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Travel Do or Don’t: Reclining your seat on an airplane

Is reclining your seat on an airplane a do or don’t?

Reclining seats have been a human-comfort controversy just waiting to happen.I tend to lean (puns!) toward the don’t camp. So, I jotted down a few of my own deep thoughts on the subject.

1. Redirection.

All those silent prayers that you say hoping that the person in front of you does not recline their seat could really be used for better purposes.

2. Boundaries.

Who owns the property lines in the airline seat scenario? Technically, the recliner in front of you is in your airspace. Is that OK?  You paid for that space. You’d have to recline to get it back, and that just causes more unhappiness.

3. Cause and Effect.

Reclining seats are the REAL reason alcohol is served on an airplane. Virtually everyone knows its a bad idea, but just one drink makes it easier to fly with a stranger in your lap.

4. Karma.

All you tall men out there, for once you have a disadvantage in life! I’ve heard that tall men are perceived to have higher IQ’s, are likely to be paid more, have more women interested in them. Short people like me don’t feel your pain!

5. It could be worse.

At least they still don’t allow cell phone calls on planes. I think I would rather have my knees caved-in than listen to the woman in 34D’s crazy wedding shower and bachelorette party details for over an hour.

What are your thoughts about seats reclining (so far) on airplanes?

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This Post Has 26 Comments

  1. As you wrote, it’s been a controversy waiting to happen. I strongly dislike reclining airline seats and with the already cramped space, they should do away with them. New plane designs, have even less space in order to fit more seats.

  2. I have to say I HATE when the person in front of me reclines and I never do it unless the seat behind me is empty, but unless they make seats that don’t recline I guess people have the right to do it. What really makes me angey is when someone reclines and then sits up in their seat

  3. I never recline. I never perceive it as that great a benefit, certainly not worth making someone behind me uncomfortable.

  4. I’ve had 2 back surgeries and 3 spinal injections in the last 18 months. Reclining my seat is the only way I can fly in relative comfort. If you aren’t supposed to recline, why are there reclining seats?

  5. I think on short flights (up to 4hrs) there should be no reclining. On long haul, I think there should be designated times when you can reline the seats. One of the problems I have is when people in the row in front of me recline their seat as soon as they get on the plane and settle down to sleep, then the food service comes around and I can´t move. I would love the knee defender gadget

  6. I use my knees or hand to prevent the person in fron of reclining. I have recieved dirty looks . One guy complained to the crew and yelled at us if we wanted comfort to pay for first class. I had my nonalchoholic drinks spilled all over me when the person in front reclined. So much fun flying with wet clothes and wett seat ..

    Do not recline its creates more discomfort in the cattle car section in order to vet my space back I have to make the person behind me uncomfortable not right..

    Airlines start making more comfortable seats and no more seats that recline.

  7. I think it’s a combination of causes. The airlines have reduced space to such an extent that I’m surprised there aren’t more fights. I don’t recline my seat on a flight out of deference to the poor traveler seated behind me. I wish that the person seated in front of me would show the same consideration, but that’s on me. I can’t change my reality, only how I react to it.

  8. This issue wasn’t nearly so emotional or frequent prior to the airlines’ reducing economy seat pitch to the range of 29-31 inches. If you travel frequently and you’re 6 feet plus (male or female), anything less than 32 inches of pitch on a long flight is agony even if the person in front of you does not recline. And of course, forget using the tray table in the seat back. The airlines might as well get rid of them. (Maybe that’s next.)

    Top-tier frequent flyers are not immune. If you change your flight at the last minute, you may find that there are no seats available in either first class or the premium/favored economy sections.

  9. It’s really like the airlines have double-sold the reclining/knee space- it somewhat belongs to both the recliner and the person seated behind. If the seats recline, then people are are within their rights to take advantage- but it certainly does infringe on the comfort of the person behind.

    Personally, I don’t recline. I’d rather be uncomfortable than have the person behind me silently (or not-so-silently) resenting me for hours.

  10. Sure, some people who recline their seats are being jerks, but some people ~need~ to recline because of back problems or other physical disabilities that aren’t visible to other passengers. Keep that in mind next time you think about confronting a fellow passenger.

    The real issue isn’t whether or not seats should recline, or if reclining is rude. It’s about the airlines deliberately creating this situation — by making seats narrower and rows closer together, and by cutting the number of flights and dropping routes, so practically every seat on every flight is occupied — and forcing their flight crews to deal with the fallout from those terrible business choices. But, you know, whatever maximizes profits, right?

  11. Common courtesy seems to be in short supply during air travel lately and I believe it’s because of the uncomfortable positions the airlines put people through for long periods of time. No room in the seats (particularly for leg flexing) and aisles so narrow that two people cannot pass each other on the way to the restroom. I never recline because the person behind me may be tall, reading, working on the computer, or just doesn’t want me in his/her face. I have terribly arthritic knees which cause me much pain and would love to stretch my legs, but my comfort may cause discomfort for someone else. We pay for those cheap flights, folks; nothing will change unless we demand it with our patronage (or lack of it).

  12. I’m 6’5″. Invariably the person in front of me is shorter and reclines. When the seat hits my knees, most often they bounce and push back harder. I actually had an older woman get on her knees in the seat facing me and bounce. When I told her what she was doing to my knees, she said I should cut my legs off. I’m am so tired of inconsiderate people who’s comfort is more important than causing pain to someone else. Even when I say something, they don’t care.

    And as far as the advantages of being tall, they include uncomfortable cars, choosing clothes that fit.based on what comes closest, short doorways, glares from people in the movies and theatre, and let’s not mention movie and theatre seats designed for people 5’10” and below. I haven’t any of the advantages you mentioned, but I live in the hope.

    Sorry Samantha, I kinda wigged out there.

  13. Have you seen the newest tray”tables” on Frontier Airlines??? Since the only free thing they offer is water – ask for ice – it seems you only need a 4 inch flipdown shelf. You cannot even fit your Coke bottle, purchased prior to boarding, because it’s too tall. And they’ve hidden that magic button, for reclining your seatback an inch, somewhere under the seat where magic gymnastic moves are required in order to reach it!!!
    Have Jennifer Aniston try flying on those planes.

    1. I flew Frontier for the first time to Mexico. Horrible airline in the comfort venue. I agree, the strap you to a LAWN CHAIR, the cheep multi-colored one you take to the beach with the fake recline button. Then the airline attendant says to put your chairs in the upright position, while fully aware that the chairs don’t perform that function. Incredible! Although the reclining thing is an issue the airlines created for profits which is beening address in the new passengers bill of right. I have back issues to and the reclination is need to release pressure on my bulging discs.

  14. I agree that reclining is bad manners. If everyone could recline, then it would be fine, but certain exit rows and very back seats cannot recline. Some planes the seats sit so upright, I feel they do need to recline an inch or two just to be comfortable. Why can’t the airlines set the seats at an acceptable, safe pitch so there is no need to recline?

  15. I have always had issues with people reclining too far in front of me or anywhere in the aisle in front of me. It makes it difficult to stand up and to exit an aisle. As companies have packed more and more people on planes in smaller and smaller spaces, reclining seats had become a bigger issue. It has now been worsened when companies add individual video screens on the back of seats. Now, when the person ahead of me fully reclines the screen is too close and I find it uncomfortable to watch. It seems to be that whenever a company puts a video screen on the back of seats, the amount of recline needs to be limited. In fact, the amount of recline needs to be limited in all seats. That way people with back issues can have some relief.

  16. A few years ago when sitting in an aisle seat in a block of 5 across, a young woman put her seat back in front of me as soon as she was able to.Both rows only had people sitting in the aisle seats so there were 3 empty seats in each row,so I asked her to use one of the empty seats where it wouldn’t affect me.Very huffily, after suggesting that I move,she moved over one seat,then was upset that I could see what she was doing, after fully reclining her new seat.
    Later,when I stood up,her seat was fully reclined still,but, she was now lying across three seats.
    All it takes is a little courtesy and thinking of others,if it had been a full flight,I would have to accept it,but,not on a flight where there were plenty of spare seats.

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Travel Do or Don't: Reclining your seat on an airplane
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