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. It is not rude. It is your seat to do with what you like. I fly a few times a month and I always do it. I am a short person but I have back pain and it really hurts to have my seat straight up for a long duration (I usually fly coast-to-coast so my flights are around 6 hours). I think it is ruder to kick the back of the seat and give dirty looks at the person reclining, when you can just politely lean forward and say “I am sorry but I have long legs/no room/would prefer it if you don’t recline your seat. If someone did that I would be happy to put my seat back in the upright position. But I have only gotten seat kickers or snarky comments such as the lady who loudly commented to her husband that she hates people who recline their seats, just after I reclined my seat. That makes me want to keep my seat reclined.

  2. Wow! There are so many different opinions here. I thought everyone would say not rude, but it seems 1/5 think it’s very rude. I consider myself a very conscientious person, to a fault at times. I am very uncomfortable with the seat fully upright. I’m tiny, 100 lbs and 5’1. You’d think I’d be comfy in any situation, but that’s not the situation. Because I’m short, the part of the seat which is supposed to slope to fit my neck is at a very bad position (way too high). If your tall and the contour of the head rest fits u well, try sliding way down and you’ll see.

    On my last flight, I slowly put my seat back at a time when drinks were not yet served on a 5 hour long flight. The guy behind me starts pushing my seat back up. I thought for sure it was a child being a child. I kept having to recline and he’d kick it back up. So, I turn around. He tells me that I’m being very rude by putting my seat back and since it’s a packed flight I shouldn’t have it back. I’m not sure how having one other person on the plane or 300 have anything to do with the room between the back of my seat and him. I told him that I’m actually very uncomfy with the seat up the whole way and would it make him more comfy if I put it up half way. H said no, that he wouldn’t be comfy unless it was the whole way up. He was an extremely loud and arrogant type. I didn’t feel like dealing with him bumping my seat the next 3 hours, so I put it up the whole way. Thinking back, I should have just had the flight attendant come up if he kept man handling my seat.

  3. Can I just point out that the seats should not be so close together that we even need to discuss if it is proper to recline or not?

    The fact that we are discussing this shows that the seats are closer then considered reasonable within out cultural norms.

    Studies show It is possible to understand the intimacy of 2 people based on how close they stand to each other. This distance can very between cultures.

    This is a direct ramification of the airlines disinterest in our comfort and focus on customer service, not the level of etiquette the person ahead of you is capable of adhering to.

    Can you tell I had the flight from hell today?

  4. 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.

  5. I personally hate it when the person in front of me reclines all the way back. I have very, very long legs (I’m a woman with a 37 and 1/2 inseam) that hardly fit in coach to begin with, and when people push their seat all the way back it always bangs into my knees and I have to sit sideways. Then they are stuck either to the left or right the entire flight, or if I try to readjust I have to bang into their seat and get some extra rude groans or looks from said reclining person. It is so rude and drives me crazy. I wish people would have more self awareness. Anyone who says yes it’s okay to recline all the way with someone behind you is selfish. Howard Stern addressed this recently on his Sirius show and, as a tall person, he certainly agrees!

  6. I am floored by some of these comments! The question is not whether or not it is allowed to recline your seat – the question is whether or not it is rude to recline your seat. Absolutely! How could it not possibly be rude to lie in a stranger’s lap? I’m not surprised by so many of you are proclaiming your “right” to recline, though – I fly every week, so I know that the majority of the public is rude.

  7. Flying is not a joy, and everyone has their own needs.

    “Undesirable at times”?… Most certainly. “Rude”?…. I fear you are emoting too much.

    I’m no more entitled to a comfortable flight than anyone else. And I’m yet to have one.

  8. A lot of people complaining here!

    If you think its rude for someone in front of you to recline their seat, then I declare it rude for the person sitting next to me to use their laptop on the grounds that I don’t enjoy that glaring screen glowing in the dark next to me throughout the flight!

    Seriously, there are lots of things we might not like. But we are only passengers, we don’t own the entire plane and have no right to expect everyone else to conform to our expectations.

  9. I think it’s incredibly rude to recline your seat before checking the person behind you. Some seats are in disrepair, and even in first class, I’ve had people practically in my lap.

    Since checking the status of the person behind you prior to reclining (simple etiquette) is apparently not inherent for so many travelers, perhaps something to this affect could be added to the canned informational announcements made by the flight attendants.

  10. These comments only show that there are 2 types of people in the world: those that have some respect and consideration for the other people around them, and those who are selfish and don’t give a sh!t about anyone else. The latter type deserve a punch in the face from the person they reclined their seat into after they get off the plane.

  11. It’s not rude per se, but I would never recline my seat, because I wouldn’t want someone to do it to me.

  12. Not rude. For some, it can mean a relief in back pain. The herniated discs in my back prevent me from sitting upright for long periods of time.

  13. Some of you need to realize that there are others in this world who suffer pains and ailments that are just as physically excruciating (sometimes more so) as your wide girth or leg length…

  14. Reclining all the way is absolutely rude and inconsiderate in coach – you are packed in like sardines as it is – and as somebody who is tall, it makes me want to wring the person’s neck in front of me.

    So, for all of you short people, show some class and consideration when you see someone 6′ or taller stuck in coach (trust me, I do everything I can to avoid coach, but sometimes it is unavoidable). And if you insist on being rude and inconsiderate, you can expect to have your seat “accidentally” kicked repeatedly. One particular troll had a nice and sticky pineapple juice “accidentally” spill down his neck – and his shirt literally stuck to him for the remaining 8 hour flight – I didn’t even bother to give a fake apology.

  15. It is rude not to check behind you to see if you are sitting in front of a tall person, or if someone is working.

    As a tall person, I hate when one moves the seat back for a couple of reasons:
    1) My knees are sometimes already touching the seat in front of me. When a person moves their seat back, I literally have less than adequate room. So while the person in front of me gets the greatness of having an extra 3 degrees of meaningless recline, I suffer with no where for my legs to go.
    2) If you are working on the plane, the seat does not allow for both a recline and a laptop.
    3) Reclining my own chair does not give me the leg room back, it just pisses of the guy behind me and then everyone is uncomfortable.

    What I used to do when someone would recline in front of me would move my legs around to let them know that there was little to no space . . . kind of a pathetic little way of complaining without having the nuts to actually say something.

    What I have started doing is simply tapping the person on the should and saying that I have long legs and would really appreciate it if they didn’t recline their seat. Most people will respect the request and behave in a civil manner. Some people will scoff and refuse. When one refuses to behave like an adult with you, then treat them just as they treat you . . . like a little kid that kicks the back of the chair the entire time. It becomes fun to annoy the ass in front of you, and he will think twice about not behaving like a considerate person in public . . . that’s a double WIN!

  16. I am 6’8″, 295 lbs. I dare you to recline into my knees that are already touching (not pressed into) against the back of your seat and act like it’s not rude–we will make the national news, and that’s a promise.

    If anyone thinks there’s an argument about having to pay for first class because of my size, your argument is unfounded as I fit into the space that I paid for, and the seats NEED to be upright at times–at NO time, do they NEED to be reclined. This is an option or luxury, to be used when the person behind you gives you the “OK” or the seat behind you is empty.

    By the way, I agree 100% with Tallboy, and this is why I have not made the national news yet. And Jim6, I applaud you and your efforts. If all else fails, just push the chair as hard as you can, and the mechanism will fail and the seat will return to its upright positiion.

    TJS: you need to grow up and realize that life isn’t fair. If you are in front of someone whose knees are in your way, you don’t have the right to cause that person pain. Try the route of asking and switchiing seats as others have outlined above. When I was younger and more likely to brush things like this off (I’m 32 now, not some old grouch), I literally walked around for 2 days with divots in my knees. You’re the worst TJS.

  17. I am 6’5 and I have been on 5 flights, none more then 2 hours, and in only one did the person recline, and I don’t recline. It really doesn’t give you anymore room, I get sore knees during trips so I would know, so it is stupid when people insist of shoving their seat into your room. Here I will quote someone else “I’ve tried talking to people who put their seat back expecting me to perform dental work on them, and sometimes we come to an agreement, sometimes they wave me off. When they do that, I aim the cold air from my seat vent at the top of their head”

  18. I travel internationally more than domestic. There is an entirely different level of etiquette depending on where you are in the world. Be glad if all you have to worry about is a reclining a seat. This is minor issue compared to what you encounter in some places. In Africa or India do not expect people to honor a queue. Cutting in front of you, pushing/shoving while boarding is the accepted norm. Personal space is a foreign concept. I have had people, while standing in line, stand so close to me to be touching. Reclining a seat is nothing in comparison to the person behind you pulling your seat to stand. Not once but every few minutes. This has happened to me on several flights to the point I go ballistic.

    I have come to the realization that if you travel economy on international flights you will encounter rude, self centered, sometimes smelly, people. Depending on where you are this can be mitigated. Most of Asia, India being the main exception, is the best to travel with Western Europe, Australia and US after that. Africa is by far the worst for travel. The rest of the world is somewhere in between.

  19. Wow…I don’t fly a lot, but lately have had to go international (13 hour flights), and it never occured to my husband (who is very tall) or I that is was rude that the folks in front of us reclined…or that we did. If I valued the space that much, I guess I would fork over the money for first class. Why put in a feature you can’t use it?

  20. Not rude to recline. That’s what the seats are built for. Deal with others in your space, or don’t fly.

    I fly every week and I hope the people around me – and in front of me! – are making the most of their trip.

    How about if you ask a flight attendant to ask the person in front of you to not recline and see how that goes?

  21. I think some people are confused about the definition of rude. Just because YOU don’t like something, doesn’t make it necessarily rude. Granted, I’m short (5’3″), but I have serious back issues. I think it’s lovely that some people can sit up straight for 6+ hours. And may they enjoy the resulting DVT. But not all of us can do that. Suck it up. *No one* in coach is comfortable. This doesn’t mean you should smash your seat into the knees of the basketball player behind you. And it doesn’t mean you should resort to childish behavior if the person in front of you does what their seat allows them to do. I don’t like it when the person in front of me reclines, either. But it’s coach. Isn’t much that you can like.

  22. Is intrude to recline?! What? In coach reclining means to adjust your seat maybe one inch. No not rude.

  23. Rude? Maybe not, but thank you to the person who “took the space the airline gave them” by taking away the space the airline gave me. I have as much right to that space as you. What is rude is assuming that you have more right than the person into whose lap/knees/space you are intruding. It’s rude to expect a level of courtesy from those around you that you don’t afford them. It’s also rude to assume no responsibility and say “blame the airline.” About the same as me saying “blame the airline” when you’re uncomfortable because my long legs poke you in the back when you recline into me. Do I like to recline? Yes, because it is (moderately) more comfortable. Do I? No, because I think that would be rude. As they say, “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

  24. Rude and the airlines should restrict any seat from reclining if there is not enough leg room. If the airlines hadn’t taken away most of the space then it might not be as rude.

  25. I once had a 4 hour flight but it was like at 3 am or something. So everyone was sleeping. The guy in front of me had his seat reclined but it didn’t really matter to me. I reclined my seat as well but it was all just so uncomfortable. My friend got the window seat so she just leaned her head on the window but I just… I couldn’t do anything to make myself comfortable. Reclined seats or not, economy class seats doesn’t make much difference. And business class or first class is wayyy to expensive for the average joe to afford.
    I think it is just brutal for airlines to make people sit up straight for how many hours or flight. It’s kind of a stretch but it reminds me or the holocaust and how the jews had to stand in trains all cramped up.
    I have terrible back pain and I have a pretty long torso too. I just can’t sit like that for hours and hours. if perhaps airlines had some varieties or seats available for different people. Perhaps wide seats for bigger people. Seats with a bit more room in front of them for tall, long legged people. Seats with a foot stand for short legged people. I don’t expect them to accommodate everyone’s issues but at least try.
    Reclining your seat is definitely not a rude move. But it’s common etiquette to think about the person behind you. You would ‘t recline your seat in the car if someone was behind you.

  26. Very rude and one of my biggest pet peeves when flying. I’m 6’2 and can barely fit in the small space assigned to us to begin with. If someone in front of me reclines they drastically cut more of that already limited space forcing me to sit in a very uncomfortable and unnatural position. So yes the person in front of me may gain a little bit of comfort, but it’s at my expense. I personally refuse to do the same thing to the person behind me so I’m stuck there with less space than I paid for. With people getting taller and the leg space in airplanes being more and more limited it’s ridiculous that seats recline in the first place. They should just stick to non-reclining seats. I completely agree with the guy who wrote this article here:

  27. no no no! It is not rude! I find sitting with a straight back in a non-reclined chair to be UNBEARABLY uncomfortable. It’s torture. When my seat is not reclined, I can barely move and feel very claustrophobic. I certainly can’t sleep or get comfortable, which is torture on 8 hour flights. Should I give myself back problems so that the person behind me can watch TV slightly more comfortably? If the person in front of me reclines their seat, my space is not reduced by that much. I can still comfortably work on a laptop and eat a meal. If everyone reclines their seats, everyone has exactly the same amount of room that they did before, AND everyone is more comfortable, so what on earth is the problem. The only people that lose out are the sad tortured souls in the very last row, and even those seats recline on very long flights.

  28. Wow. Lot of responses on this.
    If I paid for a seat and a seat back , I’m reclining it.

    Also I only fly in business and first , so there

  29. I think it is rude to recline your seat, because the recliner is taking someone elses space to make themself more comftorable at the person who is behind them’s expense.

  30. I’m not overly tall (maybe 5.8), but all my height is in my legs-and they are longer than colleagues of mine who are considerably over 6ft.
    I need to work on flights, but I also have extra-bits of bone in my legs, and sitting with my legs crossed is massively more comfortable-but this means my knees are rammed against the seat infront-and if they try reclining….they find it won’t move.
    On my last long flight (about 10 hours) the woman infront tried to recline during takeoff-but could not (due to my knees-but as it is normally a policy of the airline I did not feel bad).
    After the meal I thought she might want to sleep-so I got up for 2.5 hours so she could sleep, then I went and sat down-sideways (as my knees would not fit).
    After being in the plane 7.5 hours I had had enough of people crashing into or tripping over my legs-so I tried to ask her to put her seat forwards at least a little-no joy, she came and physically made my chair recline (which put my pelvis forwards-meaning less room for my legs and it’s not easy to type in)
    so I moved my legs-which forced her seat forwards-and she called the stewardess-I explained that I had been uncomfortable for 7.5 hours and there were only 2 left and that as the reason her seat would not go back was because my legs were too long and I could not make them shorter. So the stewardess said someone needed to move-and advised me to pay for a comfort seat in future (which when you are flying for work is often not really an option, and I do think flying with legs is a basic right)
    Because I am female, and not ridiculously tall-only my proportions are odd-if you ask for sensitivity, you rarely get it…..yes, I am one of those people who wished seats did not recline, as I think reclining can provide a small amount of comfort to most people-but far less than the discomfort they cause to others…

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