I’ve had a change of heart on seat reclining

A while back, I did a couple of polls about whether it’s rude to recline your seat while flying. It was pretty well split—some people thought it was super rude and others thought it was mostly okay. In the past, I’ve always been of the mind that it’s perfectly fine to recline as long as you do it slowly, and don’t do it during meal service. Well, after my recent flying experience, I’ve had a change of heart.

A few weeks ago, I was flying home from Charlotte. I had some work that needed to be done, so I got out my laptop. Just as I set it on the tray (but before I opened it), the guy in front of me threw back his seat. Had my laptop been open, he would have broken it. I tried to open it, but couldn’t get it up enough to see the screen, and so gave up.

It’s not that I think that reclining your seat is always rude. In fact, I still think it’s not rude in most cases. However, unless there are extenuating circumstances, I don’t plan to recline anymore. I just don’t want to cut into someone’s space that much. (Of course, if the seat behind me is the exit row, well, I’m totally reclining.) I think people who have a medical condition should definitely recline as needed. I also think that anyone who reclines should do it slowly and mindfully, and try very hard not to just throw their seat back.

Anyone agree? Disagree? Had a change of heart as well?


  1. Everyone has the right to recline as they please. You paid to rent the seat. If you need room for a 17″ 10lb laptop, then get a biz/1st class seat, otherwise maybe invest in a smaller one.
    I do agree that everyone should do it slowly to avoid crushing something behind you though. Some older seats you COULDN’T do fast because of hydraulics in them or something restricting the speed, so maybe they should bring those back.

  2. Its ur right to recline. Why are such trivial little issues such big deals only in America?
    Just recline if you want. Dont fo it too fast, look back and recline. Dont do it diring landing, take offs or meals. Geez

  3. If the seat behind you is an exit row I don’t think your seat will even recline (it would be blocking the exit). And usually I think it is ok to recline (except during meal services)…
    The real problem is the airlines not giving you enough space. I recently flew TACA and was quite happy with their seats in economy… Even when the person on front of me reclined their seat 🙂

  4. I don’t like when others recline, and I don’t usually recline myself… but I can’t exactly say they don’t have a right to recline.

    On the other hand, if they recline I’m not going to go out of my way to prevent my knees from being in the back of their seat. That would unfairly affect the people beside me, anyway.

  5. This conversation is already going the way of the first conversation: people chiming in to say that it’s not rude to recline because they have a right to do so (variations include “they made the seat to recline, so I have the right to do it,” or “I paid for my seat, which reclines, so I have the right to do it.”

    People: You can both have the right to do something and decline to do it because it is rude. We generally don’t go around saying out loud every judgment that passes through our minds (“God, he’s fat!” “I would NEVER wear that.” “She is SO unqualified for this job.”) because it would be rude to do so.

    So, yeah, I think it’s rude to recline. We all know how cramped and unpleasant airplanes are. Choosing to increase your comfort while decreasing someone else’s? Practically the definition of rudeness.**

    **Obviously, medical exceptions are real and legitimate.

  6. Not only do I think its rude to recline unless you are very tall and need the space or have a medial issue, but I am also a firm believer in use of the knee defender! http://www.kneedefender.com/

    Like Victoria said, the airlines pack us in like sardines, so while yes, we may have all kinds of rights, whether or not it is rude to your fellow passengers to exercise that right is an entirely different issue.

    Reclining falls in the same category as those people who carry on a LOUD phone call that can be heard by everyone. Rude rude rude.

  7. I expect the person in front of me to recline. I also expect to be uncomfortable in a standard coach seat. That is life. I also sleep on planes so I recline when the meal service is done. Whit regards to the knee defender, most airlines don’t allow them. If you suspect one is being used on your seatback, tell the FA and they will have it removed.

  8. If you are planning to work on your laptop, then fly business class! And if your company is too cheap to pay for it then simply dont work on the airplane!

  9. @Curtis I use an 11″ laptop. In most economy seats, there’s no room to open it when the passenger in front of me reclines.

    I believe that the airlines should be responsible for damage to person or property due to reclining seats that are placed to close together by the airline.

  10. Many of my flights are on regional jets. I’m not quite 5’9″ and sometimes my knees brush the back of the seat in front of me. I can’t think of any reason people cannot sit upright on regional jets as the flights are typically 2 hours or less. Even on “real” planes I don’t recline unless there’s no one behind me or it’s an overnight flight and everyone is reclining.

  11. I don’t think it’s rude to recline in most situations, but I think it is polite to be mindful while making the decision to or not to recline.

    Is reclining your seat going to make the person behind you more uncomfortable than you are right now? Is the person behind you clearly large/tall/cramped? Is the person behind you eating/working? Don’t recline unless necessary.

    Is it an overnight flight? Is there no one in the seat behind you? Recline!

    I once noticed a man recline is 3-year-old daughter’s seat while she was playing a game on their iPad. That, in my opinion, is not a good use of the recline feature.

  12. Lots and lots of people buy Knee Defender after having had their computer screens cracked by a reclining seat or a close-call.

    Also, lots of people who use Knee Defender to protect their computer screens have written to say that, if they notice the person in front trying to recline, they ask that person to wait a minute – then they move their computers, adjust/remove the Knee Defender, then say, “OK, go ahead.” IOW, they use it like a saefty-catch.

  13. Now that thats covered, how do you feel about those persons that grab the back of your seat to wedge them selves in and out of their seats?

  14. IMO they should remove the ability to recline in coach entirely. It’s how many degrees of recline anyhow? It’s a meaningless frill in domestic travel. Removing it would simplify the seat and perhaps save a little weight. My wife naps on planes all the time without ever reclining. I rarely sleep even on redeye flights but when I do, I do so without reclining.

    Business or first class is a different kettle of fish.

  15. I think it is totally rude to prevent the guy in front to take full advantage of the reclining seat that he has paid for just so that you can keep on your petty activities on your laptop.

  16. Reclining all the way back is rude, unless you are 6 foot 4 or have the misfortune to be sitting behind someone who also reclined fully. That sets off a chain reaction, and someone is going to get squeezed.

  17. I am not a large person and do not recline unless I am trying to sleep, but I have noticed that several seats I have been in over the last year have reclined without me. I sit the seat up and 20 minutes later I am back in a reclined position.

  18. At 6’5″, I’ve had some truly painful experiences with people rapidly reclining. Although it is absolutely everyone’s right to recline, unless you’re doing it to sleep it is IMO rude.

  19. @Vincente – me and 2 friends are flying RyanAir from Baden-Baden Germany to Rome Italy tomorrow and NONE of RyanAir’s seats recline! I’ll let you know how I think it goes; it is only a 1hr 30 minute flight =)

  20. Think of others when you recline, grab the seat, slam your tray up and down, adjust yourself in your seat like you’re a bouncing kangaroo. There, that was easy! I think we just need more advice on counterattacks for rudeness. I make sure to brush the top of a Recliner’s head with my newspaper at every page turn. Admittedly childish but satisfying.

  21. Think about how you like to be treated and then treat others the same way. It is your right to recline if the seat is designed to recline, but that doesn’t mean you have to. If you do not like it when others recline, why would you do it to someone else?

  22. the seats in coach force my body forward, I am only 6′ but my shoulder must be too large for the average and the only bearable position is to recline. Sorry I will do it slower next time, but I recline the INSTANT I am allowed.

  23. Rude is trying to tell people that they cannot do something that an airline is set up for and the airline even tells you when you can do(recline). Rude is also using a device that many airlines such as AA specifically prohibit (Knee defender). I rarely recline, but I have not said anything to anyone who does because that is their right. If you do not like the space that the airlines allocate, then you need to upgrade to first class.

  24. @Max, well said. I’m always amazed at this pointless villainizing of passengers reclining a seat that is meant to do so.

  25. I never recline my seat unless it’s a red eye and everyone is sleeping. I just love to watch people recline the seat as soon as takeoff and sit straight up (not using the seat back). Also love when the flight attendant asks them to put the seat up, they recline it as soon as the flight attendant walks away. People can sleep sitting up. My thought is use only if it’s a red eye and have them locked otherwise. It’s also good for emergencies.

  26. Because of the current seat space in coach nobody should be allowed to recline and the airlines should lock the setbacks down so you can’t. Problem solved. Sorry but it my opinion after much pain in the sky with rude recliners. It’s like putting your car seat all the way back when you have passengers in the back seats that have limited leg room.

  27. It’s not rude at all to recline. The person behind you has the same option you have to recline their seat as well. If both people do it, the space issue is a wash (cancels out).

    If the guy behind chooses not to recline, that’s fine, but I’m not rude for exercising my right to be comfortable.

    Again, if more space is required, buy a higher fare seat.

  28. The root of the problem is that airlines are permitted to pack their seats too close together. This needs a legislative remedy.

  29. Although I have also “suffered” from premature recline by the passenger in front of me, I suspect that many, if not MOST travellers simply do not connect the fact that THEIR seat back is YOUR tray table. And impedes into your little spot in the plane. Notwithstanding that they have/may have flown many times before and have been impacted by someone else’s thoughtlessness. It’s truly sad that so many of us now exist solely within our own, personal, one metre/three-foot universe without a care for anyone else but ourselves. To simply opine that I should buy a more expensive seat, regardless of my means is also thoughtless, careless and dare I say rude. Maybe, more journalists and bloggers should/could address the fact that we all exist within the same overall space and should consider where we are within that space before we decide to turn, stop, or recline.

  30. I have a great strategy that works well and doesn’t offend anyone. If I plan to work on my laptop I tap the person in front of me and very politely say ” hi, I’m going to be working on a laptop, please let me know when you are going to recline so I can adjust.” Ninety percent of the time they never recline and if they do they let me know, so I ‘m prepared. I also let the person behind me know if I’m going to recline( I only do so on long flights when I need to sleep). A little communication goes a long way!

  31. I only recline when the person in front of me reclines, to reclaim the space i lost. I don’t like it when people recline, but its not my place to question why they are doing it. They are taking advantage of an option made available to them. Could be, like me, they get a little claustrophic. Maybe they have a bad back. I have no way of knowing so shouldnt cast judgment. Just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean they are doing anything wrong, I presume they have a reason and give them the benefit of the doubt. I find it far ruder when parents let their kids kick my seat repeatedly. Or gripe out loud about the person who’s reclined in front of them. Or come on the flight inebriated. Or bring on stinky food. There’s a lot of bad behavior on planes and reclining a seat is far from the top of the list.

  32. Seats should not recline. That would solve the problem. To parapharse MSPpete, pay the upgrade if you want to recline.

  33. @Lec, thanks. You can’t see my medical condition – the scars from my spinal surgery are quite low on my back. I can go about 1-1/2 hours before my back strarts to cramp and spasm. This is directly a result of the tight seating space. I am distressed that some would assume I’m rude because I recline. In fact, several medical studies show that reclining is the optimal position for those with lower back problems. If needed, I pay extra to accommodate my medical condition. I expect tall folks and business travelers to do the same to accommodate their needs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.