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Why You’re A Jerk If You Recline Your Seat

Across the United States, one topic can divide coworkers, friends and even family members: do you have the right to recline your seat? or does putting your seat back into your neighbors’ space make you a passenger with bad manners? It depends on who you really think is to blame. So, consider the seat belt sign on, this can be a bumpy topic to discuss.

First Things First, Airlines Started It

Any conversation about reclining your seat has to start with a short rant about the continually-shrinking legroom in aircraft cabins. In economy, the new standard is around 30 inches of space between the back of one seat and the front of another. Although the aviation industry claims this is enough space to evacuate, there has not been an actual trial of this in an emergency situation.

The tight space is uncomfortable for most passengers–from those of a certain size to those who just don’t want to be caught in the tight space. It can get even worse if the passenger in front of you decides to rock their seat back, making a tight fit even tighter.

You Don’t Have the Right to Recline Your Seat 

Because seats are getting closer and closer together, even the smallest shift can create major problems for the flyer in front. This could range from a minor inconvenience while watching a movie, to making even the smallest of laptops inoperable. Famous consumer advocate Christopher Elliott recently penned an op-ed for USA Today claiming that passengers no longer have the right to recline their seats.

“Two domestic airlines already limit your ability to lean back in economy class,” he writes. “Even if the airline doesn’t make the decision for you, it’s the polite thing to do. And, most important, it’s the right thing to do.” According to Elliott, the ability to recline is just a trick to make passengers think airlines care about comfort. And the age-old adage “Sit back, relax and enjoy your flight” is an invitation to make your flight difficult for others, to, in layman’s terms, be a jerk.

A Short War Story

If you do recline your seat, you risk encountering passengers like the one that a FlyerTalker encountered on board a Cathay Pacific flight between Singapore and Hong Kong when “I reclined my seat about halfway.”

Round One: “Straight away I could feel the person behind me knocking into it, a few times. I ignored it and started watching a movie on the IES. The knocking went on for a while and while it was annoying it was tolerable.

Round Two: “Then the drinks service came and went. Shortly after, a [flight attendant] came up to me to ask me to put my seat up. I asked her why and she said it was because my seat was too close to the passenger’s face (a woman who was traveling with her child and husband). I was incredulous – the seat was not even fully down. I said no politely, and went on watching my movie.”

Round Three: “Another 5 minutes later, another FA came up to the guy next to me and asked him to put his seat up. He said no politely, and this time I asked the FA why the passengers behind us wanted us to put our seats up.

“At this point, the woman behind me shouted at me and said it was because her child (who was behind the guy next to me) was having her meal. She then said we were inconsiderate and rude! I bristled at her tone, and immediately faced her to say that if she only explained that the child was having her meal, we would have done so. The first time I was asked, the reason given was that the seat was too close to her face! (which I think was a silly reason of course).

“At this, she started yelling at me and saying how rude and crazy I was, and told me that I should take business class instead of economy?!”

The Battle Continues: “I ignored her but put my seat up so that she could have more space to feed her child. The guy next to me also put his seat up but did not look pleased. Worse of all, the woman behind kept muttering I was crazy and inconsiderate… at this point, my neighbour turned around, told her to shut up and asked ‘Is this your first time on a plane or what?!’

OK, So Who’s the Jerk in That Situation?

Is the jerk the mom who is struggling to take care of her child in a tense and uncomfortable situtation? Or the FlyerTalker who’s just trying to defend one of the last ways he’s still allowed to make his flight a little more comfortable? Well, author Kastalia Medrano’s counter-opinion in Thrillist brought up a third candidate for the jerk: the airlines.

“If you have no extenuating circumstances in the realm of back problems or physical size, I truly believe your best option is to recognize that we’re all uncomfortable and that we all will, in a couple of hours, be less uncomfortable,” she writes in her opinion piece. “And that therefore maybe your Outrage firepower is best focused on other things. Like calling Congress.” Which seems much better than letting the airline make you feel bad for a problem they created.

So, instead of taking it out on one another and playing “who’s the jerk?” in a situation that’s uncomfortable for everyone, it’s time to pay more attention to legislation designed to make flying in economy less of an uncomfortable (and potentially dangerous) proposition for all.


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Comments are Closed.
jpschoubert December 10, 2019

Why I don't fly commercial any more...jk Also over the years it has always worked if you dont want the person in front to recline, just say once boarded, "hey can you do me a favor and if you do recline just to let me know, I will be on my laptop"..Very high rate of success that they do not recline. You've also engaged them in a cordial dialogue should they recline during the meal, you can ask them to pull back up. And if this does not work, you always have the Knee Defender!!

Tailgater December 7, 2019

I wish seat reclines were not even available. It’s already cramped in economy without person in front wanting to recline the seat in front so that the screen is practically in your face. I prefer sitting up while I read, watch entertainment. Even when the person in front of me reclines, I won’t subsequently recline my seat since I know that MANY feel the same way. Reminds me of the people who will stand the entire time, say, during a concert. Consequently, persons in rows behind now have obstructed view unless they, too, now stand as well which precludes the whole idea of even having seating for the event. But, there's really no solution re the airline configuration. At least, by me not reclining even though person in front is doing it, I am being the most courteous one since I'm affording the person in back of me maximum seat area space, especially if reclining in the seat behind me while my seat is not. What is particularly disturbing is when person in front doesn't even return the seat to upright during meal service. That just shows the person is now being discourteous and or maybe just ignorant. . Leave a Reply

Tailgater December 7, 2019

I wish seat reclines were not even available. It's already cramped in economy without person in front wanting to recline the seat in front so that the screen is practically in your face. I prefer sitting up while I read, watch entertainment. Even when the person in front of me reclines, I won't subsequently recline my seat since I know that MANY

Fizzer December 3, 2019

All the folks who say if the seat ahead reclines just recline out of the way have forgotten that the back row seats cannot do so as the bulkhead behind prevents it. If you recline that you are at the very least inconsiderate of others AKA a jerk.

IsleSeat December 1, 2019

we are living in an entitlement based society it seems