Should airlines get rid of reclining seats?

CNN’s Maria Cardona wrote in a recent article that airlines should get rid of reclining seats to solve the problem that diverted three flights over the past few weeks.   The article went on to say a survey showed that 91% of air travelers would support banning reclining seats on short-distance flights.  That percentage went down to 43% supporting the ban on long-distance flights.  The article also suggested that if getting rid of seat reclining wasn’t an option maybe airlines should charge passengers extra for reclining seats.  These seats would be available where extra legroom is already in place on planes (such as the exit row and premium economy).  Then I saw Fox News publish an article essentially saying when a seat is reclined it’s not invading someone else’s space.  Their point was that the distance between seats is constant when both are upright or when both are reclined.  So if the person in front of you reclines you should be able to recline and get that space back.  Lots of opinions out there!

Here’s my take on these two articles.  Getting rid of reclining seats is definitely not how we avoid these in-air commotions.  Instead, we need to be educating fliers on in-flight etiquette.  I wrote about how the two passengers should have handled the situation in the Knee Defender story, but I believe airlines themselves need to also be taking part in etiquette education.  (Maybe having video monitors on the jet bridge that show videos of in-flight etiquette suggestions could go a long way?)   The Home Warrior said before he met me he would recline in his seat at any time, not realizing that it had the potential cram tall people and limit use of the tray table for the people behind him.  Now that he’s educated he’ll ask the person behind him if it’s ok if he reclines (he has back problems time to time so reclining helps).  Keep in mind that as Lady Light Travel mentioned there are often medical reasons why a person must recline their seat. They may not be visible but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. (LLT’s whole post is awesome. Everyone who flies should be required to read it.)

Charging extra for reclining seats is also not the solution I’m looking for.  Airlines are charging extra left and right for things that used to be free.  By taking away the seat reclining option you’re alienating a whole lot of fliers.  Those fliers would be the ones that need to recline for medical reasons, the fliers that are sick and tired of airlines continuing to add to their ticket prices, and the fliers that can handle seat reclining situations without airline intervention (like, say, grownups).  And what’s to stop the airlines for charging for other free features such as your air vent, your armrest, your tray table!  If they start getting away with charging for reclining seats then there’s no telling where they’ll stop.

Back to the Fox article saying reclining your seat isn’t invading someone else’s space if they also recline.  That statement may be true for the upper half of your body, but is incorrect in regards to knee space and tray table space.  Your knee space and tray table space cannot be regained by simply reclining your seat in return.

The more we educate fliers the friendlier the skies will be.  We can’t expect non-frequent fliers to magically know all the rules.  If they rarely fly they probably have no idea about this stuff, just like the Home Warrior.  For now though, let’s hope that seat reclining commotions stay out of the news because it’s a distraction to some of the bigger problems there are out there (like flight delays!).

Readers, what do you think?  Should seat reclining be banned? 


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  1. 3 reported incidents out of a million flights per day. And if you look into the details it was because of adults acting like spoiled kids. The behaving majority will have to suffer because of these “isolated” incidents by such douches?

  2. Count me in the 91 an 43 percent group…and I too have back problems. Letting the person in front of me lay on my lap isn’t being able to recline a couple inches.

  3. I’m a staunch anti-recline tall person but make an exception for red-eyes. I don’t think that outright banning reclining or charging for it makes any sense. I also don’t buy the argument that everyone should just recline to maintain the same amount of space because if you’re in front of an exit row or in the dreaded last row you often cannot recline at all anyway.
    One (unlikely) solution is in the mechanics of the seats. Rather than moving the backrest back to recline, the seat should slide forward to create the angle. This seems more common on trains but makes sense for planes too. That way if someone chooses to recline they’re smashing their own knees instead of the person behind them.
    Until that happens people could just try behaving like polite adults…might be crazy enough to work.

  4. The easy answer is “yes” but I’m biased as my knees already hit the seat and if they recline, I can’t use my tray table and am stuck. No one has mentioned what happens in an emergency – if the seat is reclined can people still exit the rows? I tend to sit on aisle and move legs into aisle to then get hit by beverage carts 🙂

    The problem I see is that over the years, the airlines have made the seats smaller while the traveling public has grown larger making it so uncomfortable and creating this mess. Extra fees are not the answer but taking out a row or two might be and start using all that baggage fee revenue to create a humane product for all (dreamer I know!)

  5. Yes, Suzanne, you are a dreamer though I too believe that removing a few rows might increase the comfort level and possibly the tolerance level of [some] passengers. Air travel has become my least favorite ways to travel; so much so that I’m inclined to take road trips rather than fly when I can make that choice. In fact I chose a four-hour bus ride over a one-hour flight on my last trip. I figured that getting to and from the airport, standing in security lines, boarding and shuttling into town would use just as much of my time as the bus ride. The bus was clean, had comfy reclining seats, tray tables and WiFi. It was also much quieter than a plane ride. I was able to get some work done and I arrived at my destination much less stressed than on my last plane trip to the same place (Washington, D.C.) Oh, and the bus was about $200 cheaper.

  6. What I don’t understand in this whole thing is when did courtesy disappear? Can’t we just try to do the right thing by others and accept that if people recline, they have a reason for it? Most people these days don’t, I had a recliner a few flights ago, it was annoying, but I accepted it and got on with what I was doing. I did not assume that my desire for them not to recline was greater than their need to, as people seem to be doing, and then over-react accordingly. Sheesh people we’re all adults here.

  7. I’m not tall, but I HATE when the seat in front of me reclines. It doesn’t hit my knees, but it absolutely impacts my ability to put my laptop on my tray table and get work done. That doesn’t get helped by reclining my own seat. Plus, I find that airline seats are already built at a little bit of an incline – I wish there would be an option to make them go more upright, rather than recline. I usually use a book, jacket, or pashmina as a pillow in the small of my back to get the seat to be more straight than its currently pre-reclined status.

    I think common courtesy should indicate that your seat should only be reclined on a red-eye flight.

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