PSA: It’s Not Worth Choking Someone Over Seat Recline

Filed Under: Southwest, Videos

While airlines are giving passengers better ways to amuse themselves during flights (by adding inflight entertainment, wifi, etc.), they’re also constantly shrinking the amount of space in economy. Whether it’s reducing seat pitch or seat width, the airlines are doing everything they can to squeeze as many passengers as possible in the cabin.

Rather than creating a sense of community and “we’re in this together,” it instead seems to bring out the worst in people… at least sometimes.

Last night, a Southwest Airlines flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco returned to Los Angeles after a man allegedly tried to choke a woman after she tried to recline her seat.

Via NBC News:

Southwest would not confirm that a choking incident was involved but said “flight #2010 from LAX to San Francisco International airport returned to Los Angeles to allow police access to the cabin because of a rapidly escalating situation involving passengers who were not traveling together.”

“Evidently we’ve got two passengers who are in a physical altercation so we need to get turned around and get back to LAX,” the pilot of the plane told Air Traffic Control before landing safely in Los Angeles.

The flight ended up getting canceled, though apparently the passengers made it to San Francisco about five hours late in the end — ouch!


Here’s the NBC News story on the situation:

More than anything I love the stock footage they use of an A380 to explain the situation… hah!

Seriously, it amazes me that passengers think getting in any sort of an altercation on a plane will end well. I’ve often shared my approach to reclining seats in economy, which is as follows:

  • Reclining your seat is a right — after all, the “recline” button is at your seat, and not the seat behind you
  • That being said, like everything else in life, it’s nice to be courteous — if you’re going to recline your seat back all the way, it’s polite to at least make eye contact with the person behind you, or ideally even ask them for permission
  • In the event the situation escalates, call a flight attendant immediately, or just give in — it’s not worth causing a flight diversion over a few degrees of recline

Bottom line

It’s not worth trying to choke someone over seat recline. While I do think seat recline is a right and not a privilege, it’s not something that’s worth getting in a fight over, if you ask me.

Where do you stand on seat recline — is it a right or a privilege?

  1. Being quite claustrophobic, I always try to get an aisle seat. If I end up in a window seat, or worse, a middle seat, and the person in front reclines their seat, I panic. So I usually stretch my arms to stop them from doing so. If I’m not fast enough, I ask nicely but firmly if they would be kind enough not to. I usually fly short-haul only within Europe, so really I don’t understand the need for reclining seats on 2h- flights anymore…

  2. Indeed, people are crazy. And YES, reclining the seat is a RIGHT. Don’t come with any crap like “it encroaches on my space”. You can recline too. Also, there is no god’s given right to use your laptop in a flight, sorry. Who decided what can or can’t be done? The geometry and functionality of the seat. If it can recline then you have the right to do it.

  3. These situations are never about the incident that sparked them. Regardless it’s an hour flight. If someone reclines into you then deal with it for the short time. Conversely do you really need to recline? If you do that’s you right but know that it’s possibly at the cost of making another person’s flight worse.

  4. @Alex,

    Why don’t you just recline your seat as well to compensate for the loss of space? Isn’t that simpler and fairer?

  5. @Alex – you sound like a tool.
    You panic to the point that you try to physically block the reclining seat? Please, get help. I’m sorry you have this level of hysteria but it’s not fair to inflict your illness on others.

  6. I wish airlines would just get rid of the recline button. It’s outrageous to keep shrinking the distance between seats while pretending that there is actually enough room to “recline.”

  7. I avoid trouble by reclining my seat as far back as it’ll go the second the wheels leave the ground. Then I leave it reclined until the stewardess wakes me up on final descent and makes me put it up.

  8. Nothing is worth getting into a physical altercation. I agree it’s a right and I don’t do it (recline) and I don’t like it but we have to deal with all types of inconveniences these days. Flying just isn’t fun anymore, I remember when it was but those days are long gone. I try to be as nice as I can to Crew and Passengers.It’s a challenge sometimes but oh well.

  9. @Alex that is just ridiculous. You fly economy even though you have a problem with tight spaces? Then you expect someone else to be uncomfortable to accomodate your problems? The sense of entitlement some people have is just amazing.
    What do you do if the person reclines their seat in spite of your “firm” request? Choke them?

  10. My belief is that the price of the ticket pays for the real estate to recline your seat . Desperately needing to use laptop on a short flight is akin trying to complete one’s assignments on the school bus . Feeling the need to attack a fellow passenger is indeed a disgrace . Although public flogging is no longer popular I would be in favor of no fly status for this shameful episode .
    I feel very fortunate to be able to fly all over the world and I don’t appreciate those who have little regard for what a privilege that is . Whether reclining seats or any other issue I feel that respect and courtesy are paramount .
    Travelers should help each other !

  11. I do not think of reclining as a right in today’s economy seats. The airlines should at the very least restrict this so-called “right” to an inch or two. There just isn’t enough space to make reclining anything but an act of aggression. Of course I wouldn’t get into a fight but I would ask a flight attendant to intervene.

  12. You “would” ask a flight attendant to intervene, but obviously you never have. If you had, you would know that they would say you have no right to harass the passenger in front of you.

  13. Ditto Al .. Alex don’t even bother disturbing me for this silliness..
    I’m also a little claustrophobic so when I fly economy I selecte aisle, in the rare ocassion I don’t get it I politely talk my way to change seats.
    And if I end in a window, the last thing that crosses my mind is requesting the passenger in front of me not to recline.
    Weird people :S

  14. Isn’t the core of the issue not whether the seat can recline but seat itself but manufacturers (and airlines, by extension) shaving off inch by inch wherever possible to fit more seats in?

  15. Recline is just ridiculous with the lack of leg room we have. Reclining back just because the eat in front of you is now 2 inches from your face isn’t always valid either.

    Until we put up more of a fight to get more space between rows (and are ready to pay more) the airlines should just do away with recline entirely, or limit it to a few degrees instead of 30+.

  16. If you are “ready to pay more” (previous post), there is no problem. Fly F/J and stop bothering us regular people.

  17. Even in J the amount of space you have in your seat when the seat in front of you reclines is ridiculously small.

  18. I was in France a while ago and I was on a long-haul bus. I measured with a measuring tape that the pitch is 28. And guess what, it reclines 10!

  19. While I am in complete agreement, violence is never the answer. I understand the frustrations of being in economy with very long legs and having an ass in front of you. I understand that it isn’t their fault the seats are crammed together, and the more I fly, the better I get at choosing the seats with lots of leg room.

    I just returned from Korea and the outbound flight on an aging American 772 left me behind a guy who reclined even on takeoff, completely ignoring multiple requests to put the seat forward by flight attendants. I am 6’2″ tall, I have long legs and I have had knee surgery in the past. This is not a good combination. This 14 hr flight left me with a sore knee that I haven’t felt in 8 years.

    This just reinforced my need for premium travel, and now that I am starting to grab enough points, premium travel will be the norm for long hauls. However, work travel requires me to be in economy when I fly regularly to France.

    This in no way justifies the passenger’s behavior, there is almost never a good reason to resort to violence like this. I do however, think that people dismiss the discomfort of tall passengers as people complaining too much… you can think that all you want, but it is a real issue for me.

  20. I’ve been asked during meal service to refrain from reclining (which I willingly do). This becomes a reverse domino effect because I may then need to ask the pax in front of me to do the same. But once they’re done behind me, back I go. It’s the airlines that allow seats to recline, so I fully recline mine.

  21. Ben,

    I’m with you totally on this one. If reclining WASN’T a right why would the planes all be equipped with reclining seats? And why would they announce at the end of the flight that it was time to return the seats to the upright position?

    What HAS changed in the last 20 years is the zeal for everybody to turn their plane ride into an Episode of The Office, including the idea that the tray table suddenly became “my desk”. I have news for Mr. Business Traveler– if you want room for your laptop either upgrade to First.
    Or, do what the name suggests– place your laptop on your lap.

    Flying 175,000 miles this year, one of few amenities in coach (assuming Mr. Upgrade fails to appear) is to be able to ever so slightly tip my seat back to an incrementally, less uncomfortable position.
    Please don’t choke me for indulging in that one small bit of relief.

  22. Tachyon,
    you lost me. at first you said reclining is okay but then you are saying using the tray table for laptop is not?
    i don’t think the airline was proving the tray table for meals on a 2 hour flight. what is wrong with using the tray table to put your laptop?

  23. @Steven K

    Tachyon was *not* saying that you can’t use the tray table. He was saying that you have no right to complain when the person in front of you reclines (their right) and you don’t have space to place your laptop on the tray.

    And as someone who works regularly on a laptop while flying (or “in the cloud” as I like to joke), I agree.

  24. People who insist on reclining your chairs during short flights: why are you not posting your names as “Napoleon”?

  25. I had an issue on an Aeroflot flight back in September from Moscow to Vladivostok that had to do with seat recline. Since it is a longhaul flight, there are 2 meal services. When meal service #1 began, the passenger behind me rudely demanded that I raise my seat. If he would have asked nicely, I would have gladly raised it during the meal service. However, since he was rude, I simply refused in a polite manner. Then, this guy proceeded to complain to a flight attendant, who rudely demanded that I raise my seat for the meal service. I refused, as I did not appreciate the tone of voice used. So, the FA aggressively reached down and pushed the button while forcing my seat upright. I just glared at her, but said nothing, as I didn’t want to run the risk of dealing with Russian police on the ground when I landed. Anyway, after the meal service, I reclined again, and at this point, the man behind me began swearing in Russian and pushing the back of my seat quite hard, but I ignored him. So, this FA comes back and angrily told me to raise my seat, that she wouldn’t tell me again. So, I politely asked that she ask the person in front of me to raise their seat, as it “made me uncomfortable.” Predictably, she rolled her eyes and said nothing to them. And, when I asked why only I was being targeted, she didn’t answer. Anyway, I am quite shocked by the situation. I have status with Aeroflot, and this happened to be a flight with no upgrade space available, so I was in economy (sometimes I get lucky and get upgraded, sometimes I don’t). Anyway, I have flown Aeroflot many, many times, as I work in the Russian Far East. This is my first bad experience with them, so I am thinking this is an anomaly. However, I hope I never get stuck on a flight with that crew again. I will continue to fly them, but, if a similar incident occurs, I will gladly pay the huge difference in price and begin flying either Asiana or Korean, which are the only other 2 airlines that service Vlaivostok with the destinations I need.

  26. Yes, it is your right to recline your seat, as it is your right to let wind in public, for example, does it inconvenience the people around you? Yes it does. So before doing that, think.
    I am usually ok with a little bit of recline, but fully back, I don’t get it.

    And no, reclining my seat as answer to the person in the front reclining theirs is not an answer. If we were all thinking like that (thank god we don’t) this would create a domino effect all the way to the back of the plane, just because there is a selfish person in 10C. Then, I don’t really feel like being in recline all the time, or being essentially ordered to recline by the person in front of me because they did so.
    Personally I wouldn’t want to inconvenience the person behind me, because that is what I consider the seat recline to be.
    “Oh gee, I have too much space in front of me, do you mind reclining your seat right into my kneecaps, please?”

    Bottom line is this: Your comfort comes at the expense of the person behind you.

  27. You should be guaranteed the space advertised on the airlines’ web site without being forced to recline.

  28. People should NOT recline their seat if someone is behind them unless they ask and get their permission. Rudeness is taking away from someone else their limited space. Just flew from PHL to PHX on US plane (now AA) and had window. Person in front wanted to take all my area, and the guy next to me in the middle seat was about 6’4″, and taking myspace because of his size. This was rude and it was a very unpleasant flight.

    While I could have leaned my seat back, which I didn’t because the person behind me would have the same type problem. Ever think about what the last seat in the coach cabin gets to do when they can’t recline? REMOVE the button. It is not a right, but an abuse of limited space. The airlines are to blame for this mess.

  29. “@Alex that is just ridiculous. You fly economy even though you have a problem with tight spaces? Then you expect someone else to be uncomfortable to accomodate your problems? The sense of entitlement some people have is just amazing.”

    The hypocrisy, it burns.

    “What do you do if the person reclines their seat in spite of your “firm” request? Choke them?”

    People can not recline their seat through my knees. That is not a request. That a physical fact. If someone cannot accept this fact and repeatedly tries slamming their chair into my knees, I will use force to stop them.

  30. Worst scenario. Transoceanic or coast to coast flight. The person behind you in economy is taller than 5’10. You recline and they start pushing your seat back without as much as a word.

    Happened to me before. Stressful situation because both people wanted to be comfortable.

    Would have been better if the person behind would have said something along the lines of “you are crushing me or could you put your seat up a bit”. We could have come to some middle ground.

    Should I check before reclining? Yes. Now, I check out the passenger behind me even before the flight start.

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