Reclining Seats and Air Rage

I just read an article on about air rage resulting from reclining seats in coach class. Apparently some idiot took exception to some guy reclining his seat and apparently ripped his ear off. Needless to say he was arrested but it brings to the forefront an age old debate and one that drives me crazy as a frequent flyer. It doesn’t quite drive me as crazy as Carl Crawford getting a $140 million deal but do people have a right to recline their seats when they pay for the seat or is it a courtesy they should extend to the other person. I don’t know the right answer but here is my take on this very volatile piece of air etiquette.

I am 6’3” or some 192mm for those of you on the metric system so I am pretty tall. Not enormous but tall enough where coach seats drive me crazy and it can really inconvenience me when the guy in front of me reclines his seat. However, almost always, without fail, as soon as the plane takes off I recline my seat and do that exact same thing to the guy or lady behind me. I don’t ask, I just do it. Some people do ask and that’s nice of them but I feel it is my right without compromise to recline the seat. If it wasn’t then why would they have the ability to recline the seats. So I never say anything to the guy in front of me when he does it and I get enraged to no end when the guy behind me does say something.

Usually, I just say sorry and that I am tall and pretend to care about his feelings but in truth there is no shot I am unreclining as I just want to go to sleep. I always get a giggle out of the same guy turning to the stewardess to ask me to pull up the seat, of which she always replies, I am sorry sir but he has the right to do it. On a short flight, it’s no big deal and you just deal with it but International flights is where it can become hairy in my experience.

My single biggest pet peeve in flying is when people ask if I can sit upright during meal service. I don’t understand this for the life of me. The seat goes back a maximum of 3 inches and it in no way affects our ability to eat in peace. I do it all the time with no issues. Still this is always an issue I find and I have had the only arguments in my life on a plane because of this issue. Usually to avoid a confrontation I will do it to appease the whiner behind me and then quickly put it back to recline as soon as he finishes while I give a look of disdain but it is as fruitless as it sounds.

My worst experience with this was when some total spoiled Long Island kid and his girlfriend were on a flight with me from Istanbul to New York about two years ago. This guy was directly behind me on Turkish Airlines and his girlfriend was in the window seat next to him off the wing on a 747. I had put my seat back and he was annoyed and I told him to chill and recline his seat and it was a long flight. He whined and I could tell his girlfriend was trying to calm him down and when meal service came he asked me to move my seat up. I pointed out that the guy in front of me had his seat back and I wasn’t asking him to move up so maybe he should be a man and just deal with it. He was a little shocked and his girlfriend interjected.

She said, I’m sorry but my boy friend is 6’1” and he needs some space. I giggled and said I am 6’3” and said I am fine so perhaps he should deal with it and stop whining. Anyway, he said something and I said something and finally the stewardess came by and was clearly annoyed. Finally, I got my way as he switched to the window with his girlfriend and he just sat there and pouted the whole time. Not a great example of air etiquette on either side but an example of how seat reclining can cause strife between passengers. I have also seen it between many other passengers as well on the thousands of flights I have taken. I have seen people shake other peoples seats and even saw a pushing match once.

Space is the biggest issue on coach flights and people are very protective of it. I get it and so am I. If airlines want to stop this unending argument then they should stop the ability of seats to recline but I imagine that would piss more people off than keeping it as it is. Until then people need to realize that planes are not their couch. If they want unending space then pony up and buy a business or first class ticket. Otherwise, deal with it because that’s the way it is. If everyone was 5’8” as my favorite uncle is then nobody would have an issue but since we are all different shapes and sizes-deal with it!

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  1. I know we have talked about this issue many times, but funny you posted this. I was just talking with Katie today about that same article and how ridiculous some people are. It is amazes me that someone would ask you to move your seat up to comfort themselves without thinking that now you need to ask the person in front of you to move their seat up, then they ask the person in front of them, and so on. Ultimately because of their selfishness, they have inconvenienced about 25-30 people…. I do think those “pre-reclined” seats on Spirit Air are a good idea to keep the whining to a minimum (though I am sure those some whiners will find something else to complain about).

  2. Haha, I figured you saw that article as well and as you said we have talked about it many times. Some people were simply not meant to be put on planes and have no idea about etiquette. It’s like taking the bus from DC to NY, you have less room and comfort than you would if you took the train but in order to save $100 you simply deal with it and make best of the situation. If you want the unending room then you pay the extra money…otherwise you get what you pay for and realize there are many people in the same boat.

    I actually was going to talk about that moron on that flight at Miami who started tearing the seat cushion, swearing in front of his kids and throwing magazines on that flight we had that was delayed 4 hours…I wonder what happened to that guy!?

  3. I also read the article and agree with Jake that the SPirit seats are a terrible idea. I am a short woman but I still believe that people should have the option. Coach is tough as is but I think it would be worse if they did away with reclining seats as people would go crazy!

  4. The Crawford deal is sickening

  5. haha that guy was insane!!!

  6. jason smart says

    Firstly, I have to say that I love your website and accounts of all your travels. I am an avid reader of your travels and eagerly await each new installment.

    Now about seat reclining. This is a bugbear of mine because I am a frequent flier, most often in economy class. I do understand that anyone who has paid for a seat has the right to recline it. Fine. But what has been mentioned here is that telling the person behind is an courtsey that is simply not needed.

    I disagree with this. On two recent occasions I have been sitting with my table down and the seat in front has reclined so quickly that that my drink has literally flown from my table drenching me. On another occasion I was sitting with my laptop on my table (granted, a rather dodgy table with a broken hinge) and the seat relcined without warning. This resulted in my laptop sliding off onto the floor, which didn’t damage it, but pissed me off a lot! This could have been avoided if the person in front had given me a few seconds warning.

    The Irish budget airline Ryanair avoid these issues by not having reclining seats at all, but this airline specialised in short-haul flights only.

    The issue, like you have said, is on long haul flights. I quick check of the person behind only takes a second or so and then recline the seat by all means. Or failing this, recline it SLOWLY!

    Keep up the good work Lee. Looking forward to the next country.

  7. Hey Jason and thanks for the great comment. I probably should have clarified when I say I always put my seat back. I agree with you that it is almost more irritating when people just slam their seats back and can actually cause injury to the person behind them or like you said knock a drink over etc. I especially agree with the laptop thing as I often use laptops on planes. I always give a courtesy look back and/or go very slowly in my reclining so as not to do exactly what you mentioned. That is just rude and discourteous. The other thing is I generally put it back immediately after takeoff before the drinks are served or it is safe to use electronic devices (I hate the saying) to avoid these issues as well.

    A great topic to discuss the fine little nuances of air etiquette which I could go on about forever…just food for thought, I hate the sling shot effect as well when someone is walking down the aisle or getting up and they push down on the back of your headrest and then let go and if you are sleeping or something, you get slingshotted forward-that drives me nuts…almost always it’s older or heavier people that do it and they never say I’m sorry or even notice that they do it!

  8. A great topic for any frequent flyer and one that will clearly spark debate on both sides of the aisle, so to speak! I fall on the side that thinks it is my right to recline my seat and don’t have much sympathy for the person behind me. However, I agree with you and Jason that some sort of glimpse should be used before flinging the seat back. I also like Lee’s idea of the slow recline to give them ample time to move anything and also doing it at takeoff. That makes sense to avoid issues.

    I have several other major things that drive me bonkers too but to be brief it centers around armrest domination between passengers. This drives me nuts and I always seem to lose. That’s because I am a woman I am sure but I need to be more assertive but just want to avoid a confrontation, especially with a larger man.

  9. I agree that people who complain about reclined seats are whiners. Is there seat not reclined??? In the case of the 6’1″ guy behind you, did he think he could recline his seat, while demanding that you pull up your seat back?

    I am not tall, but usually recline my seat because the person in from of me has done the same (or because I want to sleep.)

    The people behind who complain are not “other aware.” In other words, they fail to realize that if they ask someone to stop reclining, then it will limit that person’s own space… because nearly 100% of the time the chair in front of him or her is reclined! I have rarely flown where the seat in front of me wasn’t reclined for the entire trip (as soon as the take-off ding is heard).

    On a flight from SF to Dublin, however, everyone took their seat out of recline during the meal service… so, maybe Ireland has different etiquette?

  10. Sorry — Is *their* seat not reclined???

  11. On a American flight once a guy dropped his seat back and caught me right in the knee. Hurt so bad I yelled out in pain. He clearly heard me but ignored it. So I felt it my duty, also there was no inflight movie, to periodically push and kick his seat as often as I could. What made it more fun was he was trying to sleep. I got up often and used his seat for balance jarring him awake. He never said anything and we never even acknowledged each other. But I bet he takes more care next time he reclines. Just saying!

  12. Denise, his seat was reclined but he found it difficult apparently to eat with his seat reclined and yes the seat in front of me was reclined…basically the kid was just being a jerk…I have seen that on flights sometimes as well where the flight attendants ask everyone to move seats to upright during meals…I assume to avoid conflicts…

    Pete that’s great and I can picture it completely!

  13. Lee I agree with you here, the seat is made to recline and if the airlines thought it was an issue they would announce for people to not recline during meals. Also on the “shorter” red eyes like NY to London a lot of freq flyers will eat before they get on and skip the meal so they can sleep the whole way. In my view its more rude to wake someone up who is not eating then have a little less room for someone who is.

    Although the worst is when someone puts something behind your seat and you can’t recline, they make a few annoying things like this like the stupid gadget called the “knee defender” (google it). Some guy had this on plane behind me and I thought my seat was broken until I realised he was blocking it. Needless to say I made him remove the damn thing.

    Peter also just mentioned my other pet peeve, when you are getting up from your seat and or going down the aisle don’t freaking pull on the back of someones seat and use it like a slingshot! get up using your own seat, I hate when i’m sleeping and someone pulls on my seat.

  14. That knee defender sounds awful. That’s grounds for a beat down! Haha…the sling shot is the worst and I couldn’t agree more about waking someone up when they’re sleeping to raise seat for meal service…I am getting mad just typing it!!!

  15. The bottom line is that too many people confined in a small space is never a good idea as everyone is just thinking about themselves (which is fine just usually doesn’t work out). I personally am not comfortable in a reclined seat due to back issues so will rarely do it and hate people doing it although usually accept it if they are decent about it, i.e. don’t shove the seat into my face in a nanosecond. That then usually leaves me no choice to recline and then the only comfortable position for me is to put my legs and knees into their seat (and I fully admit to kicking the ones that annoy me for pure entertainment reasons as anyone rarely speaks up and they will just pout for 8hrs straight). So usually a no-win situation. I also don’t like people waiting until the last possible second before landing to put their seat back up as it is a saftey issue and you wouldn’t be able to go into a brace position if needed. I get all your arguments and they are plausible but as said every (wo)man for herself 🙂

  16. I do agree that planes are recipes for disaster because you have too many people in a small confined space. I am honestly surprised there aren’t more incidents like the one Lee mentioned. People are not meant to cramped for that long.

  17. Franzi, love the passive aggressiveness kicking the seats and of course your keen awareness of safety issues with raising your seats in case the brace position is necessary!

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