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By now, most of you have probably seen the video of the man pounding on the seat of the woman in front of him who reclined her seat. This happened on an AA flight from New Orleans to Charlotte on January 31, 2020.
This incident has sparked a national debate: Is it ok to recline in an airplane seat?
Frankly, I’m surprised at this debate. I never knew so many people felt so strongly about NOT reclining. Is reclining an airplane seat a big faux-pas?
Why This Is an Issue Now
I’m sure this is more of an issue now because airlines have crammed more seats into airplanes. Over the years, the seat pitch has decreased. So when someone does recline, they get into your space more than in the past.
Also, let’s face it. This is more of an issue now because of phones and social media. People are filming everything and posting it everywhere. You cannot get away with any kind of outburst anywhere without fear of it going viral.
My Recent Experience with a Grumpy Passenger
This summer, my family flew a long-haul flight from DFW to Sydney, Australia. It was 17 hours long and departed at 10:30 p.m. Obviously, we planned to sleep during the fight.
After the meal service was cleaned up, the cabin crew turned off the lights. This was our cue to sleep, and it was almost 1 a.m.. I slowly reclined my seat and got comfy with my blanket, eye mask and head phones. Most people on the flight did the same.
But as soon as I did that, the passenger behind me asked if I could put my seat up partway. I was very surprised at this because he had paid extra for his entire row of 3 seats, presumably to lay down across them to sleep. He wasn’t that tall. But I guess he wanted to watch a movie first.
I tried to pull my seat up a little bit, but it seemed it only had two positions, upright and reclined. My husband even tried to help me adjust my seat to no avail. The passenger said it was ok, but he was a little huffy about it. Eventually, he did lay down on his three seats to sleep. When I was done sleeping, I kept my seat upright for the remainder of the flight (about 5 hours).
Was I wrong for wanting to recline my seat? I don’t think so. On a long-haul overnight flight, people should have every expectation that the person in front of them will want to recline their seat. Otherwise, why do the seats even have the capability?
The Flip Side
Of course, sitting behind a reclined seat isn’t always fun. On a flight from DFW to Oahu a few years ago, the passenger in front of me had his seat reclined for the entire 8-hour flight. He was fast asleep. It felt like his head was in my lap! It was a little awkward.
On a short-haul flight last year on Southwest, the passenger in front of my son abruptly reclined his seat right after drinks were served. His seat hit my son’s drink and it spilled all over my son and husband. Ooops! The passenger heard the crash and apologized.
I’m not that tall, so a reclined seat doesn’t cause my legs any pain. But I know for some that are over 6 feet tall, that can be a real issue.
Let’s Be Adults About This
On my flight to Australia, if the passenger behind me had made a really big fuss or had a big reason why I shouldn’t recline my seat, I wouldn’t have reclined. The last thing I want to do on an airplane is walk into drama.
Back to the original story about the man pounding on the seat. I feel sorry for the flight attendants who had to try to play the role of pre-school teachers and make peace between these two adults. I think everyone involved could have handled the situation differently.
The man in the back row could have kindly told the passenger in front that his knees hit the seat when she reclines because he is very tall. Or that he had to work on his laptop before he landed. The passenger could have said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize it, I’ll put my seat back up.” End of discussion. Of course, he may have said that at first and it wasn’t captured in the video. But if she refused, he could have politely asked a flight attendant if he could change seats. Communication is key.
I rarely recline my airplane seat because most of my flights are only 2-3 hours long. I’m usually awake, and sitting fully upright doesn’t bother me.
However, I do think that if the seats have the capability to recline, it should be an option, especially on long-haul overnight flights. That said, if the passenger behind me feels strongly about not reclining, I would oblige.
Do you recline your airplane seat? Why or why not? Do you have different expectations on a short-haul flight during the day vs. an international long-haul flight? Or, do you avoid the issue altogether by booking business class or first class?
Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.
Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.