into you, go fly spirit/frontier/allegiant or buy your own private jet.

  36. It take me time and effort to get comfortably arranged and belted in for takeoff. Everyone who says simply “make eye contact” or “turn around and ask” before reclining must have rubber necks and can somehow see over the top of their tall seat back. Which makes me wonder if they are giving advice that they themselves never follow.

  37. I don’t know why tall people think it’s odd that short people recline. So, as a short person let me explain. The angle of an unreclined airline seat is hell for us. Our heads hit the part of the seat that is designed to support your neck, pushing our heads forward at an uncomfortable angle. In addition the shorter you are, the more acute the angle of the seat feels even though it is the same. If that confuses you, draw yourself a little picture. My arms frequently start to go numb after minutes in that position, my neck hurts and then I get a headache. So, an unreclined coach seat is absolute misery for me and the minute the 20K ft chime goes off, I recline at least a little to get some relief. My solution is to buy F, but as someone else noted, most people can’t make that choice.

    Sometimes, especially in F, the headrest can be pushed up above my head and I can lean my head at a normal angle. Of course, this frequently results in the idiot behind me who grabs me seat to get up shoving the headrest down on my head. Frankly, if we want to complain about things, can we complain about people who can’t get out of their seats without grabbing the seats in front? If you need help getting up use the armrests on your seat, don’t pull yourself up with the back of my seat, invariably after I’ve just fallen asleep.

    So, next time you think it’s offensive that a short person reclines their seat because you’re tall, consider that they may be in just as much pain as you are.

  38. I had an old man freak out on me for reclining from CPH to LHR

    It still makes me upset to think about it. And the fact that it still makes me upset to think about, also makes me upset.

    He wasn’t using a laptop, he had ample legroom.

    He threw a tantrum like a baby.

    The recline issue will be solved by a simple airline policy one way or the other.

    Working this out on a one on one basis isn’t going to work.

  39. Very long time reader, first time poster.

    The only time I have ever had a problem with a reclining situation: I was in Economy long-haul, and was seated in front of a very well known travel reviewer/commentator and his wife. Approaching the time for breakfast service (but not at the point where the cart had even been rolled out or anything indicative of imminent service), his wife actually shook my seat to get me to return my seat to upright!

    I am not a hardcore seat recliner – this was simply a long overnight flight. I was amazed at the rudeness – no-one has the right to behave like that on an aircraft, least of all someone whose travel is very much in the public eye. Obviously no point even remotely considering a chat with the crew, as they were kissing the couple’s rear the entire flight in order to get a good report when/if he wrote it up for his newspaper.

    Amazing what a seat recline button does to people.

  40. As a tall person, i prefer people to recline. With quite a lot of aircraft (especially long haul), when the passenger in front of me reclines (and me as well), i gain a few cm of leg space, which allows me to stretch out my legs just a bit.

    Quite often when you recline the top goes back, however the seat part goes slightly forward… Funnily enough i even once asked the row ahead of me to recline an empty seat 🙂

  41. Totally agree with Ben. If there’s a recline button then reclining the seat is a right. However, during the meal service I guess it’s also good manners (not sure if should become or it is mandatory) to have the seat in front upright. So far in over over thirty years of flying I never had such an issue. During the meal service the passenger in front has almost always retreated the seat upright and twice that didn’t happen autonomously, when asked it was done with a smile.

  42. @ Joey
    “I’m one of those people who introduce myself to the people around me, including the people sitting in front of me”

    You are one of my nightmares. I don’t want to meet random people on a plane. I’ve put my noise-cancelling headphones on for a reason.

    And some posters on here question why some of us love the privacy we get from seats with doors…?

  43. I ALWAYS recline (slowly) immediately as the wheels lift off the runway. I’ve never really had an issue. If the airline doesn’t want me reclining, don’t sell me a seat with that capability.
    But interesting to hear other people’s take on this issue.

  44. A couple of important things that affect the passengers behind a reclined seat not mentioned in this article. Firstly, it can ruin the viewing angle of the screen, especially for those in a back row of seats that do not recline and secondly, the difficulty it creates for someone in a window seat to get to the aisle, especially if they are old or have a minor disability.

  45. I’m very tall, so when you recline the bag of the seat hit my knees immediately. I run into situations were the back cannot recline because my knees prevent that. Yeah nice just go banging to your seat back maybe that helps. I had a situation where I went to the restroom and when I came back the person in front of me was fully reclined. I could seriously not get into my seat again. So, people keep that in mind when flying economy next time……

  46. I don’t care how polite you are. Reclining your seat invades the already extremely limited space I have.

  47. Please stop doing posts like this unless your opinion changes. We’ve all heard all the arguments already. .

  48. I would like to see a discussion about the space BELOW your seat.
    1. If you paid for your seat, you own the space below it too, right?
    2. You should have the right to fold your legs and kick your feet under your seat into any carry-on luggage someone may have placed there. Or into the feet of someone from behind who is inconsiderately occupying the space under your seat that you paid for.
    3. Indeed, you should even have the right to place your own carry on under your own seat.

  49. For me the most important issue is whether the seat back mounted entertainment screen can be angled out or not. With some airlines it can, with some it can’t. That makes all the difference. If the passenger in front of you wants to recline, but you prefer not to, and your screen angle can’t be adjusted, it can be a frustrating experience on those rare occasions when there’s actually something you want to watch ! From recent memory, Qatar is good, Virgin is lousy.

  50. I recently was on a Virgin flight in economy and there it wasn’t the top part going backwards then the bottom part going forward so it was that when you reclined your seat you lost the leg space and the person behind gained.

  51. @Z-man

    In most Economy and Domestic First seats, the space below your seat belongs to the person behind you. The space directly behind your seat belongs to you.

    If you want to test this, try kicking the person behind you’s personal item out from under your seat. You will lose that argument with the flight attendant. Try leaning back into a tall person, and the flight attendant will be on your side.

    You paid for the space under the seat in front of you as a storage cubby, and the space directly behind your seat as optional reclining space (or for seats where reclining moves the seat forward, the space behind your reclined seat as space as optional unreclining space).

  52. This is all relatively easy and straight forward. The big question is who controls the window shade when it is level with the seat back of the seat you are sitting in?

  53. “ There seems to be a common misconception about legroom being reduced when the person in front of you reclines:

    Only the upper part of the seat generally moves, and not the lower part
    If you recline your seat as well, then you’ll still have the same space between you and the seat in front”

    Ben, this is simply NOT TRUE. I think you’ve spent too much time in first class and exit rows! But perhaps it’s just due to your body shape. I am not especially tall at 6’1”, but a greater proportion of my height than average is between my waist and my knees. When someone reclines in 30” pitch Y, the seat back pushes into my knees. Reclining my seat does not move my butt further away from the seat in front of me, it only bends my body at the waist, so it does nothing to help alleviate the squeeze. Is this explanation clear enough?

    For what it’s worth, I still believe that one is entitled to recline one’s seat. Just as I’m entitled to keep the armrest down when an obese passenger sits next to me.

  54. @The nice Paul

    I’m pretty sure the height of those doors wouldn’t stop people like @Joey who wants to introduce himself. Just proves that these doors give you a false sense of privacy and you fell for the marketing gimmick. At least if you carefully read @Joey comments, he said when he flies economy. Lucky you.

  55. @ Eskimo

    No-one has ever — ever — put their head over my door to introduce themselves. So I’d say on the basis of experience that those doors are pretty effective rather than a gimmick.

    I’m a sample of one, and maybe my angry glowering face puts them off but, alas, that face-like-thunder doesn’t seem to work when I’m sat next to chatty Sallys in seats with no privacy (and yes, sometimes I fly Eco class too!). Serial self-introducers seem to have little sense of personal space.

    Then again, I’ve spent decades travelling on packed London Underground trains where everyone pretends they are all alone. It’s the only way to make the experience bearable.

  56. Simple–either the Spirit approach, or the shell seats (as Cathay temporarily used). Both ways, a tall person does not pay any penalty (and actually gets somewhat MORE room, with a shell).

    Either that, or fly business/first/private…

  57. I am 6’4″, if someone reclines on me I make a humping motion with my knee into their back. Almost always works,,,,of course there was the one time that a lady said “harder, harder”.

  58. @Derek Diggler: what are you 12 years old? That’s not an adult way to solve a problem and, in fact, is the kind of behavior that leads to air rage. Or maybe you’re just making a joke… one that a 12 year old boy would think is funny. Either way…

  59. I’m not going to tag all the comments that reference a “5’2″ woman” because there’s simply too many. Hi, that’s me. I’m not entirely sure why, but most economy seats simply aren’t constructed for my size of person. For some reason, I end up in a really weird position that is excruciating after more than 20 min. 1/2-1 inch of recline makes a huge difference. No idea if it’s the “lumbar” or curve/height of the headrest or what. I can totally get the no-leg-room 6’2″ issue – it’s painful just to look at – but it’s also weirdly uncomfortable at the other end of the spectrum.

  60. I never recline, because if I recline, slide forward in the seat while sleeping and it hurts my back. Though I fully believe that its the right of the passenger with the recline button. If airlines don’t want people to recline, they need to lock it or remove the option to recline. You should not have to ask permission, though people should be courteous and warn before you recline so the person behind can have a chance to re-position their beverages, tablets, laptops, etc… Also recline slowly. Also make sure to bring seat to upright position during meal service.

  61. Maybe there is an engineer out there who can explain, why don’t they just adjust the mechanisms so that the seat (under your butt) slides forward, and the headrest is more or less fixed in place. In this scenario, the seat achieves a reclined position, the reclining passenger loses a bit of their own legroom, and the passenger behind them is unaffected (if anything, they gain more room). Now the cost of reclining is born by the person who reclines.

    My only recline complaint with Delta is in FC, where they have created less legroom and increased the recline at the same time. I feel like I should be giving the passenger in front of me a scalp massage when they recline, their head is so far back.

  62. If the seat reclines as part of it’s design, then yes you can recline. Any complaints should be remitted to management at United, AA, Delta, Southwest, etc. This is a fake ethical issue.

  63. Charge more and bring back space in Economy. Maybe the Delta CEO will put his money where his mouth is instead of suggesting that people not recline in his sardine can planes.

  64. I love the US and think it’s a great country with great people in it. But every now and then you guys can be REALLY ridiculous… The rest of the world got that figured out… C’mon people, you can do it too. Another thing that strikes me is that American flight attendants are probably the most empowered in the planet. They can kick you out of the plane and get the police to escort you to prison. Yet, they can’t solve this. Unbelievable.

  65. @Jan extra legroom costs more than $100 on many flights. That’s not feasible or fair when your company is sending you on travel.

  66. “If you recline your seat as well, then you’ll still have the same space between you and the seat in front”

    This is a False statement since the seat in front of you hits your knees as someone reclines.

  67. “I feel like one of these stories going viral is almost a monthly occurrence”
    My friend, this is how lost we are as a society.
    We’ve forgotten camaraderie, love, respect, and boiled it all down to arguments like these.
    No more of that for me, instead I’ve decided to love you all.

  68. @Peter: “mostly short people and kids doing it just to enlarge their space”

    I’m short (5’4″) and like JRMW have had back issues in the past. The seats aren’t made for short people, esp if the headrest isn’t adjustable. I have to recline a tiny bit to be comfortable, not “just to enlarge [my] space.”

  69. I find that the seat reclines very little and is not more comfortable. Therefore, I don’t recline. I do think the winged headrest are helpful.

  70. Lucky, airlines are at fault. How can you say you disagree with this? Just because they make your ticket $20 cheaper due to higher capacity does not mean they are not at fault. The other day I was looking at economy flights from Hong Kong to Singapore. Scoot had the cheapest at $100 one way. If scoot took out a row or two of seats to give everyone a couple of additional inches of leg room what would that make my new ticket price? $20-$40 more? Would you ever know the difference? Would you be less likely to buy the $140 ticket? No because the difference is not that much to notice. But you would notice a more comfortable seat.

  71. I think the ultimate answer, in this the age of tech wizardry, build the tray table into the seat itself so it moves along with the seat. Current state is the tray table folds into the the seatback, but, is not integral due to the arms attached to the side of the seat. table built into the seat back, similar to the higher end lux vehicles, will negate this whole topic.

    Neat and efficient! It really lies with the airlines and the for not pushing for the development of such design. It’s secondary to the seat manufacturer for failing to recognise an opportunity to be innovative.

    Just my $0.02 Kai Zen stylie!

  72. I seem to recall Delta either introduced or proposed to introduce seats in which you recline by sliding the seat cushion forward (as found on many European and some US trains). Whatever happened to that concept?

    And to the people who recline their seats immediately upon takeoff, there is a safety reason why seatbacks must be in the full and upright position upon takeoff and landing. The same reason you don’t get to store your personal item in front of the seat under your legs.

  73. All these comments are people saying the exact arguments that lucky addressed in the post. lol everyone seems like passive aggressive babies

  74. Enough about this. While I agree with your position on the issue, I don’t follow your blog for this kind of as ad nauseum reiteration of an issue so unimportant as this.

    Please return to how to travel in luxury for less. You’re good at it! And it’s the reason I read yuor blog.

    How about a piece (or pieces) on how to accumulate miles (in significant amounts) after someone has already gotten all the credit card sign up bonuses possible in a 3-5 year period.?

  75. Solution: Simply fix the seat and don’t allow it to recline across the board in all airlines. People will complain? Who cares? What are they going to do? Not fly again? Doubtful… People won’t sacrifice their freedom of movement even for a rule they don’t like. The reality is that the airlines one us, and there’s nothing we can do about it. People have back issues, etc.? Pay more for a better seat that does recline or simply don’t fly. People think it’s their right, but flying is not a right.

  76. Lucky,
    I don’t agree with your comment “It seems to be a common misconception about legroom being reduced when the person in front of you reclines: Only the upper part of the seat generally moves, and not the lower part.”
    As a 6’4″ person, I can tell you that when the person in front of me reclines, it seriously impact my legroom. My knees touch the back of their seat, even when they do not recline, so when they recline 4 inches, then I lose at least one inch of legroom.
    I haven’t had a painful experience in several years, as I do my best to book an exit row seats when I fly coach, but once in a while that’s not possible.
    Some foreign airlines offer fixed shell seats, but some people don’t like that, as they lose legroom when they recline. But they are more fair. You can decide what’s more important to you, legroom or reclining, then make a decision to improve your comfort, without hurting the comfort of others.

  77. To me it comes down to the fact that when you buy a ticket with a certain airline you know that the person in front of you will have the option to recline their seat. It for find this a problem, you should’ve bought a ticket with an airline that doesn’t allow recline or buy extra legroom/first class/bulkhead seats which don’t have this issue.

  78. Sorry but I cannot absolve airlines from their culpability in this mess. Yes, airlines have the right to pursue a business model but within certain bounds that mostly relate to passenger well being and safety.

    While one may be tempted to believe that self regulation and market forces will take care of those concerns, the sad reality is that it doesn’t. One can only refer back to the 737 max fiasco as a recent example.

    The sad reality is that in this era of consolidation there is limited competition. American can get away offering crappy service and inhumane seats only because they have scale which affords them marker power. On many routes American holds so much power that they don’t need to differentiate themselves from carriers like Spirit. Moreover, they market themselves as a full service carrier

    At the very least they can be transparent about the service they offer ie expect to your knees crunched if you fly coach in any of our oasis 737s. And don’t even try to use the lavotaries. At least then people can make an informed choice!

  79. I pretty much always recline my seat a little bit when I fly. Just to get out of that bolt upright position. But when I do, I usually look behind me first to make sure the person isn’t in the middle of bending over or eating or whatever. And I go back slowly.

    Actually I did have an issue one time on an overnight flight in Asia years ago. I was trying to put my seat back and the guy behind me kept pushing it back forward. I was so out of it I didn’t even understand what was happening at first, I thought the seat was broken. Then I realized the guy was pushing it. My husband snapped at him and told him to knock it off. The guy stopped but mumbled something about having no room. In my head I thought “too bad” and didn’t give it a second thought because he was clearly out of line because everyone’s entitled to recline, right? But after seeing some of these comments lately, maybe I could have been more sensitive about the situation.

  80. @Kyle: Did the airlines tell your parents prior to procreation they would accommodate their extremely tall offspring?

    The answer is clearly that tall people shouldn’t have children.

    It might take a generation, but eventually everyone will fit the airline height model. Now , I’m off to solve the problem of people failing to fit the life insurers’ weight guidelines.
    Ideas?

  81. I’m currently in a flight from SJD to PHX and everyone is reclining.

    The no recline crowd is a small but vocal minority of passive aggressive cheapskates. If someone behind m me has high knees that will be impacted I won’t recline, but that is one in twenty. Funny how this is only a problem in the land is the entitled.

  82. There is a secret organisation like the ‘Illuminati” called the ‘in your face club’.
    They periodically hold meetings of various chapters around the world in the economy class sections of airlines. The meetings appear to occur spontaneously without announcement.

    The Chief co-ordinating officer usually sits in the seat in front of me and commences his/her recline long before anyone else.
    I no longer fly economy class on any airline which has a higher level of service.

  83. In short, be like a Japanese. A Japanese person will stand up and look behind to the person and bow saying “Excuse me, I am about to recline the seat.” And they should wait instantaneously get a nod from the passenger behind them.

    The world will become a better place if we choose to be as polite like a Japanese.

  84. The only time I get upset with a recliner is if they roughly throw themselves back all the way. I almost had someone break my laptop screen doing this, and have had drinks knocked over. Beyond that it is what it is. I’m not going to get upset but I will say that these peoplre who go on and on about how they’ll recline if they want to and it’s just too bad for the person behind them, they crack me up. I’ve got news for them too. As someone who is 6’3″ (and all legs), there’s a good chance that my knees aren’t going to LET you put your seat back. I’ve had to chuckle at people who thought their seat was broken because they just couldn’t recline. 🙂

  85. Ben I disagree – reclining is a privilege not a right. I’ve been traveling extensively since the mid 80s and have flown numerous transcon flights without ever reclining my seat. Only time I do is overnight flights or others where I have to sleep and, even then, I am very careful and considerate of the person behind me.

    I hate the “me first” mentality of so many that don’t give any consideration to the impact on others.

    Just because you “can” do something doesn’t mean you “should”

  86. If you don’t like recliners, fly LCCs. The seats don’t recline, and it’s cheaper too. But I will happily be reclining in regular coach and first. The person in front of me has just as much a right to recline into me as I do to the person behind me. Simple as that. I also have the right to point my air nozzle and reading light at them, just as the person behind me does to me.

  87. It maybe be polarising but if the seat can recline and I want to recline, I will recline the seat. I paid for the seat and it is my option to recline or not. I rarely fly in economy but whether its economy, business or first (or what US carriers try to pass off as first), I will recline. The passenger behind me did not pay for my ticket. It is my right. Not interested in what anyone else says. End of story.

  88. Doesn’t bother me when passengers recline. It’s part of air travel. What I don’t like are people who slam back in their seats suddenly and all those who insist there is nothing wrong with doing things like that because their ticket gives them the absolute right. Ditto window seat passengers who keep the shades wide open at all times, as well as people in middle and aisle seats who reach over other passengers to flip up/down the shade without uttering a word. Let’s not forget the territorial overhead bin fanatics who insist the space above their seat is exclusively theirs. Just seems like more and more passengers these days are checking their common sense and civility in addition to their bags.

  89. @Lucky…. playing devil’s advocate, even though I agree with you…

    If we accept that if the seat reclines to x position, it is your right to recline it to x position, it would stand to reason… if the air nose moves to y position, it is your right to move it to y position.

  90. I’ll say it again.
    If you don’t want to be cramped in Y, then pony up and fly in the front like I do.
    Problem solved.

  91. I’m surprised how many selfish a-holes are commenting here. It makes wanna be a little less considerate of others needs in the future too. And for those who think the airlines are not to blame at lot, and no regulation is required, I hope one day the airlines will reduce the pitch to 20 inches in economy, so even the short people will feel the pain!

  92. This lady is the epitome of what is wrong in America, and what has just gotten worse. All these “movements”, PC culture, people being offended by a sneeze, litigation-happy.
    People like her should be wiped off the earth

  93. It’s a right if you’re a straight, white man; a privilege if you’re anyone else. I’m so sick of dudebros like @SB characterizing those of expect common courtesy and respect in public as being “PC,” as if to dismiss and invalidate our very reasonable concerns about what’s become of society.

  94. If I ever do recline, I only recline a bit of someone is behind me for a happy medium. I would obviously recline way more if no one was behind me. Yet, I really hate it quite a lot when someone reclines while I am trying to watch a movie or show. The screen will move as well putting you in a more uncomfortable position to watch it with it either being right in your face or make it more impossible to watch comfortably and clearly.

  95. I’m one of those who can experience tremendous back pain without any recline. Amazes me how many tall people think their knees are more important than my back.

  96. I’m 5’5 with a slim build. Though I feel like Airline seats were made for people of my physique, I still find I need to recline (not all the way) to avoid a strained back.

    I do make the effort to pay attention to meal time and put my seat upright.

  97. I asked a mother travelling with two kids if I could recline my seat into the void created from a child sitting in the seat directly behind me. Response “I do mind actually I need this room to get my kids’ stuff.

  98. “Only the upper part of the seat generally moves, and not the lower part.” Really? My knees are touching the upper part of the seat in front of me. So, with your logic that I should not be bothered by having somebody’s head in my lap, what do I do with my knees? They don’t shrink or come off.

    I can and have blocked the person in front of me from reclining with just my knees. Yes, it does hurt.

    My fault for being 6′ (1,82m) or the airline’s for stuffing more people in a restricted space?

    A right to recline equal a right to break somebody’s knees? You have to be kidding.

  99. @gary

    Ben must have very short legs or he would actually understand the recline problem. Plus he doesn’t fly economy.

    Fat people get accommodation for their size (in some cases free extra seats) when being obese is a choice. Long legged people get told to BUY A BETTER SEAT. Nonsense! Is that because most people are fat and short? Otherwise it makes no sense.

  100. @Ben,

    As someone who is over 6 foot, and almost all of it from the waist down, a few of your statements are not correct. While it is true that only the upper part reclines, it is NOT true that if you both recline, then you have the same amount of leg space. It is simple geometry.

    Though I am not unusually tall, I do have very long legs. My knee sits well above the seat pivot point of the seat in front of me, and then my upper legs “slope downward” to my hips/waist at the back of the seat.. Therefore when someone reclines, it moves directly into the space my knee occupies. However, when I recline my seat, it does not move my hips or waist. It only rotates my upper body. Therefore my legs do not move. Yes, the total volume of space will be the same, but not all space is created equally useful. There is less space for my legs but more space in front of my upper body, which is not useful. Though the volume is the same, it is a transformed volume that is less beneficial for me. It is not like I can somehow contort my legs to take advantage of the extra space in front of my upper body.

    While I have never asked someone not to recline, it does not mean that it is a zero sum game. The person reclining in front of me takes leg space away from me that I cannot get back. I do not think it is their “right,” but I also do not think I have a “right” to keep them from doing it.

    While I do not think the “tall people should buy first class or fly private” argument is a good argument, I do think that there are plenty of options. Yes, pitch is reduced in standard economy. But extra leg space seats are not as expensive as first class. One can buy extra leg space for probably close to the price of a ticket before pitch was reduced by all the airlines. Therefore when I choose not to buy that seat (United Plus, AA Main Extra, etc), I am saying that I don’t mind the reduced pitch, which is why I have never asked some one not to recline. I made that choice. The reason airlines have “forced” us into this, is because we vote that way with our wallets. But the airlines still give us the option to have more leg room at a reasonable price. (Well, most do. Southwest of course does not.)

  101. As it causes a lot of aggressions, airlines should remove the (ridiculously tiny) reclining mechanism of economy class seats. So, flight attendants get more time for passenger service instead and flights will be more peaceful. Bargain for everybody.

  102. If a person has the right to recline, then the person behind them has the right to sit normally with their knees pressed up against the sit in front (as is often the case in economy for tall people) and, therefore, prevent the first person from reclining.
    I don’t think someone can have any grounds to claim the person sitting behind has to shift their legs and provide for full recline.

  103. Paul/Vanya, you have it exactly right. My long legs will necessarily prevent you from putting your seat back, without even trying. I have as much right (actually more) to sit normally in my seat as you have a “right” to recline.

    The argument that you have a “right” to recline no matter what is kind of like saying you have the right to stick your legs out in the middle of the aisle on the subway and force everyone to walk over you and/or trip because that makes you more comfortable. I would say no one would do that, but to hear some people here talk, maybe they would!

    I also think the best solution is what Delta is doing: meet people halfway by cutting the recline in half.

  104. I always try to get the last seat so I can recline without any problems.

    And not letting the person Infront recline 😉

    Just joking.

  105. “At the same time, the introduction of these dense planes (look at the business models of Frontier and Spirit, for example) has allowed airfare to be at among the lowest we’ve seen in history (adjusted for inflation).” Oh please. The airlines are making massive profits by cramming people in there. Don’t try to suggest that somehow this is being done for the benefit of passengers. If I want to fly a crap discount airline I would fly a crap discount airline and pay a much cheaper fee. I’m not seeing those types of discounted fees on airlines like AA and yet they are still cramming seats in and making the passenger experience miserable.

    Gotta love the logic that tall people if they are uncomfortable should just pay more. So what now tall people are required to spend more on airfare than everyone else just because they happen to be tall even if they have no control over their height? At 6’2 its extremely cramped in a seat. 6’2 is tall but its not an uncommon height. Its not like there are a bunch of 7’7 people talking airplanes so why dont they make seats that can accommodate heights of passengers that they know for a fact will be on pretty much all of their flights? Nothing more annoying when I can’t get an exit row seat because some 5’0 girl bought the seat first.

  106. @ Michael……
    Shut up and just don’t read OMAAT anymore!!! Lucky and his Team do a great job on “reporting” on what’s current in the Travel World…. And the recent stupid antics by the moron punching the seat in front of him is reason for a refresher!!!
    That jerk should have been arrested for assault and put on a No Fly list, period.
    Seat reclune is a RIGHT as well as window shade control, but by all mens be curtious people!!!
    Thanky Lucky, keep up the good work….✈✈✈

  107. What I don’t understand are those people who recline their seat, then I see them leaning forward to read etc. If you’re not going to use the reclined space, don’t recline the seat.

  108. Of course you have a right to recline your seat in economy class but equally, you must be aware that you are inconveniencing anyone sat behind you. However, seats should NEVER be reclined during mealtimes and this should be strictly enforced by FAs as some passengers are too timid to ask the person in front to put their seat upright.

  109. You buy a seat on a plane with full knowledge the seat in front of you reclines. If you don’t have enough room when that seat in front of you reclines it’s your fault for purchasing an inappropriate product.

    If your knees are cramped in a small car do you insist the car dealer sell you a larger car for the same price? Their response would be that if the small car doesn’t suit you then don’t purchase it.

    Why do people think airlines are different? Like car dealers they sell various different products to suit different customer needs – don’t complain if you choose the product that doesn’t suit you or you can’t afford one that does.

  110. What you are not considering is business travel. A reclined seat encroaches on my ability to work. I do not get paid for my travel time, I get paid for the work I do. And if someone reclines and I can’t open my laptop it hurts my productivity. There is no reason to recline a seat on a domestic flight during the day. Different rules apply for red eyes.

  111. I must be soooooo ignorant….66 y.o., been travelling few times a year for the last 40 years…never had any idea that there was this debate…always blamed the uncomfortable flight on the miniscule space in economy….the seats do recline….I guessed it was Ok to gently recline it…the front seat does it abruptly…he/she is not a really nice person….there are plenty of them…but most people are OK….enjoy..could be worst…book a one week cruise and get a free month in quarantine !

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