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Ask Before You Recline: Delta’s CEO Weighs in on the Great Debate

Ask Before You Recline: Delta’s CEO Weighs in on the Great Debate
Taylor Rains

Last week, American Airlines passenger Wendi Williams posted a video on Twitter showing a man repeatedly punching her reclined seat that has since gone viral. A byproduct of the video has been added fuel to the fire of the debate about whether or not You’re a Jerk if You Recline Your Seat.

The Response

Twitter users were torn on the matter, some condemning the man for his inappropriate, childish behavior, and others criticizing Wendi for selfishly reclining her seat in an already tightly packed cabin. However, a handful of people said the airline was to blame because the cabin configuration doesn’t allow for recline, even though the seat has the capability for it.

Regardless of what side of the argument you fall on, I think we can all agree that if the two would have just communicated about the problem rather than trying to throw each other under the bus, this wouldn’t even be a story, but alas that is not the case. Because the video resurfaced the “should I recline my seat” debate, one airline executive has commented on the matter – Delta CEO Ed Bastian.

Ed Bastian’s Opinion

Ed Bastian had just announced Delta’s carbon-neutral plans while appearing on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” when he was asked about his opinion on the debate. As expected, he tried to avoid the question, but when pressed for an answer, he had this to say, “I think customers have the right to recline. We’ve been testing reduced recline, but I think that the proper thing to do is if you’re going to recline into somebody, that you ask if it’s OK first. I never say anything myself, though.”

He continued, “If someone knows there’s a tall person behind them, and they want to recline their seat, I think the polite thing to do is make certain it was OK. I never recline, because I don’t think since I’m the CEO of the airline, I should be reclining my seat. And I never say anything if someone reclines into me.”

Delta’s Reduced Recline

Delta has made an effort to “protect customers’ personal space and minimize disruptions to multitasking in-flight” by retrofitting its A320 economy and business class seats with reduced recline. Economy was reduced from four inches to two inches, while business was reduced from 5.5 inches to 3.5 inches.

View Comments (26)


  1. KLBGO

    February 18, 2020 at 3:54 pm

    I recline on intercontinental without asking. I never recline on continental.

  2. RSSrsvp

    February 18, 2020 at 6:25 pm

    I never ask but do it gently.

  3. iowapilot84

    February 18, 2020 at 8:29 pm

    I never recline. Problem solved!

  4. mvoight

    February 19, 2020 at 4:17 am

    So, the CEO says it is a passenger’s right to recline, but the passenger must first ask permission……………..
    Why do you have to ask permission to exercise a “right”?

  5. jjmoore

    February 19, 2020 at 4:37 am

    If I am on a trans-con flight, I will recline. I don’t care much when flying short legs, but if the flight is over 3 hours, I am going to be inclined to recline for part of the flight, and can assure you that I will not be shamed into not doing so.

  6. HMO

    February 19, 2020 at 4:50 am

    “I never recline, because I don’t think since I’m the CEO of the airline, I should be reclining my seat.”

    I really want to know what was the last time this guy had fly commercial, and in the couch…

  7. hyho61

    February 19, 2020 at 6:56 am

    I recline except during meal times on long haul. On short haul I recline all the time. I have had an elderly woman kick my seat on a Qatar airways flight many years ago, but I was forced to recline because the seat ahead of me reclined too and that aircraft had bit too much recline. I politely told her the situation and she understood.

  8. DCAFly

    February 19, 2020 at 12:54 pm

    Does anyone know what the guy said to her? Somewhere around the 30 minute mark?

  9. TurboTing

    February 19, 2020 at 3:29 pm

    It’s the seat pitch, stupid!
    Seat recline function is there for a reason— it’s the passenger’s decision (let along “right”) to recline or not to recline. Don’t put the recline function on the seat if it is not to be used; otherwise, it’s called bait and switch!
    Hey Ed, let me give you a simpler solution: Improve the seat pitch to fit the average American body habituate, and then the problem is truly solved!

  10. Fornebufox

    February 20, 2020 at 4:27 am

    It is completely preposterous to include recline in the seat design and then expect customers not to use it. Airline seat pitch in coach especially is disgraceful (and I say this as someone 5’2″ with short legs). I really wish there were legislation to address this because the airlines aren’t likely to improve things on their own.

  11. Davee58

    February 20, 2020 at 4:33 am

    On one occasion the seat in front of me was reclined sharply during mealtime and my drink was spilt.

    I never recline unless the seat in front of me has been reclined into my space.

  12. Zobieee

    February 20, 2020 at 4:54 am

    Like hiho61, I reclined on a ORD-Frankfurt flight because the guy in front of me did. I reclined slowly and carefully, then all of a sudden, my husband, who was seated across the aisle,yelled HEY! The woman behind me had stood and taken a swing at my head. I pushed the FA call button, and the woman passenger started screaming at me in Portuguese and wildly gesticulating.
    The FA told her that I had a right to recline. I told the FA that I had only reclined a smidge because the guy in front of me did. She told him to sit straight during food service. As soon as it was over, he plowed into me with no notice and knocked my water bottle into my lap (thankfully capped). It was the last time my husband and I flew economy, internationally.

  13. ConnieDee

    February 20, 2020 at 5:43 am

    So – HOW do you ask the person directly behind you, especially if the seatbelt light is on? Pass a note back? You can’t make eye contact with the people in the row behind, not even someone catty-corner from your seat … should we develop some kind of signalling system?

  14. iabraz

    February 20, 2020 at 6:10 am

    Ask airlines “politely” to increase legroom? I’m sure that will work, sure it will.

  15. Baracuda618

    February 20, 2020 at 6:31 am

    Of course I recline! It is virtually impossible for me (with neck problems) to stay seated in a fully upright position with my head tilted forward (because of the head rest) for an entire flight. I will be in severe pain if I do so.

    I do sympathize with the passenger in the last row since that seat does not recline at all….a stupid design I know because I was in that seat for 4 hours and I was miserable not knowing when I booked it that it didn’t recline. However, that was juvenile behavior and he should not have been compensated by the FA.

  16. gbcox

    February 20, 2020 at 7:04 am

    This is all on the airlines. As others have pointed out the seat pitch is such that to be at least tolerable you have to recline the seat. That said, you paid for a seat that reclines, therefore, you have a right to recline it. If you don’t want to sit behind someone who is reclining, look at the seat map and make the selection, or call the airline when booking to request. If none is available then pick another flight. If you must be on that particular flight then suck it up and act like an adult and control yourself to deal with a situation you helped create by not being proactive in your seat selection.

  17. azmojo

    February 20, 2020 at 7:18 am

    I can’t believe all of this fuss over what is maybe 2″ of recline. In fact, I wouldn’t even call that reclined. Maybe just a tad less vertical.
    There’s one solution that no one ever discusses, unless you are in a non-recline seat:
    When someone reclines into you, you can reclaim the “lost” space by reclining your seat. Of course it’s the chain reaction, like when the front row stands in an auditorium causing all seats behind them to stand. But such is life.

  18. mikem004

    February 20, 2020 at 7:30 am

    A gentleman never reclines.

  19. D2travel

    February 20, 2020 at 9:24 am

    I recline on all flights, without asking, unless it’s less than an hour. Being elderly, sitting in the strict upright position causes pain in my back. The seats are made to recline, so I use it. If flying becomes more uncomfortable for me, I’ll stop flying, Flying is already a painful experience, let’s not make it more so. As much as I’m against more regulations, I support additional congressional regulations to end the airlines grip on seat configurations and spacing and regulate minimum standards.

  20. BC Shelby

    February 20, 2020 at 10:08 am

    …well if seat pitch was like it was back in the pre-deregulation days, this wouldn’t be an issue. I was as tall back then as I am now and never had an issue with someone in front reclining their seat. These days the pitch is so tight that on some airlines, the person i front is effectively sitting in your lap when they recline, basically pinning you into your seat.. I have to recline the seat a bit due to chronic hip and back issues as it takes the pressure off.

  21. mbgaskins

    February 20, 2020 at 11:53 am

    This is entirely an airline issue and their lack of caring about their customer. Another stupid airline exec.

    If my seat can recline I have the right to recline. I don’t expect the person in front of me to ask and I won’t ask either.

  22. IBobi


    February 20, 2020 at 3:57 pm

    I never ask.

  23. Xrayman

    February 21, 2020 at 6:11 am

    Delta should ask if passengers are OK with the legroom decrease on any plane that is being refitted. If the answer from passengers is no the. delta I’m sure would happily eat the cost of fewer seats.

    Or they could charge extra as an upgrade option for 2 inch pitch adjustment option and lock the pitch for those who elect not to use the option. (btw sarcasm)

  24. dginil

    February 21, 2020 at 8:33 am

    Many people have special needs, some obvious and some indiscernible, that would require them to adjust their seat recline or to not have the seat ahead reclined towards them. If you feel you fit that description you should try to manage your seat assignment first, and failing that try to have a polite conversation with the passengers affected by your needs, possibly before take off.

    That being said, nobody has the right to behave like this guy towards another passenger. The airline should have managed him and his behavior during and after the flight. And anyone who behaves like this guy should get some professional help for their emotional issues.

  25. stickytoffee

    February 22, 2020 at 6:01 am

    Airline seats should be fixed at a comfortable position, no recline option. When rows are so close together reclining is ridiculous.

  26. chas48

    February 23, 2020 at 2:49 am

    If reclining seats were done away with, we could have more space due to the seaats being slimmer, or cheaper flights due to less weight and reduced fuel costs. And no more unpleasant arguments. Reclining seats simply aren’t worth the hassle.

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