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This Is the One Thing People Need to Stop Doing on Airplanes

This Is the One Thing People Need to Stop Doing on Airplanes
Jackie Reddy

There are many very irritating things about air travel. But according to travel writer Abbey Gingras, those who thoughtlessly recline their seats at-will – especially on short flights – are the real menaces of the skies. She asks passengers to think long and hard before they lean back.

Many things about air travel are annoying and even downright uncomfortable, but according to travel writer Abbey Gingras, those passengers who recline their seats at-will are the absolute bane of the cabin.

This is especially true, she says, of those who opt to recline on short-haul journeys. Writing in Outside, she clarifies her position, saying, “Let me be clear: reclining is perfectly acceptable on flights longer than, say, four or five hours, especially if it’s an overnighter. If you are flying long enough to need real sleep, recline away.”

“But if you’re reclining your seat on a two-hour, midday puddle jump, I hope you miss your connection and get stuck at LaGuardia Airport without even an $8 coffee to comfort you,” Gingras adds.

Given the ever-shrinking size of plane seats and the similar increase in passenger density in the cabin, she entreats fellow travelers to think before they recline.

“Let’s get real. Those extra three degrees of slope on your reclined seat back aren’t going to make you more comfortable. Your legroom isn’t magically larger. All you’re doing is encroaching upon the person behind you who also paid $324 to be shipped to Dallas,” she writes.

And if there was any doubt surrounding Gingras’ feelings about those who lie back without a thought, she finishes her piece by saying, “The thing is, you know you suck when you hit that recline button, but just in case you truly are ignorant, hear this: your actions have direct consequences for the people around you—any space you take is taken from someone else.”

[Image Source: Shutterstock]

View Comments (61)

61 Comments

  1. rowingman

    April 12, 2019 at 6:19 am

    If we weren’t meant to recline, the seats wouldn’t have that ability. Ms. Gingras is 100% incorrect.

    I opened this, hoping to see “don’t clip your toenails in flight and leave a pile on the floor.” That would have been sufficient advice to have improved my flight Wednesday. So from me, recline away, but keep your shoes and socks on, and don’t clip your toenails in flight. or for that matter, stick your bare feet on the bulkhead. Really.

  2. mot29

    April 12, 2019 at 6:19 am

    Bravo!
    If I can add another peeve, it is grabbing the seat back in front of you to stand up. Use the armrests to push you up, don’t pull the back of someone else’s seat.

  3. Dhamal

    April 12, 2019 at 6:50 am

    If I paid for the seat I can do what I want too. Don;t you think if it was troublesome, the airlines themselves would take out the recline option to put in more seats? Plain dumb.. just as oversize bags in my overhead space, don;t be cheap and pay the $30 to check in your bag.. or take the Bus instead of flying..

  4. bostontraveler

    April 12, 2019 at 7:14 am

    This is warped logic. You purchased a seat that reclines. You should logically be able to use the functionality of what you purchased.
    What you are arguing is because the airline has crammed more seats in, that we as customers should sacrifice any additional comfort because the airline has taken it away in the first place.

  5. ncncyoo

    April 12, 2019 at 7:27 am

    The picture did not tell me that person want to rest is from a Longhaul
    flight and did not sleep well during that 14 hours flight and need to make connection to other city.

  6. Dublin_rfk

    April 12, 2019 at 7:31 am

    Lets face it if the seat can recline someone will recline it.

  7. job4travel

    April 12, 2019 at 7:45 am

    Abbey Gingras should grow up and get a life. Don’t blame the passenger – blame the airline for cramming in 4 more rows of seats all the while using old interior stock because they didn’t want to spend the money on new seats. Not all bodies are comfortable sitting bolt-upright in 29-31 inch seat-pitch space for 4 hours. And just like the person behind me, that I paid $324 entitles me to recline my seat while the flight is above 10000 feet (except during meal service) BECAUSE IT IS PART OF THE SPACE FOR WHICH I PAID.

  8. closecover

    April 12, 2019 at 8:26 am

    Hear hear!

    What is really bad are those who recline on short flights while the plane is on the tarmac, the flight attendant then asks the passenger to put the seat back upright, the passenger does, but then goes right back to full recline once the pilot asks the flight attendants to be seated for takeoff.

    Happens to me (as the person seated behind such an aggressively reclining passenger) more times than not.

  9. DutchessPDX

    April 12, 2019 at 8:27 am

    Gingras is apparently the self-appointed manager of the world. If I get on my 6am flight from PDX-SFO I’m reclining my damn seat to get some shut eye before my meeting.

  10. PMMMDL

    April 12, 2019 at 8:43 am

    If this woman feels this way then she should only fly airlines that have seats that don’t recline, or fly an airline that has greater pitch. I personally cannot sit comfortably in an airline seat that is not reclined. Her precious space ends where my seat recline ends.

  11. Icecat

    April 12, 2019 at 8:56 am

    Of course it’s okay to recline in the first class cabin from the 1970’s on a wide body aircraft as shown in the photo…now in coach today, that’s a different story.

  12. GetSetJetSet

    April 12, 2019 at 9:17 am

    She sounds like an idiot. If the seat can recline, i’m going to recline it.

  13. Tailgater

    April 12, 2019 at 9:29 am

    I always dread it when passenger in front reclines so that I have just a few inches between chest and seatback, the tv screen practically in my face.. Logically, my response would be to
    also recline but I, knowing how I don’t like it, don’t. Reminds me of the inconsiderate people who will stand continuously in front of you during a concert. Ends up everybody has to stand to see the performance. So stupid.

  14. Jinxed_K

    April 12, 2019 at 9:31 am

    Recline is fine.. just make sure you’re not ramming the person behind you by doing it blindly and suddenly.
    A little courtesy of looking back goes a long way.

  15. Global321

    April 12, 2019 at 9:48 am

    While I am not a fan of people that recline their seats, they have EVERY right to do so. Abbey Gingras is wrong. Full. Stop.

    Some of the new planes have solved this… recline occurs by moving the base of the seat forward, reducing the space of the recliner. The top of the seat stays approximately stationary.

    A win-win.

  16. krlcomm

    April 12, 2019 at 10:41 am

    I’m with Abbey. 100%. 🙂

  17. Icecat

    April 12, 2019 at 11:05 am

    Did anyone else see that Delta on their 320’s is reducing the recline by half to two inches.

  18. AAdamE

    April 12, 2019 at 11:13 am

    If you have an issue with reclining seats then YOU can pay for a bulkhead or exit or or F. Otherwise too bad so sad get over it. Most domestic seats can recline like what 2 inches? No no one reading this article is going to change LOL

  19. robsaw

    April 12, 2019 at 11:35 am

    “Those extra three degrees of slope on your reclined seat back aren’t going to make you more comfortable.”

    Actually, yes they do make me more comfortable and depending upon the limits (sometimes very limited) of the recline I don’t typically use all of what is available.

  20. mxracer95

    April 12, 2019 at 11:37 am

    If the upright position wasn’t so upright to make you hunched over looking at the floor, I might not need to recline. Since most airline seats are worse than sitting on a porcupine against a brick wall, I’m going to recline.

  21. chipmaster

    April 12, 2019 at 11:42 am

    Anyone every run on a treadmill and try flight versus 3%, tell me it won’t make a difference when you sit. If posture and support and angle are not important to comfort and health why our office chairs so adjustable and more and more places have sit and stand.

    Yeah the cramped conditions on airplanes are terrible, but recline even a little bit is one thing that can help some people. Who is someone to judge what someone else’s body need.

    My pet peeve, airlines that allow people that have no business for their or my comfort and health to be seated next to me when they really need two seats with the crazy squeeze they are doing, LOL.

  22. BBSHOPSINGER

    April 12, 2019 at 11:57 am

    You don’t lose any space at all if someone reclines! Just recline your own seat – voila – the same space you had before! It is incredibly uncomfortable to sit in a non-reclined seat, and I’m not going to be uncomfortable just because the person behind me doesn’t want to recline theirs.

  23. Dubiox

    April 12, 2019 at 3:02 pm

    I fly a lot and stopped reclining about a year ago. No reason to torture the person behind me. But if they slam the tray table into my back or pull on my seat to get up, ok now I recline, hard.

  24. johnwb

    April 12, 2019 at 6:56 pm

    People who recline their seat on a short flight “just because they can” are inconsiderate assholes. That is all.

  25. VegasGambler

    April 12, 2019 at 8:19 pm

    What nonsense. I recline on every flight. The difference in comfort is significant. I also expect the person in front of me to recline. Which is why I aim for emergency exit or bulkhead when flying econ.

  26. RustyC

    April 13, 2019 at 8:47 am

    The situation that exists is the AIRLINES’ fault for cramming rows so close together but using seats designed assuming more of a gap than is actually given. It is yet ANOTHER case where the plane manufacturer assumes one thing but airlines do another (remember the 747 lounge?). Those situations never come out well, but all we get here is focus on the passengers fighting it out with each other. Spirit and Frontier used to have an awful situation with this, BTW, but bit the bullet and put in non-reclining seats for most of the cabin. Those seats are thinner and generally not great but at least eliminate the recline problem and more accurately reflect the flying experience with those airlines.

  27. j2simpso

    April 13, 2019 at 10:34 am

    The real pet peeve here is the lack of recline on modern airline seats. Oh how I wish for the good ol’ days where you could recline that sucker a good 45 degrees or so and get proper sleep!

  28. Wingtipflyer1

    April 13, 2019 at 4:33 pm

    Oh Abby! So blabby!
    My seat, I paid for it, get over it or book a bulkhead!

  29. Dalo

    April 13, 2019 at 4:56 pm

    The space taken by recline is real estate that I purchase with my ticket . I am conservative with recline though . Let’s face it , flying coach sucks . Your complaint is with the airline , not your partners in misery (fellow Passengers)

  30. akl_traveller

    April 13, 2019 at 8:20 pm

    I bet all of the people saying there’s nothing wrong with reclining seats also enjoy the last slice of pizza.
    “Can” != “should”

  31. NeGourmand

    April 14, 2019 at 12:19 am

    Go ahead and recline. Your seat just might accidentally get bumped vigorously if I get up, some knees in the back and tray table slammed into your back tho. Sorry:)

  32. Churnman

    April 14, 2019 at 8:55 am

    I’m glad some are still young, haven’t suffered injuries or been working 2 jobs for 30 years. If you can handle 3 hours in a totally non-recline seat than fine. This is why I no longer fly unless I’m in business class or at the very least a better class of plane that has more comfortable seats. Those of us who’ve flown for decades know if we can recline the person behind usually can too unless they didn’t research or have the time to book a better seat. I’ll even re-route if I have to if the airline suddenly switches metal and to seats that are unacceptable. Sure, I’ve worked while flying and make accommodations for the person in front of me who may suddenly recline fast. Experience brings about understanding and empathy. There will be more disabled flying and we should remember not every body is the same. I’m athletic build, not large, BMI in proper range and people can look at me like I don’t have any problems. We’re all just human and this article that originated from someone either shows the person is stirring the pot for hits (I’m in advertising so I get it), or just lack of experience in life. If an airline gets rid of anymore recline no matter the cabin, I won’t travel with them anymore. I can communicate via the web anyhow and traveled enough for pleasure, so can choose. Do they want us traveling more by boat or train, fine. Up to the airlines if they want to survive financially. Maybe we’ll become more and more of the discount traveler and the discerning traveler and pick that specific airline. BTW, I never recline fast because I am considerate of the person behind me. Consideration of each other is important in this me-me world. God help us.

  33. TheRealBabushka

    April 14, 2019 at 3:43 pm

    Who died and left Abbey Gingras in-charge? 🤷‍♂️

  34. Airrage

    Airrage

    April 15, 2019 at 4:57 am

    No excuse for reclining your seat. None. But if you do I don’t want to hear squat about my knees shaking your seat, etc. You’ve left me no room.

  35. SpartyAir

    April 15, 2019 at 7:04 am

    To the people who say if you don’t like the person in front of you reclining, then don’t fly: I say to you if you are uncomfortable not reclining then you don’t fly!

    More power to you Abbey Gingras.

    It would make sense for the airlines to add a no recline section in the plane, then everyone would be happy.

  36. c502cid

    April 15, 2019 at 12:47 pm

    No problem at all with people reclining. After all the seat reclines, why shouldn’t you take advantage of it? Of course I hope you don’t mind when my air nozzle blows on your head, I use your seat to get up and down, I open and close my tray table many times a flight. And if I’m lucky enough to have a touch screen entertainment monitor in the headrest…oh boy!

    Seriously, if you recline your seat all the way, at least have the courtesy to know that someone is behind you. I may grab your seat back because that’s the only way I can get out of the seat into the aisle when you are fully reclined. If you get up, or lean forward for an hour to work on your computer, please pull the seat up. And please, if it’s meal time, the extra 2″ does make a difference on my end. Recline away, just know I may, although I really do try not to, bump into your space if you are reclined.

  37. BRITINJAPAN4

    April 17, 2019 at 12:40 am

    if you recline your legroom is not any larger, and the legroom of the person behind is no smaller.

    If we do accept reclining is a problem, then it seems the logic that on a short flight we should not do it but on a long flight where the problem will be even greater, then its OK,

    Has she actually flown or just written about flying ?

  38. sar7cee

    April 17, 2019 at 4:19 am

    One advantage of using Ryanair and easyJet is that their seats don’t recline.

  39. BMGRAHAM

    April 17, 2019 at 5:31 am

    There is a simple remedy that works for me. I recline my seat too when the person in front does so if it takes away space I need. If you don’t like it, sit behind an exit row or in the bulkhead row.

    Delta is experimenting with limiting recline.

  40. KRSW

    April 17, 2019 at 5:44 am

    If you don’t wish for the seat in front of you to be reclined, book behind an exit row or on an airline which doesn’t have reclining seats. Simple.

  41. amex007

    April 17, 2019 at 5:53 am

    Abbey needs to invent her own airline with no reclining seats and charge accordingly for the ‘benefit’ she is offering.

    If my paid for seat with my hard earned dollars permits recline, then I shall fo so… even if it’s a 30 minute flight…

  42. icenyne

    April 17, 2019 at 6:07 am

    Doesn’t matter your position on the matter – Delta will take care of this for you very soon.

  43. Mike Rivers

    April 17, 2019 at 6:25 am

    You haven’t purchased “a seat that reclines.” You’ve purchased space on a flight. Who ever said that your seat has to recline?

    Of course reclining seat backs have been a standard part of aircraft seat design since as long as I can remember, but if the airline can cut our “space box” by moving seats closer together, why don’t they recognize – and compensate for – the fact that seat recline now takes up a greater portion of that “box?” It’s just plain (plane) geometry, folks.

    When air travel was a luxury, sure, we deserved the lounge chair treatment. Things are different in the peanut gallery now.

  44. kc1174

    April 17, 2019 at 6:26 am

    When the reclined seat encroaches on my space to the point I can’t see the IFE, can’t use the tray table for a drink, can’t get out of my seat to go to the lav.
    The point of this article I think is to make people think more about fellow passengers. Judging by the comments “I paid for it, how dare she tell me what to do…” blah blah, those pax are just a holes – the kind who I’ll happily knee the back of and climb all over their seat to get out to use the bathroom.

  45. PTK346

    April 17, 2019 at 7:14 am

    I’m with Abby. I too could leave a long screed about all that sucks about air travel, but that’s not the larger point imho. A little consideration toward fellow passengers, especially on shorter flights, could go a long way toward easing our collective inner air rage. As most of the comments here and everyday experience show, though, I’m living in a pipe dream …

  46. gre

    April 17, 2019 at 7:24 am

    Or do as I do; breathe down on the top of the recliner’s head.

  47. nycexpat

    April 17, 2019 at 7:40 am

    I’m tall — 6’2″ and as I age, getting wider. I loathe people who recline into the far-too-small space airlines sell twice over, to me and to you. The best I can do is hoard my FF miles and try never to fly in any situation less than business.

  48. zitsky

    April 17, 2019 at 8:06 am

    I am amused by the 5 year olds on this thread… “I’m going to shake the seat in front as much as I want!”

  49. mikem004

    April 17, 2019 at 8:26 am

    A gentleman should never recline.

  50. TexasFlyer1248

    April 17, 2019 at 8:35 am

    Gingras is wrong, and her rant makes her look like an inexperienced flyer. Reclining your seat back makes it a LOT more comfortable. Most of my flights are about 3 hours, give or take. I’d sooner shoot myself than sit hunched over for 3 hours in a seat I can’t recline.

  51. nyc2socal

    April 17, 2019 at 9:23 am

    Reclining seats don’t bother me.. What does bother me is the people that recline without notice and with such force that it spills any drink I have on the tray or crush my laptop screen. Just a common courtesy of doing a look back and make aware.

  52. canyonleo

    canyonleo

    April 17, 2019 at 9:39 am

    You can choose to recline, but I’ll choose to bump your seat about once per minute to adjust my folded leg, get up to use the lav or get in my backpack in the overhead, etc… you won’t be getting any sleep if you’re reclined into my pitch.

  53. emcampbe

    April 17, 2019 at 9:48 am

    I’m confused – does reclining makes a difference or not? In one place, it’s suggested that reclining doesn’t make a difference in comfort, while also saying that if it’s a long flight, recline away. If it doesn’t actually make a difference, why should folks recline away.

    A couple of points:
    – if you think recline is bad in the US, go to Asia, and fly, say, Thai. The seat reclines much farther back. You’ll barely even notice a recline after coming back.
    – if you don’t want someone to recline, then there are seat options for you. On legacies, behind non-reclining exit row seats, or in the bulkhead. Or fly Spirit, where seats don’t recline (oh…excuse me, they are ‘pre-reclined’.
    – airlines installed seats with recline so passengers can actually do that – they would install it without if they don’t want you to (as some airlines, have).

    By the way, I generally don’t recline. I agree that folks can follow some ‘recline etiquette’, but as the article proves, those who don’t recline could follow some of this, too n

  54. AEROJ

    April 17, 2019 at 10:49 am

    The flood of support for Right-to-Recilne in the comments is exactly why I always fly first/biz, never economy. Leave you selfish, arrogant, mannerless proles to fight over a few inches.

  55. Gilthoniel4

    April 17, 2019 at 12:00 pm

    While I agree that passengers should be thoughtful of the people in front of and behind them, I disagree that the small available recline will make no difference. I can say from experience that a small recline can make all the difference between four hours of discomfort and the ability to tolerate economy seating. I try to take note of what the passenger behind me is doing before I recline, but I do recline whenever I can. If the person is trying to use a larger laptop and needs to be able to read their screen, I’ll try not to recline too far. I try not to take the first exit row or the row in front of that one, because the do not recline at all. And, of course, the economy plus (or whatever your airline calls the slightly-more-leg-room-economy) seats help a bit, as they are farther apart. The new seats that slide forward as they recline are better as well.

  56. SayItAintSo

    April 17, 2019 at 12:12 pm

    Unwritten rule is not to recline during meal service, but apart from that it should be perfectly ok as some taller folks are extremely uncomfortable otherwise.

    I always let the person behind me know I am going to recline as a courtesy.

    My pet peeves : Over-talkers, ppl at the window who seem to need to run to the bathroom every 20 mins.. people who hop into the wrong seat and refuse to move when asked to do so.. kids gleefully kicking the back of your seat.. and last but not least.. people carrying 3 or 4 thousand bags who manage to whack you in the head with one or 2 of them while passing by your aisle seat.. of course parents with kids are excluded because I know your job is tough enough as it is! 🙂

  57. tracon

    April 17, 2019 at 2:11 pm

    Unless you’re sitting in row one, you’re paying for the seat in front of you to recline.
    Take it up with the merchant if you don’t like that.

  58. Alan Shanley

    April 17, 2019 at 2:16 pm

    It is very easy to say “Those extra three degrees of slope on your reclined seat back aren’t going to make you more comfortable” if you are short, not six feet tall, and don’t find your knees pressing against the back of the seat in front when sitting without reclining. In modern minimal seat pitch carriers I cannot get comfortable without reclining no matter how short the flight is. I do not recline during meal service and always warn the person behind me but I will continue to recline if the seat has that capability.

  59. Jackie_414

    April 17, 2019 at 3:51 pm

    Abbey, you are wronger than wrong. You should be advocating for larger seat pitch.

  60. CEB

    April 18, 2019 at 1:15 am

    Simply another immature rant by a self purported ‘Dear Abbey” wannabe.

    It’s really all about paying attention to what is going on around you and being sensitive to those you encounter.

    Like many others, no recline is extremely uncomfortable for my back after three surgeries, but I truly love flying and exploring the world. So I recline, but slowly and with at least some pre-check to make sure I’m not going to hit their computer screen if their on it.

    On the other hand, slam your seat back into me while I’m eating and you’ll get an earful about paying attention, but no you will definitely not get kneed in the back the rest of the flight! What would be the point?

    And if you want to regularly knee me in the back after I have slowly and courteously reclined, I’ll simply call the FA and get you reseated or disciplined. And I’ll have no qualms whatsoever about reporting you to the proper authorities upon landing if you become abusive.

    Frankly, I’ve very, very rarely had any sort of incident over these matters in more than 5MM miles of flying on multiple airlines around the world.

    So my response to Abbey is that she can stuff it and go find a job with some disreputable rag such as Vox or the National Enquirer!!

  61. kamalm

    April 19, 2019 at 10:36 am

    Abbey Gingras is completely wrong. Many of my shorthaul flights are connections from a longhaul flight. I carry my own pilllow. After travel time often exceeding 14-16 hours, the last flight may be a short haul flight. I may desperately need that 1-2 hours of sleep so as to be able to handle the last leg of my journey which is often a 1-2 hour train journey. Reclining on that short haul flight might be critical for my sleeping. I don’t ask, maybe I don’t even look behind. But I do recline slowly, so that the person seated behind is aware and can react appropriately. During mealtimes, I am happy to straighten the seat.

    If the person in front of me reclines on any flight, I recline my seat. I have absolutely no issue with the person in front of me reclining their seat.

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