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Passengers Should Pay for the Right to Recline, Says Study

Passengers Should Pay for the Right to Recline, Says Study
Jackie Reddy

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]

View Comments (19)


  1. toz100

    May 19, 2017 at 3:57 am

    I cannot understand the discussion. Seats in economy recline, so it is my right to use this feature. I respect the person behind me by not reclining during food service, although in my opinion this can be handled also very well with reclined seats and I did this even when the seat in front of me was reclinded and mine not. But anything else is just a strange discussion. Y-seats are bad enough for long distance flights. If you cannot recline it gets even worse. what’s next? Sitting on a bar?

  2. ioto1902

    May 19, 2017 at 4:19 am

    These guys have everything wrong. They think – like the airlines – that more money is the answer.
    Why not beginning by requiring airlines a humane seat pitch ?

  3. rylan

    May 19, 2017 at 6:44 am

    One of the most useless studies ever. Was this funded with public taxpayer money?

    Yeah, sure, when pax are bargaining with each other there won’t be any arguments or fights. What are these guys smoking?

  4. ksandness

    May 19, 2017 at 8:26 am

    Or maybe the airlines should stop shoving seats so close together that your knees are squashed whether the person in front reclines or not.

    What’s next? Pay extra to have an actual seat and not a strap to hang onto?

  5. JackE

    May 19, 2017 at 9:17 am

    This is a great idea if implemented properly. When we buy a ticket, there should be a checkbox where you can specify that you do/don’t want to recline yourself and do/don’t want the pax in front of you to recline.

    If you allow the pax in front to recline, then they pay a higher fare and you get miles. Everyone wins.

    Alternately, you pay a higher faire to prevent reclining in front of you and they get miles for losing the right to recline.

    The main problem is how to enforce it. Seats would have to be built with computer-controlled locking devices.

  6. Oxnardjan

    May 19, 2017 at 10:16 am

    Proof positive that an Academic may not have a brain. This “study” also indicates that one can proclaim a theory based on the lint in their pants pocket and have it printed. Basic human comfort should be provided to any airline passenger and that includes the minuscule 2 to 3 inch recline and enough leg room to stretch your legs.

  7. redreeper


    May 19, 2017 at 10:56 am

    I want to decline my seatback for 41 dollars.

  8. LukeO9

    May 19, 2017 at 2:27 pm

    Passengers already pay for the right to recline.
    They buy a seat that is reported to reclining x-degrees. If pax aren’t allowed to recline, the airlines are guilty of false advertising.

  9. JackE

    May 19, 2017 at 9:50 pm

    Juke, this is a new proposal. If the airlines were to adopt it, then they would change their advertising.

  10. dweick

    May 20, 2017 at 7:47 am

    JackE writes:

    “If you allow the pax in front to recline, then they pay a higher fare and you get miles. Everyone wins.”

    How does “everyone win” if someone pays more to recline?

    Sure, I’d love my fellow passengers to pay me if they want to slip past me to go to the bathroom, don’t smell good, eat food when I’m hungry, talk, breathe, etc.

    But that’s not winning, that’s just plain paying more money to do normal, expected things on a plane.

    If you don’t want the person in front of you to recline, purchase a seat that doesn’t have a reclining seat in front of it. Now that’s a win-win for everyone.

  11. Bear4Asian

    May 20, 2017 at 7:48 am

    To quote the article: “On the flip side, those who wanted to remain horizontal would ask for $41 from surrounding passengers in order not to decline their seatbacks”

    Horizontal? For $41. Really? Ha, ha, ha.

  12. sdsearch

    May 20, 2017 at 4:12 pm

    Airlines can solve this problem themselves, by using articular seats more (some airlines use them on some planes already, but not widely enough). Those are seats in which the person doing the reclining is the one losing the leg or knee room themselves, not affecting the person behind them. Ie, these are seats where you recline not by pushing your seat back backwards, but by pulling your seat bottom forwards: As the seat bottom moves forward, it pulls the bottom of the seat back into a recline position, but the back of seat back doesn’t move backwards (except at the very top), and thus it doesn’t impinge on the space of the passenger behind you.

    I don’t understand why people are calling for restricting recline space. They should instead be calling for all airlines to adopt articulated seats fleet-wide. That would totally end the problems with passengers complaining that the person in front of them reclined. It instead gives a choice: Don’t recline, and have more knee room yourself, or recline, but if so lose the knew room yourself. Doesn’t that sound fair???.

  13. a330boston

    May 20, 2017 at 4:21 pm

    Am I the only one laughing my a** off. Like seriously if I had to pay to recline a seat after paying hundreds, thousnds for a ticket, I would just be like “No. F*ck you”

  14. tenn_ace

    May 20, 2017 at 10:43 pm

    This “study” is not worth the paper it is written on. I would really like to know who paid for it….

  15. rstruthe

    May 21, 2017 at 5:27 am

    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?

  16. bhrubin

    May 21, 2017 at 9:11 pm

    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.

  17. Kannai

    May 22, 2017 at 12:46 am

    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.

  18. makrom

    May 22, 2017 at 8:22 am

    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.

  19. travelindandy

    May 22, 2017 at 10:36 am

    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?

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