Seat reclining guidance

USA Today wrote a story this week on the controversial subject of seat reclining.  As the story points out, many airlines are pushing the limits of 1-7-15-1passengers by literally squeezing seats into every last available inch in order to generate more revenue.  It seems these days that you don’t even have to be that tall to feel cramped when the person in front of you decides to recline.  And if you happen to have something underneath the seat in front of you good luck trying to get it once your row is filled up.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten a charley horse or crick in my neck trying to pull something out of my bag when it’s under the seat in front of me.  It’s for this very reason that I recommend having what you need from your personal item during the flight either in an outside pocket, or positioned in some other easily accessible way (AKA not at the bottom of your bag). (This is also why I often choose to sit in the aisle.)

I’m sure you all remember the reclining craziness earlier this year. After the Knee Defender incident this summer I wrote how this particular situation could have been avoided.  Unless I am first class or economy plus, I personally choose not to recline during flights (although this wasn’t always the case). While I don’t begrudge someone else reclining, the reason I don’t recline anymore is I just don’t want to be responsible for taking space away from someone else. Not to mention, it can hurt the knees of people who are tall and (if done quickly) has the potential to break someone’s computer.

The USA Today story has some guidance that I mostly support.  One suggestion is to ask before you recline. (Of course, I always see that suggested but I have never ever had someone ask me if it’s okay if they recline. Hmmmmm.)  They also recommend not to recline during meal times—this one is big, as reclining can make it virtually impossible for the person behind you to eat. Next the story says if someone leans into your personal space, ask them to unlean a little.  I haven’t done this personally but if your knees are getting crushed when they recline then that passenger should be a team player and un-recline.  The story closes with the suggestion to ask a flight attendant to move you if the situation escalates, or (worst case) deploy the knee defender if necessary and permitted. I totally agree with asking a flight attendant to move you but I would not recommend deploying the Knee Defender in any situation.  Period. Seat reclining, in my opinion, should be handled through dialog between the passengers, or by working with a flight attendant. Methods such as the Knee Defender are asking for trouble.

Another thing to keep in mind that the article didn’t address—some people literally have to recline due to medical issues. So while it’s easy to give advice across the board, there are always special situations which require different handling (and a little more compassion).

Readers, do you agree with the advice given in this article? Have you ever had anyone ask you if it’s okay if they recline?


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  1. I’m of the opinion that the person who paid for a ticket in a seat is entitled to use the functionality of that seat, including recline.

  2. i’m with matt here. as long as i’m not slamming it into someone’s face or dinner, it should be fine.

  3. My back has a hard time with most economy seats when upright, and that recline is the difference for me between getting somewhere sore and immobile or not. I usually make a point to click the recline button and just edge back a bit so they see that I’m starting to recline, then slowly move I to a full recline. I felt very badly on one trip that I kept trying to recline and the seat wouldnt an do kept.trying to force it, thinking it was broken- only to.find d it was a very tall man’s knees that were stopping me each time. He never said a word the whole time, and when we were deboarding and I realized, I apologized profusely. I wish he had tapped my shoulder or just said something- I’d have gladly obliged. I was glad he at least accepted my apology,saying he was used to it ( which I found saddening. So now I try to make.a point to size up the person sitting behind me when I can, and to see if I need to not relief much or at all out of courtesy. I’m lucky to be fairly short and with short legs, unfortunately a ad lower bad as well LOL

  4. we purchase the right to the functionality of the seat, including recline. However, with rights come responsibilities. Those responsibilities include consideration of others and to the situation. That being many people flying together in tight quarters. To fully recline without such consideration is within the users rights. Yet rude.

  5. We are not animals, we do not go about doings things just because we can.. have some consideration. I will only recline my seat maximum one notch and I will do it while usually holding the seat and guiding it down. But I have had enough of this nonsense of people being inconsiderate infront of me so I have stopped flying economy.

  6. I think the main thing we need to start doing is communicating with each other on flights!
    I always notify the person behind me when I’m about to recline and it’s appreciated. I let the person in front of me know that I am using my laptop and to let me know when they are about to recline.
    If someone needs to recline for medical reasons then let the person behind you know (you can even offer to buy them a drink!).
    I always take the window seat and 90% of the time I get a guy with a baseball cap in front of me who slams back his seat as so as he is able…rude! At this time I’m usually getting into my bag for my laptop or ipad and get hit in the head.
    So, lets just start talking to each other and be civil, that’s all it will take for everyone to be comfortable.

  7. As a frequent business traveler it is always obvious who the recreational flyers are. The peopke who fly a lot don’t recline in coach. I was not raised with that “it’s all about me” attitude and find people who recline their seats on flights to be rude. Look around next time on a flight. You’ll notice the people who shove their seat back at the first available opportunity are a certain type; all about me me me and/or from a Jersey-esque demograph.

  8. I always find these posts entertaining, as the comments are usually passionate…
    Yes, you purchase the whole seat and with it the right to recline. If the airlines didn’t want you to recline, they would put in seats that don’t recline, like Cathay, ANA and a host of others. That’s why usually flight attendants will enforce it and allow passengers to recline, if they can’t sort it out themselves.
    Yes, you should be considerate, look around and talk to the person behind you to make sure there is no issue. That’s just common courtesy. Finding accommodation for everybody is often as easy as switching seats.
    Yes, you shouldn’t recline during mealtime- and many good flight attendants will actually enforce that, too.
    No, knee defenders are not an option – they are not allowed on many airlines because they infringe on the passengers right to use his/her seat to the full extend it was designed for and they paid for.
    What always gets me is the generalization: Not everybody reclining is rude – they might have a medical condition. And I find people who expect everybody to stay upright (for them) to have as much “it’s all about me” attitude as the people who recline without consideration.
    I’m 6ft3 and have a bad back and I recline whenever I have a chance, so I can walk of the plane and not hobble. I also purchase bulkhead, exit row or business class seats whenever I can and avoid airlines with seats that slide forward or don’t recline. If somebody has an issue with me reclining, I sort it out with them or ask the flight attendant to assist – very simple. I’ve been on hundreds and hundreds of flights and only had an issue once, in the US, when somebody flew of the handle when I reclined. We sorted it out.
    If you buy the cheapest possible seat, expect to be cramped with, yes, possibly somebody reclining. If you don’t want the person in front of you to recline, you can do the same thing: buy better seats, ask the person in front of you nicely to not recline or the flight attendant to reseat you – equally simple. As others have said, this is not so difficult, as long as everybody is civil…

  9. I wrote an article earlier this year on why some people must recline on a plane. It’s all about physics and physiology, not selfishness. People with lower back issues have to recline to relieve the intense pain created by the upward tip of the plane. Those who insist that all people stay upright are either misinformed or choosing to ignore others legitimate needs.
    I try to patronize airlines that have a larger seat pitch so I can accommodate my disability. When I fly on Southwest I buy an Early Bird ticket to make sure I’m on board first. I choose a seat where there is no one behind me. I then warn the person that chooses that seat that I WILL be reclining during the flight due to a herniated disk. They can choose another seat if they wish.
    I’m always willing to swap seats if there is a tall person behind me. I’m less tolerant of people with full laptops. Thinking you can use a full laptop in economy class is delusional thinking, and I’m less willing to honor it. If you must use the laptop then pay extra for the extra room required.

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