A Belle's View on Reclining Your Airplane Seat

 One Travel Belle’s View:

Is it ever appropriate to recline one’s seat during air travel?

 

Even though your average Travel Belle is generally smaller than her Travel Beau counterparts, physically speaking (I personally am 5’4″), when it comes to a The Great Seat Back Debate this small belle has a big opinion.

A Belle's View on Reclining Your Airplane Seat travel tips for women air travel tips

The questions revolve around whether or not anyone should recline their airline seats. Who is and who isn’t entitled to more airline legroom? How much space are we really talking about here anyway? The discussion of whether to recline or not  has reached new heights over what is considered “correct” at 35,000 feet.

The subject and the intense feelings surrounding it come as no surprise. I was on the front lines of this battle several weeks ago on both legs of round-trip air travel from Charlotte to Rome. Both were unequivocally the most uncomfortable, potentially volatile overseas flights I had ever been on. Why? Because of the escalation of seat wars.

What I take issue with are blanket assertions made about what is “rude,” “common sense,” “totally fine,” or “my right.” Humanity on any given airplane  is wildly diverse; we are different people with different backgrounds and different perspectives.  The fact is that whenever things are totally arbitrary, it is only natural for humans to arbitrate. Besides there  is nothing natural or easy about being bivouacked together in a metal tube hurling 600 miles per hour through the atmosphere.

After giving this a lot of thought my solution is quite simple:

At any given time in coach class, either all passengers should be required to recline, or no passengers should be allowed to recline.

On the surface use of a reclining mechanism in an airplane seat, appears to be a kind gesture by the airline industry, a reassuring nod to comfort, as if to say, “We care about you!” But I seriously doubt there are many of us left who buy into that.

How I see it is that the fact that seats can be reclined at will is shirking responsibility from airlines to passenger, and  extremely unfair to fliers of all shapes and sizes, and I would guess to the flight attendants who attend to them.

Setting up Camp: Charlotte to Rome

I watched as the couple who were going to be seated directly in front of me for the duration of the ten hour flight came aboard the plane and settled in. Upon spotting me, they looked  very glad to see me. He, a western European gentleman with an easy smile was affable, his expression,  practically jubilant; his wife, who  glanced towards me as he continued to stuff their carry-ons in the overhead compartment, was perceptibly relieved. Naively I thought perhaps I knew them, or maybe I reminded them of somebody.

While I was still thinking how friendly they were, he reclined his seat back as far as it would go. Yes, the one person in the entire cabin who had to be asked to put his seat up by the flight attendant before take off, was right in front of me. (I bet he’s always in front of you too, right?) This perpetrator just happened to have salt and pepper hair and a nice smile. Sure enough as soon as we were airborne, he once again put his seat back as far as it would go.

Trouble on the Right Flank

At this point I was more aware of the family of four who were sitting next to me in three seats, one of whom was a baby of the kind who can walk,  who isn’t really a baby at all except by airline standards. She, adorable, but wiggly and tense sitting on her mother’s lap, was working her way into a frenzied shrieking festival that would be sustained with only occasional intermissions for the duration of the flight.

It turned out that the reclined seat in front of me and the screaming toddler who wasn’t being allowed to toddle, were only the beginning of my problems. The couple whom I will refer to as the duo of  darkness (I never would get a look at the man seated directly behind me) for the remainder of this story, had slithered in unnoticed.

Surprise attack from the Southern Front

Mealtime, where we all ate like little T-rexes, elbows pressed in at our chests, with insubstantial cutlery, came and went.  I removed my contact lenses, took a sleeping pill, setting out to endure along with 400 or so of my new closest friends, our flight into darkness over the Atlantic. I wrapped myself in a blanket, and…  I admit it, I reclined.

Just as I had closed my eyes waiting for the haze of the sleeping pill to overtake me, an index finger with a bone to pick, darted through the vulnerable space between the seats that I had opened up in my reclination.  The entity poked me, fast and with all the brute strength a good finger poking can have.

Startled, I sat up. Because of the presumption and intimacy of a poke styled in such a fashion, my first thought was that it was a family member and something must be really wrong. I then followed the line of fire, angling my head to look back  behind me. It was there that I met the steely glare and scrunched up face of the designated finger poker, the female half of the dark duo.

Without trace of politesse or even any voice, she mouthed, “PUT YOUR SEAT UP,” gesturing with several upward kicky motions with the palm of her hand that was home to the finger. She looked at me as if she were the one with every right to be the stunned one between us, as if I have committed a heinous crime against humanity and her kinfolk, or butted in front of her in the line at WalMart.

This is where I made the decision to avoid taking a path that could land the entire plane full of people at the nearest airport, and me and the dark duo on the national news. Nope, I knew the only right thing to do was to let go of any feelings of air rage and suck it up.

In other words like the  good polite solid citizen wimp a** I am, I obeyed. I put my seat up.

Unfortunately the familiar feelings of shame, and just wanting everything to be ok that initially flooded me, lingered, apparently taking the  form of some kind of adrenaline. I say this  because in spite of the sleeping pill,  I would not fall asleep until 7 hours or so later, just seconds before the plane’s landing gear went down.

What is wrong with this picture? From this female’s perspective, everything. If you want to debate the iniquities in our culture based on sex, size and appearances, I have a list as long as my arm, probably even as long as your arm too.

It’s not that I don’t have sympathy for how ridiculous and uncomfortable it must be for a tall person to sit comfortably in coach class for a long flight. But what about my comfort and basic rights, and those of the many others on any given flight of whom none of us know their real stories of bad backs, necks and who knows what other issues?

The Western Front, aka:the flight home

Two days before leaving Italy to fly home, I injured myself on a curb while visiting Verona. I was on crutches, but my fellow passengers couldn’t see this as they filled in the seats around us for the marathon flight.  Even if they had, I’m not convinced very many would care. (But based on experience I know a few of them would have.) After my injury I contacted the airline and had tried to no avail to switch to a more comfortable seat, such as one in the bulkhead.

This flight was only slightly better than the first, as far as seat wars. It lacked the factor of physical intimidation, and instead of sitting in a middle row with a screaming baby who wasn’t a baby at all by anyone’s standards except the airlines, I was in a window seat next to my own daughter.

Neither of us were able to recline at all, our seats were both physically immovable. I’m pretty sure this was due to the fact that  the uber prepared travelers behind us had invested in some “knee weaponry” to defend their legroom, such as Gadget Duck’s Knee Defender.

For the airlines to not have clear rules for this reclining seat back business ignores a big responsibility. As long as people who fly have different ideas about these things – which will be forever  - passing the problem along to air passengers to arbitrate among themselves is a losing and risky proposition.  What’s left of today’s friendly skies does not need to contend with being what amounts to an unsupervised flying preschool, a form of social Darwinism.

Cease Fire: A few ideas

If it’s that unreasonable for a tall person to sit in one of the “less premium” airline seats, there should be a more reasonably priced alternative to offering them the option to buy a business or first class ticket. A good start would be making all those new “premium economy” seats available for a reasonable charge available first to people with real legroom or other health challenges.

Or how about the airlines come up with some hard and fast rules, about when it is required to “put your seat in the upright position,” and especially  in the case of long flights, when it is required to recline. No finger poking allowed, or even encouraged.

What are your thoughts on the battle over airline legroom? Is it right or rude to recline airline seats?

A Belle's View on Reclining Your Airplane Seat travel tips for women air travel tips
Margo Millure currently lives on the South Carolina coast. She is a writer/photographer, builder of Genesis websites and the founder of Travel Belles. She also runs http://www.HerMyrtleBeach.com and her writing and website building business site is http://www.BelleWriter.com
A Belle's View on Reclining Your Airplane Seat travel tips for women air travel tips

@gomarwrites

Writer, editor, website maker, content strategy. Empty-nesting, yin & yang. Travel & labradoodle lover. Also @travelbelles @hermyrtlebeach.
@andrewghayes thankfully, yes! It's this meandering middle that's making be testy. - 1 day ago
A Belle's View on Reclining Your Airplane Seat travel tips for women air travel tips

Comments

  1. says

    Having worked for an airline for almost 8 years, I had the opportunity to see or hear about many passengers behaving badly. For some reason whenever you shut 100-400 people in a metal tube and fly through the air a good number of them automatically loose the majority of any maturity they possessed while still on terra firma. Since I was a pilot I only saw a portion of this behavior first hand. However, I remember flight attendants coming up to the cockpit to relate whatever incident that had just occurred and the similar thoughts ran through my mind every time – “Really?” or “Please tell me the passengers involved are not adults?” (In most cases they were…) Sigh.

    So, my point? I think air travel would be a lot more pleasant if we went back to the glamour days of aviation – the 1950s where it was a privilege to fly and people dressed up in their best clothing and behavior to do so. But, since that will probably never happen – instead I would suggest that everyone treat their fellow passengers around them as they would like to be treated – just like you should do when you are on the ground!

  2. says

    Great piece! It truly is the ultimate dilemma on a plane. It’s really hard when you are flying on business, need to churn out work on your laptop and the person in front comes back so far with the seat that you can’t stand the laptop up and see it properly. It’s happened to me many times. But the lady poking you is unbelievable. How rude? She could have just asked…

  3. Margo Millure says

    I haven’t flown in business class overseas in over 15 years and hadn’t focused on the whole seat thing being an issue there as well. I couldn’t believe the poker either — it was totally outrageous and there was nothing I could do short of starting a big brouhaha. And yes, if she had asked, I would have gladly accommodated.

  4. says

    When the person in front of me puts their seat back, it’s not that bad when my seat is back as well. And I’ve just kinda accepted that this is a plight of any flyer that’s not going anywhere. I have had to be extra attentive when my laptop is open – sometimes they person thrusts their seat back so fast it catches on my laptop and I’m afraid it could snap. That taught me to slowly ease my seat back so the person behind me is not so startled and has time to move anything that might be in harms way.

    Quite frankly I hate the seat being up; it’s so uncomfortable! If it were my airline, everyone would be able to recline 100% without getting in anyone else’s space and could peacefully nap before heading back to the “Refreshment Cabin” where flyers could enjoy complimentary paraffin wax treatments, massages and aroma therapy. But I’m still working on that… :)

  5. says

    The Knee Defender is not allowed to be used on planes. If that’s being used, or you suspect that it is, bring it to the attention of a flight attendant. (This applies to US carriers, I can’t speak to foreign carriers.) On some aircraft the seat(s) in front of an exit row may not recline.

    The airline position is clear: You are permitted to recline your seat once in the air. If you are unable to do so because of the person behind you, simply notify a flight attendant and they will advise the pokee to stop poking.

    The good manners position is less clear and subject to what each person considers good manners. On overnight flights, I recline. If the person behind complains (has happened, but only rarely) I try to deal with it politely and quietly, but if I see the person is going to cause a scene I will notify the flight attendant. And I desperately try to scrounge up miles, points, and a schedule that will let me upgrade to business.

  6. Margo Millure says

    thanks, Mary Jo! I was hoping you’d pop in… I was kind of surprised when I read that the knee defender was allowed by the FAA — but that according to their own website! In general it just seems that more so than in the past, passengers regard each other as enemies and resort to extremely rude and testy behavior. Flight attendants have to be so patient! I’d love to hear some of your stories about dealing with various situations.

  7. says

    Stephanie, The laptops are an issue .. and from what one person told me, so is access to the new outlets that are installed on some planes — you can only get to them if the seat in front of you isn’t reclined, maybe? Not sure. Let us all know when you need some beta testers for that little venture! :)

  8. says

    Despite what they may claim on their website, they are NOT allowed on any US carrier (that I am aware of). Regulations prohibit attaching anything to an aircraft, and that means seat, air vent (that’s another popular one that people think they can use), seat, headrest, etc.

    On long flights I do recline my seat, but never during the meal service and I always look behind me and recline slowly. On shorter flights I’m usually working, so I keep my seat back up as it gives me better posture and support for working.

    Of course much of this could be resolved with a willingness for passengers to pay for more airfare. But the public has spoken loud and clear that they didn’t want to pay for all those unnecessary things that they never used (i.e., food, checked bags, etc.). So airlines put a price tag on all those things and kept prices low my charging for things a la carte and cramming more people into a metal tube. We all got what we wanted – cheap flying – but we gave up an awful lot to get it. Of course many of the airlines still can’t seem to make a profit but that’s a story for another day.

  9. Jaime says

    I, too, just flew back from Rome to Toronto. Thankfully I was not seated in front of quite possibly the most inconsiderate flier of all time. I have an incredibly had time flying. Pills that would knock me out for half the day on the ground do nothing for me in the air no matter how many I take. Many times I feel nauseous and very restless. If I couldn’t recline my seat whenever I need to my fellow passengers would have to deal with puke and retching noises, which I think is worse that a reclined seat. Also, I’m not a very tall person, only five foot, but from what I can tell airplane seats don’t even recline very far. The only instances I can find where someone should not feel bad about asking someone to put their seat up is if they have a baby or toddler in their lap, or if they have a leg injury that is being effected. I agree with you that airlines should have options for taller people who would be uncomfortable in such a small place anyways. Flights are going to be uncomfortable, you cannot deny that, so if someone wants to recline their seat to make their flight endurable then they should be able to with no hassle.

  10. says

    Hysterical.

    I think they should disable all seat reclining. If people can’t be civil, then take the option away, and if you want it back, pay for the privileged by upgrading to a cabin that allows plenty of room for seat recline sans-issue.

    Signed,

    A Tall Person Who Flies Business Class Whenever Possible

  11. Margo Millure says

    Yes, flying can be pretty uncomfortable for everybody, some more so than others. I’ve always envied my husband who has been known to fall asleep before take off and wake upon landing with all kinds of mayhem going on all around him! :)

  12. Margo Millure says

    we do get what we pay for in a lot ways… and it does seem to be difficult to make a profit in this business.

  13. says

    I only recline the seat fully when it’s an overnight flight, like Ayngelina. However, if you want to take it a step further there is this little gadget you can buy via the SkyMiles Mag (for example, I’m sure you’ll find it in Ebay too) that actually blocks a seat and will not let it recline. Ha!

  14. says

    The seats are made to recline, so it is your right to recline as long as it isn’t during takeoff and landing when they make an announcement to put your seats in their upright position.

    I really get annoyed if the person in front of me reclines his (yes, it is usually a man doing this) seat before take-off knowing damn well the flight attendant will go around and ask him to put it back up.

  15. says

    Of course you have the right to recline. I live in Australia and flying anywhere abroad is a long haul flight! I think people shouldn’t recline when food and drink are served otherwise, when you’re packed like sardines for many hours you have to make yourself comfortable!

  16. says

    I hate being on planes. I’m not afraid of them, but I just find it so uncomfortable being so close to others and I get stiff etc. I’m usually never on a plane for less than 5 hours… I love buses though for long trips. I would rather be on a overnight 10 hour bus ride than a 3 hour flight. Usually no one sites beside you and there’s so much more space, I sleep easier and can look out the window at interesting stuff on the street…

  17. Margo Millure says

    In jest I’ve said before that maybe we should be mildly etherized for the duration of long flights :)

  18. says

    Planes, I have decided, should be built like Argentinian buses. There would be slightly fewer seats, but not many. The Argentinians have done some clever maths and figured out the optimum angles for seat reclining to allow you to sleep comfortably. Someone reclining their seat on one of these buses doesn’t interfere too much with your personal space and it’s a far more comfortable ride than any long-haul economy-class plane journey.

    I can’t believe someone actually poked you and told you to put your seat up! That is sheer rudeness. I poked a guy yesterday, but that’s only because he ended up practically sitting on me during an overnight (non-Argentinian) bus journey. He told me I was behaving like as child. I guess some people are just nightmares on any form of transport!

  19. says

    This post angered me … I’m not a fan of anyone putting reclining their seat into my space, but still. I do it. No one should have the power to tell me I can’t do it. My thought is this — we PAY to fly. Therefore, the only person who should dictate rules to us are the airlines who take our money. My big problem with what you wrote is that the woman behind you TOLD you to put your seat back. She didn’t have a conversation with you, saying anything, she just instructed you to do so. I think its kind of like being stuck between a rock and a hard place. Sure, you don’t want to upset anyone, but still. You both paid to fly. You paid for the seat, which includes it reclining the inch or so it does. My comfort is just as important as theirs. I would NEVER tell anyone to move their seat up because it bothers me. Especially on a long flight. Its par for the course in my mind. I don’t always recline … most times I am actually more comfortable sitting straight up and sinking low into my seat, then lounging back a few. But, for the times I DO want to sit back a little, especially on overnight flights, etc., if some pointy finger poked me through that narrow space between the seats and told me to put my seat up, I would smile sweetly and explain to them I am not going to put the seat up at that moment. And perhaps, very nicely, suggest switching seats with another passenger or something.

  20. says

    Everything about that flight kind of caught me off guard. It truly felt like total chaos — it was one of those times when I thought of 100 ways that a pokee should respond to an out-of-line poker, starting around 5 minutes after I was poked!

  21. Bobbi Lerman says

    I think every person I know has a stuck in the plane horror story, however I think your lady poking is over the top!
    You were far nicer than I would have been.
    In my opinion it get worse each year with the airlines trying to squeeze as many people onto the plane as possible.so that we all feel like sardines in a can, a very small can.
    I recline, but, I let the person know behind me so that if they do have a lap top or a child on their lap they have some warning. The fact is some people are courteous and some are…choose applicable word of your choice.

  22. says

    Hi Bobbie! I wasn’t feeling very nice in my head! It does seem as if this issue, without some kind of “laying down the law” is going to keep on getting worse, doesn’t it? Thanks for chiming in!

  23. says

    I would have to agree that the woman poking you, and then gesturing at you like a scolding mother to a child was quite rude. I would also have to agree that I would most likely react EXACTLY the same way that you did. Being the middle child in the family I always went for with the ‘peacekeeping’ approach. I do not like conflict, or upsetting people. I would rather be uncomfortable then have someone burning holes in the back of my seat with their disgusted stares. On my last flight from Germany to California I turned back to notice a very tall man sitting behind me. I immediately let out a quiet sigh and thought to myself ‘Oh well”. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to recline on this 12 hour flight. The gentlemen’s knees were pressed firmly against the back of my chair and if I so much as leaned back I would be giving him an unwelcome lap dance. I am a tall girl (5’9), but I am also known for sitting like a contortionist in any chair. I’ve always been more comfortable in a fetal position so I can manage a long flight without reclining if necessary. I do remember at one point in the flight I was not finding a comfortable position and I looked back at the gentlemen as I eased my hand onto the recliner lever. I started to let the chair move back just slightly, and his face dropped. I immediately tried to correct this ‘unbelievable error” on my part, but was embarrassed when the chair decided it no longer would function correctly. This lead to a 2 minute conversation with the man about how I should talk to a flight attendant about my broken chair, while I continued to fumble with the lever. Fortunately, I was able to get my seat back up to almost is original position. At that point I decided not to touch it for the remainder of the trip.
    I would have to agree that there are some definite issues of entitlement among people…and they seem to leap out in the air. I worked in customer service for over ten years and know that people can be rather rude and can lose all the manners their grandmother taught them in an instant.
    I am not sure how the airlines can really fix this, but I think with the suffering economies around the world, raising prices is not the answer.

  24. Deborah says

    Margo ~ an excellent topic and very interesting to read all the variety of comments. The lack of room to lie down prone without paying for 1st class, (which don’t even have 100% reclined seats on all airlines), is a huge reason for me to question whether I can fly long distances anymore.

    That means going overseas is quite the consideration these days. My legs need to be elevated at heart’s level, and I go through all sorts of efforts to schmooze with the airline attendants to find me a group of empty three seats so I can lie down. Sometimes it works, but lately with the way airlines fill up their flights, it is rarer than ever before.

    I have spinal disc problems that pinch nerves to my legs and cause lots of numbness and pain, all at the same time. Blood clots are a real possibility. So I tell the person with whom I check in, that I have had back surgery recently (true) and need to lie down. I am very courteous and a bit pathetic and then I make myself known to the attendant in my area right away, when I get on the flight, after everyone is finally seated – that I am the passenger who needs three seats, if available. Often it is the case that the seats that back up to a partition, which don’t recline, are empty and I don’t care if they recline, since I am lying down after dinner.

    It made me chuckle about overriding a sleeping pill! I take the generic popular sleeping pill all the time and it is a wonder drug without side effects for me, but at times of great disturbance, I can manage to stay fully awake!

    If I can’t find three seats to lie down, then I must get a window seat. After, when I’ve eaten, gone to the toilet and read or watched the TV monitors for a while, I blow up neck pillows and feet rest pillows and pile up my foot space with my backpack etc. to get my legs elevated as much as possible, and then slowly recline the seat imperceptively and try to fall asleep. I must admit though, on my last flight home from Athens to Montana, it was 25 hours from pillar to post and I swore I’d never do that again. Never say never…the travel bug is itching again.

  25. Teresa says

    My husband and I have had to travel from Vancouver, Canada to Brisbane Australia quite a few times and we have had some pretty amazing experiences with extremely rude people!!! My husband can be something of a stubborn, not to be pushed (literally or figuratively) sort of guy.

    On one flight, coming home via Hong Kong, 2 hrs into the flight my hubby decided to recline his seat and have a rest. No sooner had he moved it back when the lady in the seat behind began hammering on the seat back. She was shoving it it seemed with all her might. My instant reaction was to beg him to quickly move back to the upright position. He, however, felt differently. He turned around and tried to talk to the lady but she wouldn’t look at him. He finally just said something about having paid and now he was going to sleep. Needless to say, that didn’t happen, because as it turns out, they were both equally stubborn. She kept banging and he kept refusing to move…. What a horrible flight. I do think he finally had a an air hostess step in but it was pretty aweful!

    And now we travel with kids too….

  26. says

    I’m very curious about WHY she told you to put your seat up. Was it just that she didn’t want you in “their” space? Or the guy had long legs? Or something got stuck under the seatback when it reclined?

    I’m generally not confrontational, but when I fly for work, I often have to be in the office the morning after an overnight economy flight. I’ve learned to sleep upright for takeoff and meal service, but as soon as meal service is cleared, I recline and the quality of sleep goes up enormously. If someone told me to put my seat up, I would need a very good reason.

  27. Mike E. says

    I’m sorry, but don’t tell me about your right to recline. This is the only public transportation function where people seem to think they have the right to increase their comfort by decreasing the comfort of someone else. I am fairly tall, at 6′ 4″, and my knees are typically pressed against the seatback in front of me when I set down. When Joe Leisure in front of me tries to recline and meets resistance, that is because he is trying to push my legs deeper into my hip sockets. Surprisingly, I hold a pretty dim view of this. If you want to lay down, by a bank of seats or a business class seat. For the great unwashed in coach, we all have our minimum allotted space, and don’t appreciate any intrusion into it. .If they do recline, I like to turn my air conditioning vent on full and try to make frost form on the top of their heads.

  28. Margo Millure says

    thanks for your thorough response! No clue what to do about it either… I just returned from an overseas round trip yesterday, and had much better luck of the draw this trip. It seems the best thing to remember is that is all comes around – and will sometimes be good and sometimes not so good ;)

  29. Margo Millure says

    Deborah, this last flight I was the last to check in and ended up with a bulkhead seat (it’s as if they see if anyone will pay the extra charge until the last minute) and I must say I really enjoyed stretching out and propping my feet up against the wall in front of me… I know your issue is different, but it does seem that with all the issues out there, raising prices might not be an option — but perhaps at least a method for prime seat dispersal based on needs? No clue, really!! Thanks.

  30. Margo Millure says

    Oh how I both sympathize and empathize! I have 10 overseas legs under my belt traveling with an infant, mostly w/o my spouse (infant is now in college!)… and all I can say is get the bulkhead and seriously consider medicating everybody, including yourself.– not with benadryl!! Talk to a family doc – they get it :)

  31. Margo Millure says

    I’m pretty sure this woman’s reasons were her husband was tall, and was a pain in the arse. I would have gladly put my seat up, but she went right for the jugular before any attempt to act civilized as a way of getting what she wanted AND upset me enough to resist the effects of a prescribed sleeping pill! And that is so hard fliying and then going to work… my husband does it often and I seriously don’t understand how one does that :)

  32. Margo Millure says

    Ha! I love the freezing them out technique… What people sometimes don’t understand, I think, is that there are always consequences to our behavior, whether they be sooner or later!

  33. James says

    Absolutely. I find it incredible that so many people seem to think that ruining somebody else’s flight is their ‘right’. If the flight is empty, recline. Otherwise, don’t.

    I once had the woman in front of me ask me to ‘move my legs’ so she could recline. I said: ‘Where would you suggest I put them? ‘

  34. Margo Millure says

    *sigh* – there really is no easy answer… and wow, that’s a new one – good job on the response :)

  35. Alex says

    How about those passengers that leave the seat reclined during mealtime. As if there isn’t already too little room to sit comfortably, let alone eat. That is if the flight even offers a meal at all. I think there should be a rule to put seat backs in the upright position when meals are being served.

  36. Deborah says

    After reading the flow of comments i must admit that I am rethinking my view of what is “a right” on airlines, concerning legroom. Thank you tall people for the insight!

  37. Kate says

    I’m so happy I found this article! Because of my job, I often have to fly back and forth between New York and London, and I frequently find myself wondering when it is the ‘proper’ time to set my seat back. You see, I am only 5’2″ and that means that the seat’s headrest begins to protrude out right in the middle of the back of my head. This is incredibly uncomfortable for me, as the upright position means that my chin is virtually touching my chest, but at the same time, I feel terrible for infringing upon the person’s space who is seated behind me. I do my best to try and get a window seat (the least likely location for a tall person to be behind me), but sometimes flights are full and I get the unexpected Laker behind me.

    I really think that the airline industry should take into account the size of the headrests, or at least allow passengers to flip it over the top of the seat if it is unwanted. It’s not that I WANT to recline my seat for more than five hours, I just can’t sit the other way. And as for tall people who get upset when I do it, I’m sorry your legs are so long, but I’m doing my best to be accommodating to you by not sitting in the aisle seat, the least you could do is not violently punch the back of my chair. It’s amazing how easily people can forget manners when on a red eye.

  38. Brian says

    As a frequent traveler I have a list as long as my arm of bad passenger stories but the worst of the worst was flying from Florida to Chicago to catch a transatlantic. It was my girlfriend in the center me in the aisle to occasionally stretch my legs and a nice balding gentleman in a suit at the window. The first 15 minutes of the flight were uneventful, my girlfriend and myself doing a little reading and our fellow passenger had dozed off. Suddenly there was a retching noise behind us and as I turned I saw an arch of projectile vomit streaking through the air and landing right on top of the bald guys sleeping head. He of course reaches up to see what is now running all over his head and shirt while My girlfriend and I quickly sought out a flight attendant and clean seats. Now all that is bad enough and there were some great people on the flight, the attendants in haz-mat getup who had to clean and the passenger that gave the bald guy a shirt out of his carry on. He spent almost the remaining flight in the restroom cleaning up. The part that amazed me was the sick passenger who seemed fine after getting sick. Completely ignored the bald gentleman. No I’m sorry or offer for dry cleaning or anything. She just walked by him like nothing had happened on the rest of the flight and while walking past him exiting the plane. I don’t know where they get some of the people on planes these days.

  39. says

    Wow, such a volatile topic. I know I’ve always tried to be nice, but often I end up sandwiched between someone who fully reclines their seat in front of me, and someone I don’t want to intrude upon behind me. (Actually, I think the fully reclined position is intrusive anyway, and really the seats shouldn’t go back that far unless, as you said, everyone is required to recline.)

    To the person who said they’d rather go on a bus … a few years ago I went cross-country on a bus trip that lasted several days. The last 4 hours was in a relatively uncrowded bus, and I had the whole row to myself. It felt like heaven. The first leg of the journey, I ended up in the very last seat. It had been oversold, and I only got on because I was a single traveler. I was next to the restroom, in a non-reclining seat, and there was a man on my row who was either drunk, psychotic, or both, and kept mumbling vulgar things and making random jerking movements. Once the passenger composition changed about two days into the trip and I was able to move into a different seat, I had to deal with people who wanted to smoke on the bus, and someone actually said in a loud voice that if anyone complained to the driver they would kill them. I’m allergic to smoke, and I get a terrible headache, at best, or end up vomiting.

    There are so many issues to deal with when you cram many people into a small can and force them to stay there for many hours or even days on end. Travel can be miserable! I think I prefer to go by car, when there is enough time.

  40. Jay says

    I think the main issue is that airlines are cramming in as many seats as they possibly can to maximize their revenue. You can’t blame them, they’re businesses at the end of the day, but I can’t help thinking that if a few airlines started changing tactics and giving more legroom in cattle class and lowered the price of the premium economy class, it would reduce a lot of the problem.

    For me personally, I reduce the debate to it’s lowest denominator. We pay for a seat, that seat reclines, if I wasn’t “supposed” to recline it, it wouldn’t have a mechanism to do so! That said, I accept that the person in front of me is in the same boat and may well pin me in my seat. We all know the drill when we get on a plane.

  41. Renee says

    I agree that you should not recline on short (2 hours or less) flights. But if the person in front of you has reclined, you can. I disagree about the baby in lap situation; I should not be inconvenienced because a parent chose not to buy a seat for their kid.

  42. says

    It is unforgivable to poke someone. My view on the matter is, if it is a long flight, people will need to sleep. Not everyone wants to sleep at the same time unfortunately. Seeing the seats can be reclined then it is unreasonable to expect people to not recline them when they want to sleep.

    My opinion is that if the person in front reclines, the person behind has to deal with it as best they can. Reclining as soon as you get on the plane is ridiculous though. A few hours into the flight, if it is night time, would be a realistic option.

  43. Jason says

    I’m 6’3″ and if the seat in front of me even reclines just even a small amount it immediately hits my knees. So yes, it’s completely rude! Someone choosing comfort over inflicting pain upon someone is rude any way you try to justify it.

  44. Remo says

    I’m a 6’1″ frequent flyer. What a lot of people who are under, say 5’6″ tall (I’m making an educated guess here so please don’t quibble over an inch or 2 in one direction or the other) don’t understand is that if the person in front of me reclines their seat all the way back, it does NOT help my situation to then recline my seat. When you recline your seat it pushes your knees closer to the seat in front of you. If you are shorter in stature, you probably don’t notice this as it doesn’t cause you nearly as much of a problem as it does me.

    My observations from many many flights is that the taller the individual is, the less likely they are to reclline their seat all the way. The “less tall” the person is, the more likely they are to throw their seat back for the entire flight. The height of the person is a far more reliable predictor than gender as to whether they will push their seat back all the way. I don’t mind the person in front of me reclining their seat some, but please people, if you feel you must recline, do it like you’re backing up your car. Look behind you, recline slowly and don’t automatically push it all the way back.

    I would be all for removing the recline option alltogether, or at least cutting the amount of recline on seats by 50%.

  45. colin says

    I am a big built male who only flies short haul , pay for extra legroom and usually am the only one unfortunate enough in that section to be sat behind the one lady who reclines their seatl. I never recline my seat as I have no wish to discomfort another passenger. I am amazed that some people on here feel that this problem is unsurmountable, when the first response from Jessica about treating other passengers as they would wish to be treated themselves is spot on. If there is a 6 foot tall person, or a large person sat behind you, imagine yourselves to be that person and how you would feel about somebody reclining, in your very limited room before reclining. Thankfully on short haul, operators such as Easy jet and Ryanair have none reclining seats, they will get my business in future.