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Passengers Should Pay for the Right to Recline, Says Study

Bargaining for services and amenities in the cabin could be a win-win for both travelers and airlines, indicates research by a pair of New York-based law professors.

When it comes to the right to recline, going horizontal, it seems, should be a privilege passengers pay each other for rather than an automatic entitlement. In fact, an experiment conducted by two American academics indicates that, if this privilege was a paid-for amenity rather than an assumed right, it could help to keep peace in the cabin environment.

The Evening Standard reports that data from the study, which was compiled by law professors Christopher Buccafusco and Christopher Jon Sprigman, revealed that, if they could, travelers would ask for $18 in order to prevent the passenger in front of them from reclining their seat. On the flip side, those who wanted to remain horizontal would ask for $41 from surrounding passengers in order not to decline their seatbacks.

The duo said that these kind of bargaining fees could prevent tempers from flaring in close quarters.

Explaining their findings, the pair said, “Nobody likes the recent turn toward airlines charging for every service, but maybe what we need is more of that. Most airlines still hand out free drinks, and sometimes little bags of pretzels. Maybe instead they should charge for them and allow passengers to purchase them for one another.”

“People generally don’t like losing things they have. When a resource is provided to them as a default […] people tend to be unwilling to part with it,” they added.

In this kind of scenario, “Seat recline space is efficiently allocated. Airlines are marginally further from bankruptcy.”

But most importantly, in the situation where passengers are bargaining for the right to recline “no one gets punched in the face.”

[Photo: Shutterstock]

Comments are Closed.
travelindandy May 22, 2017

Whatever your feelings on the reclining issue, this does beg a question: What space, exactly, are you paying for when you pay for a "seat" on a plane (whatever class)? Because while not technically part of the actual, physical chair, you EXPLICITLY pay for "leg room", meaning you are basically paying for empty space. This would seem to imply you are actually pay for something akin to a "zoned lot". a space extending from the very back of your chair in upright position to the back of the chair in front of you, in its upright position. In fact, if somehow a passenger found a way to move their ENTIRE seat backwards, infringing on your leg room, then I bet the FAs would be all over them, as that would seem to be a strict violation of my paid-for space. So, then, how far do my air rights extend? If I'm already paying for a space that contains no physical chair (the place my legs go) haven't I paid for the rest of the void as well? Why can someone infringe on this space?

makrom May 22, 2017

@ioto1902 @ksandness Most Airlines offer Y+, C and/or F, so better seat pitch is readily available. Whoever rather buys the cheapest ticket there is can't complain that he got what he paid for.

Kannai May 22, 2017

I agree that this is an annoying study. But it's not proof that academics are stupid. This is a summary by a journalist of one finding from a study. We don't know how well/accurately the study is being summarized. Also, and more importantly, studies like this tell us all sorts of things about human behavior. The thought that airlines might use this to squeeze more money out of passengers makes me wince, but that doesn't make the study inherently bad. And it sure doesn't mean academics are stupid.

bhrubin May 22, 2017

I'm going to assume these two douchebag intellectual property law professors at Yeshiva Cardozo and NYU law schools are on the payroll for airlines. Because there is no reason that anyone needs to pay for what obviously can be settled by simple airline policy--you have the right to recline your seat as its design allows, though you also may be required to move forward to allow a passenger behind you to pull out and put back the dinner tray. Done. And free.

rstruthe May 21, 2017

Let me ask this, what if everyone on the plane wants to recline, but no one wants the passenger in front of them to recline?