Is It Rude to Recline Your Seat While Flying?

a seat on an airplaneI recently read this article from USA Today on travel etiquette. I am all for etiquette, as is evidenced by the many posts I write about it. I think everyone should be cognizant of the fact that they are not the only traveler on the road, and act accordingly. However, this article quoted several people saying that reclining your seat on a plane is rude. I have never thought of it as rude. It’s something that you are allowed to do to make your seat more comfortable. Yes, if someone in front of you reclines their seat it cuts into your space some, but then you recline your seat and gain that space back. It’s not like someone is putting their feet onto your lap–this is space that the airlines have given to each person, not just a select few.

So. My opinion is that it is not rude. What do you think?



  1. Not rude – providing it is done properly. Don’t throw the seat back without taking a quick look to see if it is safe. And never recline during meal or beverage service.

  2. What’s rude is when someone puts it back very fast, i could be leaning forward and you could hit me, or knock my drink off by shaking the tray. I’ve even seen laptops be damaged by thoughtless chair recliners. Do it slowly so people have a chance to adjust if need be….

  3. I just had this quandry this weekend on a flight. I looked behind me, the passenger was asleep, I slowly reclined a bit and fell asleep. Woke up to the passenger behind me nudging my seat and glaring. Lose-lose situation . . .

  4. When it’s the following:
    – Literally just after takeoff.
    – For the entire flight. Especially if it’s a TATL Crossing.
    – During meal service
    – All in one swoop

    Looking behind you before you recline and the odd sorry doesn’t go amiss from this Row 99Z flyer… especilly when it’s a 10 hour slog from SFO to LHR….

  5. Rude if:

    1 – Suddenly.
    2 – It’s an hour flight in a tiny regional jet and you’re in the bulkhead seat.

  6. I don’t think it’s rude. People always worry about tall flyers, but I have super short torso. Sitting with a totally straight seat back is really uncomfortable for me.

  7. I don’t think it is rude except maybe if it is mealtime, but if it is breakfast after an overnight flight, I feel it is less rude. Having said that, even though I don’t think it is rude I rarely do it, I feel bad about the person behind me, but that is a personal hang up.

  8. I think it always good manners to see what person seating behind is doing and asking if it fine to recline chair.

  9. I can’t ever come up with a reason to say it’s actually rude, but I don’t like it. I don’t tend to recline MY seat because I hate to do that to the person behind me, but then I end up dealing with the reclined seat in front of me. And somehow, people tend to be rude in how they recline seats, like “I dare you to say I can’t fling my seat back. I have a right!”

  10. I have long legs which usually are up against the seat in front of me even when the seat is not reclined. When someone reclines, it physically hurts me and I have to shift my knees to the middle of the seat where there is some give. In other words my knees actually dig into the back of the passenger in front of me. Last time this happened, the woman in front of me turned around and gave me a dirty look as if I did it on purpose since there’s a little delay in between the time the seat reclines and I try to move my knees to one side but usually can’t and finally have to put them in the middle of the seat. She could not see that I had no leg room. Would it be rude for me to tell a passenger in front of me that I’m sorry and have no leg room. And that I didn’t mean to bump them in the back? I don’t have elite status and my company doesn’t want us to pay for better seats so I’m stuck on most flights with little or no leg room.

  11. Alex – I’m in the same boat sa you…but, I always tell the person in front of me at the start of the filght. I also offer to trade seats with them if necessary.

  12. As someone who flies every week – I think it’s rude. The only time I do it is for redeye flights or ocean crossing (sitting for a LONG period of time). MOST people flying seem to see it for what it is and refrain. Whether you agree with me on this or not, it’s tough to argue that NOT putting the seat back is the CONSIDERATE thing to do.

    The argument that it’s space the airline gives you means nothing to me. Those seats are terribly uncomfortable and it’s even worse when the person in front of you puts the top of their head in your lap. The argument that the seat is suddenly more comfortable once it’s reclined is absurd. You’re still uncomfortable. The only difference is that now the person behind you is giving you a lice check.

    Also, taking your shoes off during flight is (ALWAYS!) rude. Ditto clipping your toenails, putting your knees up on the seat in front of you (also the space the airline “gives” you), and music/movies without headphones.

  13. Well, “rude” might be pushing it, but I absolutely hate it when the person in front of me reclines. And I never recline my own seat out of consideration for the people behind me. It’s almost impossible to use a laptop with the seat in front of you reclined and if I am traveling on business, I usually have my laptop out even though it may be for some mundane task like pruning old emails.

    I wish seats were made so that people who wanted to recline could do so while encroaching on their OWN space, not the space of the person behind them. Actually, I think I read something about such a seat innovation on Cranky Flyer a while back. I thought it was brilliant. And I was fascinated by how many people were against it. Fascinated because those are the same people who want to recline, but I guess they only want to recline if it’s no inconvenience to them?

    The exception to all this would be an overnight flight. Although I will say the worst flight of my life was an overnight to Rome where the guy in front of me reclined his seat all the way, the ENTIRE flight, even during breakfast. They had to make him put it back upright just before landing. 8 hours with a seat right in your face? MISERY.

  14. It’s not rude. The guy in the article who sticks his knee in the back of the reclined seat is the rude one.
    I recline my seat to get more comfortable, and understand that the person in front of me is doing the same. I’ve never had someone ask to recline their seat, and don’t expect them to, but it sure would be nice if the Airlines gave us more legroom so we didn’t need to have this conversation!

  15. It is never rude. It is space you paid for and have the right to use. If the person behind you becomes uncomfortable, he should blame the airline for putting the seats too close together.

  16. I have always thought that it is rude to recline your seat. Lateley, I have reclined it just a little bit, but I always wonder if I’m being a bother to the person behind me…
    And I don’t like it when the person in front of me reclines the seat, so I guess that’s why I don’t like to recline mine.

  17. I don’t think it’s rude to recline your seat. I think it’s rude to slam your seat into the passenger behind you, and I think it’s rude not to be willing to compromise if the passenger behind you begs you to only recline partway.

    I almost never recline my seat, and I only ask the person in front of me not to recline theirs if their doing so really poses a problem for me.

    I find most people in front of me are sympathetic if I ask them to move up just a little.

  18. Very rude. I can barely fit in the seat as it is. Are you bothering the person behind you. Yes.

  19. It’s just rude and inconsiderate! It’s hard on tall people, people reading, working on their laptop, using their tray table for work or for eating/drinking, or just people who don’t want to smell your not-so-fresh hair … really! And just because the person behind you doesn’t mind or isn’t inconvenienced at the very moment you decide to put your seat back, that could very well change while you snore away. They are probably just too polite to tell you.

    As a frequent business traveler I find that usually the same people who think it’s okay to put their seats back are often oblivious to their own general physical effect on others in a small space. They are frequently the worst with excessive coughing (I’m giving a shout to the nice old lady in the exit route on the way back from Austin recently. I appreciated your hacking cough during the flight and now a case of the flu post-flight), loud talking, throwing the seat back quickly, constantly moving in their seat (Many a time I’ve almost been doused with my own drink when someone threw their seat back or bounced around in their seat when their seat back was already down), poor personal care, and poor child care. I’m sorry to say this, but they seem to feel that why care about others, when you don’t care about yourself.

    Except for the occasional international flight or red-eye, I trained myself over 10 years of business travel to sleep with the seat up. It’s really not that difficult and the flight usually isn’t that long. And no one else has complained yet.

  20. Absolutely Rude! It is actually painful for people with long legs, and there is no choice but to have your knees push into the back of the seat in front of you when it is reclined.

  21. Airlines seats are closer than ever, unreasonably close for tall people. When someone reclines their seat, they have given themselves more space at the expense of the person behind them. This is rude!

  22. It’s not _necessarily_ rude to recline. It is beyond rude to recline your seat so that it bangs into the knees of the passenger behind you. Coach class seats offer very little room. Agreed. You buy a small space, you get a small space. But no one’s “right” includes an OK to batter someone else (self-defense, excepted).

    In your car, when the light turns green, you have “the right of way”, but if a car is stopped in the cross-street intersection, your “right of way” does not include a “right” to smash into that stopped car. Same sort of rules on a plane.

    Recline all you want, but only if you stop short of bashing into the passenger behind you. Fact is, when many passengers take their seats, their knees are already near or even in contact with the seatbacks in front of them. So, there just isn’t much, if any room for the passenger in front to recline. That’s why Knee Defenders were invented. They help people stop a seatback before it hits them in the knees.

  23. While I do not think it is particularly rude, if you are not trying to sleep, there is no reason to recline the seat. People have mentioned several times the affect on tall people, but I just want to point out that some rows cannot recline. Which means a person in that row will have much less space if the seat in front of them is pushed back. On long flights it is acceptable, again only if you are trying to sleep, and it isn’t mealtime. I will be on a 16 hour flight tomorrow, and you bet I and, every other passenger, will put my seat back. On a long flight like that, sitting upright will really mess you up. And of course, it is always appreciated that you ask the person behind you if they have enough room. If you do ask though, please be prepared to keep your seat in the upright position should they say they need room. To recline after you have verified the person will indeed be uncomfortable is VERY rude.

  24. I think it’s extremely rude! And selfish, to boot! To make yourself comfortable at someone else’s expense is both of those things.

  25. It’s only rude if you slam the seat back all the way rapidly and without thought to those behind you. Seriously, with the seat pitch on some of these airplanes, you could take out a laptop screen if some unsuspecting person is trying to get work done behind you. I generally don’t recline, but if the person in front of me wants to…more power to them….just ease the seat back please.

  26. It is rude, unless you ask the person if they mind. I never recline unless the seat behind me is empty.

    The whole, “if someone does it to you, just do it to someone else to make up for it thing” is just not cool and is a major problem.

  27. Absolutely rude, especially when there’s a tall person behind you, and would submit that it’s any person’s right to use whatever strength one can muster with one’s knees to make the guy who reclines his seat feel as positively uncomfortable as possible. It’s rude, selfish, and thoughtless.

  28. Sorry, but tough luck! I have back problems and would be in agony on a long flight w/o being able to recline. I’ll remember the pain expressed by long-legged posters, though, and maybe ask the attendant for advice. The solution, of course, is to find a seat in front of a short person.

    Personally, I think airlines will eventually have to face the fact that people are different shapes and seats should be more adjustable than they are.

  29. I personally don’t have any qualms about reclining my seat. It is very uncomfortable not to recline. Very tall people do not have a right to their comfort at the expense of those who need to recline to be comfortable. My husband is tall and takes the aisle seat to stretch his legs. One should expect the seat ahead to recline and take whatever measures necessary to accommodate themselves. Don’t put your laptop out or a drink out when the seat ahead is not reclined. One gets little enough accommodation by the airlines – a three-inch recline is the least they can give us.

  30. It is always rude. If nobody is behind you, then go for it, but if they are, don’t do it. I had a jerk fully recline into my seat on an international flight, and it was impossible to move or eat or use the tray table. She had the nerve to get angry at me when I had to get up. After about 6 hours, I started to enjoy bumping her seat and sneezing/coughing on her head. So it reduced me to being her level of jerk. Not a good idea.

  31. I have a different perscpective. I am short and it is uncomfortable for me to recline as when I do, my feet do not touch the floor and become numb which is a health hazard. So, my room is diminished when the person in front of me reclines. I sometimes must recline to recapture some room, but that is uncomfortable for me. The configuration of the seats plays a role also. In some planes, if the person in front of me fully reclines, I could easily brush their hair. I fly often and would say that 95% of passengers recline fully, quickly and almost angrily!

  32. It wouldn’t appear to be so bad if the airlines hadn’t squeezed in a few more rows of seating at some point several years ago, and a middle seat. The result is that the traveler perceives the other on either side and in front and behind as an opponent, stealing his space and comfort.

  33. During a cross-country flight from NY to San Diego, a 20-something business guy from Dell slammed his chair back fully during takeoff (as soon as the flight attendants had strapped in and weren’t walking the aisles any longer) and kept it there… he was not tall (maybe 5’8″), was not sleeping; just wanted to have the seat reclined (he actually was sitting forward to type on his laptop, and not reclining himself!)

    When I asked him politely if he could lift the seat 1/2 way up since it was such a long flight, he rudely said, “No – I don’t have to!” I agreed, he didn’t have to; but I would appreciate it if he could… he didn’t.

    At one point in the journey, my 4 year old was crying and wanted to sit on my lap – but there was not room enough for him to do so with the seat in front reclined. I again tapped on this guy’s elbow, asked him if he could raise his seat so my son could be comforted — he glared at me, grudgingly raise the seat about 1/2 way. I quieted my son (who just wanted a little cuddling during the flight) and got him back in his seat within 10 minutes, and BAM! back came the seatback at lightning speed.

    This whole situation has triggered claustrophobia in me – I’m always concerned that the person in front of me will recline for the entire flight and not lift it up during meals, taxi/takeoff, landing, etc.

    Oh, and on another trip, the guy in front of my came back so quickly that he cracked my screen on the laptop. yeah, great fun.

  34. I am amazed at how many people consider reclining rude. I’m not questioning your opinion at all, just surprised. It’s a feature of the seat, I would expect someone in front of me to use it. Perhaps if they kept moving it up and down all flight it would get annoying…but other than that, have at it. I personally dont feel the need to recline much, but I politely ease my way back when needed. Now I’m gonna be paranoid, lol

  35. I travel way too much on airplanes on behalf of a non profit, which means back of the bus, all the time. I am always tired, so putting the seat back is a must. The only time it is rude, is during meal time. It is almost impossible to eat when the seat in front of you is all the way in your face.

    I honestly can’t believe that there are people who feel so entitled that it is a personal attack on them for someone to get comfortable. Get over it, until such a time (probably soon) when the seats no longer go back, this is the reality.

    As for those with long legs, we all suffer since airlines are always inching the seat pitch smaller and smaller. Don’t see too many people working on their laptops in coach these days. Even with my netbook, it is almost impossible

    It is courteous to check behind you before you slowly push your seat back. However, there is no way to evaluate the length of someones legs or size accurately, thus the argument that you are too big is not applicable. I dont even look at the person behind me for more than a half second, and if they arrive after I am in my seat, there is no way for me to know their size.

    The best way to deal with a seat back in your face is simply to put your own seat back. I would never complain to the person in front of me.

    Remember the good old days when flight attendants actually asked people to lift up their seat during meal time? Have not seen that in many years now…

  36. it’s not rude if no one is behind you. Otherwise, as Ryan said, the only CONSIDERATE thing to do is NOT recline.

  37. It’s not rude, the problem is people aren’t aware that everybody’s awareness of personal space is heightened on planes because of a lack of space.

    It shouldn’t be done during meals.
    Anyone with manners would always excuse themselves to the person in the seat behind before lowering the seat – not everyone who flies has manners.

    At the end of the day we all have to get along in the metal tube till we arrive at our destination, this is sometimes lost on some people.

  38. It is never rude to recline your seat. I’ve spent my whole life eating meals behind people with reclines seatbacks, and it’s not a big f-ing deal. Yeah, it’s not like eating at home or in a restaurant, but it’s better than eating on a bus, where you don’t even have a tray table.

    You are not entitled to expect the person in front of you to put his or her seat back up unless it’s broken. You buy a seat, not the space where someone else’s seat reclines. Today, I was sleeping after a long night in the airport, and this huge guy behind me was basically punching the back of my chair every few minutes. Then, when the stewardess gave him his meal, he had her ask me to my seat up. I just said “No, that’s not how it works on airplanes.” He hit the back of my seat once more, but that was it.

    That violent behavior should not be tolerated on airplanes, and you should never, ever expect someone to wake up so you can have a little extra elbow room while you eat. I’ve never heard something so nuts. If you don’t want the seat in front of you to be reclined, then buy the seat in front of you, too.

  39. You know what you get into when you buy the ticket. I got to sit in front of a crazy beyotch from Austin to Denver this week. She thought it was just plain rude to recline. You know what? Kick up the extra $25 bucks and go to stretch seating. If the seats weren’t meant to recline, they wouldn’t. Maybe rent a car and drive. The air you’re sharing with EVERYone in that metal tube is far worse than someone two inches in “your space”.

  40. I fly every week and almost never recline, partially out of consideration for the person behind me. Personal choice. My advice to anyone who needs to be productive while flying is to plan for the worst (fully reclined seat in front of you) and carry items with you that are usable when this happens. So – I carry a very small netbook (10.1 inches) & pad of paper which lets me work in the tightest spaces, in case my big work laptop can’t open.

  41. I have some herniated disks in my back. It isn’t something you can see, like long legs. On a long flight I MUST recline or my back will start spasming. I take time to research sear pitch and how much the seat reclines. I will buy a more expensive ticket to accommodate my medical need. I am sick and tired of people claiming it is rude to recline when they can’t be bothered to cough up money for the extra space. I feel sorry for the long legged people – it can be a tight fit in coach! But if you truly need the room I suggest that you do as I have done – pay extra to accommodate your condition.

  42. I travel on business a lot, but have never considered reclining rude. I recline when I need to sleep, and bring the seat back up when I’m not sleeping or when it’s time for a meal/drinks, and no one has complained.

    When I’m not sleeping I usually work on my laptop, and if the person in front of me reclines, oh well. You can pull the tray table towards you and it extends so that you don’t have to have your laptop jammed between the seat and the tray table, and I might recline a little bit to make up for the lost room.

    But seriously, the feature is there, and if it makes your long journey comfortable, then so be it. Although, if you’re sitting two rows in front of the exit row, just remember that the people behind you don’t have the option of reclining, so maybe you should be a bit more respectful.

  43. Inconsiderate. The argument that “the feature is there” is not taking something into consideration: when reclining seats were introduced, there was a LOT more space between the rows! Look at any movie from the 60s that shows the inside of an airline cabin–there’s a good 3 to 4 more inches of space between the rows of seats. Unfortunately, as manufacturers began to cram more and more rows of seats into the coach cabins, the reclining feature was retained, even though the space allotted to each passenger decreased.

    Also, I fail to understand how anyone can say it’s “space you’ve paid for.” It isn’t. It’s space I’VE paid for. It’s in my row, not yours. I never recline my seat, and I detest it when people do it to me. Even if it’s done slowly, it still effectively pins me into a very small space, making it difficult (if not impossible) to shift around for comfort (and to avoid DVTs), get things out of my carry-on and so forth.

  44. If the person in front of me reclines their seat, I’m going to recline mine. I’m not going to be uncomfortable just because someone behind me doesnt want me to recline my seat.

    If I do it, I do it slowly so the person knows that its coming and can adjust.

  45. A reclining seat is a FEATURE and if I wish to use that feature, I will do so. I do think rocket reclining is not considerate. And if there was a tall person behind me and they complained about the recline I would back off a bit. If you really want a lot of personal space, pay more $$ for a first class ticket or your own private plane.

  46. Anti-recliners are unreal. I paid for a seat and am entitled to all of its features. I recline all the time, except during meals, and people recline on me and its totally cool. People even recline on me during meals and while i think its discourteous, ITS NOT A BIG DEAL! I can still eat that meal just fine.

  47. You know what’s rude? Airlines that cram so many @#$% seats in a plane, which mostly recline, and then make people wonder whether it’s OK to tilt the seat back 4 inches. The airlines are to blame, not the passengers, if you feel a bit compressed.

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