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airplane plane seats woman hat passengers air travelDuring a recent United Airlines flight from Washington D.C. to Ghana, one passenger reclined his seat and was introduced to his rear-seat neighbor — with a slap to the head. A fight ensued.

According to The Washington Post, which broke the story, a flight attendant and a fellow passenger stepped in to stop the tussle. Then, upon learning that violence had broken out among his passengers, the pilot turned the plane around and headed back to Dulles International Airport.

Before the plane could land, the pilot had to circle for roughly 25 minutes. The Washington Post reports that while the plane, a Boeing 767, can take off with up to 16,700 gallons of fuel, it can’t land with it — hence the pilot had to lighten his load. As the aircraft flew in loops, two Air Force fighter jets arrived to escort the plane back to Dulles.

Once the plane landed, you’d think the police would have booked the belligerent duo. But get this: No one was charged with a crime. Not even the guy who started the fight (the one who throws the first punch is usually to blame, isn’t he?). Rob Yingling, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, told the Post that officers did not feel the incident warranted an arrest.

Ultimately, jet fuel was wasted, the Air Force was beckoned and people were inconvenienced because a couple of hot heads wanted to go to war over the loss of a few inches of seat space. Now here it comes: the Great Seat Back Debate. Clearly, mid-air violence is unacceptable, but what, exactly, is the appropriate course of action when cruising altitude is reached and the seat back button beckons? Is it rude to recline?

In The Etiquette of Seat Backs and Elbow Room, Ed Hewitt offers a simple compromise: “I believe there is a time for upright seats, and there is a time for reclining fully. Everything in its season, I read somewhere.” Hewitt suggests that travelers glance to the rear before reclining. (Don’t do it if the passenger behind you is eating a meal or is extremely tall.) Furthermore, says Hewitt, “You don’t have to push your seat all the way back to get a snooze; only take what you need.”

John Deiner, Managing Editor of IndependentTraveler.com’s sister site Cruise Critic, argues for a more compassionate approach to seat back reclining: just don’t. Says Deiner, “When people put their seat back it bothers the heck out of me, so I always assume it does the same to the person behind me. I’m 6’1″, so putting the seat back doesn’t really improve my legroom that much at all anyhow. One way my wife and I deal with it: She gets the seat in front of me, and if someone puts the seat back in front of her, it’s not such a big deal because she’s shorter. 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.”

Better to aim cold air than a few punches at the guy pushing that seat in your face. My opinion? I recline whenever I feel like it. I paid for the seat. It’s my right to transition from a stiff upright position to a stiff mostly upright position if and when I so choose. It’s not like the seats recline all that much anyway. The difference between a reclined seat and an upright seat on an airplane is the difference between a quiet hum and a whisper. (Okay, I’ll admit it. As a petite person who barely scrapes 5’3″, I’m probably somewhat ignorant to the plight of the statuesque air traveler. Maybe I’ll reconsider my position on this. Maybe.)

Now it’s your turn. Whose side do you take?



– written by Caroline Costello

82 Responses to “The Great Seat Back Debate: Is It Rude to Recline?”

  1. Matt Leonard says:

    Recline on me and I’ll recline on someone else. Seems like good justification. Otherwise, I’ll stay upright.

  2. Matt Leonard says:

    Oh, left off the fact that whoever reclines in front of me will have zero chance of sleeping as I will knee the seat, or play with the tray should I catch them trying to relax. Stay upright and I’ll let you sleep in front of me.

    • Linda says:

      Before you purposely annoy a fellow passenger who reclines in front of you. Could you please take into consideration that the person in front of you may
      ( at least in my case ) have six herniated discs,radiculapathy & fibromyalgia which makes it unbearable to sit straight up for any length of time.

      I understand that it can be unpleasant for the person behind the reclined passenger, but the severe chronic pain that is being suffered by the passenger in front of you is not just an unpleasant experience…it’s extreme torture.

      If you were to knee the back of my seat, you would set of a series of extremely painful muscle spasms that could take me weeks to heal from.

  3. I have a back problem. I must recline as soon as possible. I do take a look and will not do it when food is being served. Also doing it in two steps lets the person know you are on the way back.

  4. Reclining a few inches is ok. Going all the way back is not. That’s just common sense and common courtesy!

    • Ruth Kuehn says:

      I am with you! I recline just a little bit but not in the lap of the person behind me. On a flight from Sydney to LAX the person put his seat all the way back. I asked him to put it up a little so I could reach my bag under the seat and actually see my food tray. He refused because “his legs were longer than mine”. The attendent was not helpful. So for the entire trip my “short legs” were very busy thumping and bumping while I tried to get to my things under the seat, try to get in a comfortable position. He did not have a good sleep. I have also in the past tapped a person on the shoulder in front of me and asked nicely if they would put the seat back up a little because I had knee problems. Usually works!

    • Mommamare says:

      I totally agree with you. Sometimes I recline a few inches if it is a long flight but never all the way back. I get annoyed at people who recline all the way back. It is hard to get up, if you need too, and you can barely move to get comfortable in your own seat with their seat so far back.

  5. soliteyah says:

    If it’s an overnight flight, the cabin lights are dimmed, no food is being served…then I think it’s totally fine to recline! But during mealtimes, or if I have a very tall person behind me, then I probably wouldn’t do it.

    • mimi7 says:

      I agree. I flew over night on March. I had a guy changed around the seat for an hour and ended up sitting front of me. Then, he tried to recline his seat all the way. It has 13 hours left to go. I wanted him to wait till later. So, I pushed his seat so that he would not do that.
      He was annoyed and complaint to the flight attendant. Guess what, the flight attendant came and warned me that he has a right to incline whenever he wants. I looked around and nobody was reclining the seat except him. It is so rude and not considerate. Having him reclined that far, I could not watch movie very well. It was long 13 hours. What do others think?

  6. TravlinGirl3 says:

    I am 6′ tall. I would like to recline whenever possible. I look behind me to see if the person is tall. If so, then I don’t. As is the norm, I don’t recline during meal or drink service. If the passenger in front of me reclines, I stiffen my knees so that he or she is aware that the seat is resting against my knees and that I am not going to move them.

  7. Susieq says:

    If I’m trying to use my laptop for work or to watch a movie, it is impossible when the passenger in front is reclined. The reclined seat prevents me from being able to open it far enough to see the screen. I suggest that passengers divide their time equally on a flight between reclining and staying upright, saving the poor soul behind them from a reclined seat for the duration of a flight. I was on a long fight recently where the couple in front of me stayed reclined every possible moment of the flight. It was very uncomfortable. I’m afraid I eventually resorted to nudging, etc. to no avail. Next time, I’ll add pointing the cold air vent at them!

  8. DonnaK says:

    Once I was on a flight where the man whose seat was right in front of mine. As soon as he was in his seat, he reclined it. When I got to my seat, he was chatting in English with the person next to him. I politely asked him to put up his seat until I was seated. He looked over the back of his seat at me, then pretended to be asleep. The man next next to him suddenly forgot he knew English.
    I managed to get into my seat, but I was rude about it. I pretended to have to hang my full weight on his seat as I slid across to my (middle of three) seat. As I settled in, I kicked the back of his seat a couple of times. He looked over the back of his seat at me: his expression was angry. I told him (In English), “Don’t bother saying anything, I don’t speak English, either.” He turned around without saying anything.

  9. RichardNika says:

    I’ve had my right knee injured twice by recliners. Once, on Alitalia, a man way in front of me leaned his seat way back very suddenly and it hit my knee and I screamed in pain. He didn’t mean to do it and he apologized profusely. The other time was different. It was on Spirit (think cramped) and a woman in front of me couldn’t get her seat back because my legs were blocking it. So she drew herself up and then slammed her body back into the seat with all her might, hurting me and causing me to scream in pain. I pushed the seat back, and I make no apology for having cussed her out, using some words I couldn’t repeat here. She made no further attempt to crush my knees (if she had, I would have sued her) and uttered not a word. No one else said anything. No flight attendant intervened.

    Since then, if my legs are blocking the seat and I have to sit behind someone, I always advise that person politely that there’s no room to recline the seat and to please not attempt it. I have never been refused. As for me, I Never recline my seat if someone is behind me. That’s Never with a capital N.

  10. Nicko says:

    I am totally with Caroline – I paid for the seat and economy class offers little enough comfort as it is without the additional imposition of not being able to recline, most especially if children are travelling and need to try and get some rest. If the person reclining in front of you is really such a big deal, then pay more and move up the front of the plane! If passengers were not supposed to recline, airlines would not offer the opportunity to do so – and as it is, it’s not like they give a lot in that derpartment!

    • wilson says:

      There’s a lot of things that people can do because “the opportunity” is there. If you’re walking behind me into a building, I don’t have to hold the door for you but I do. When we’re on the freeway, I could drive 40 mph in the fast lane in a 65mph zone, but I don’t. Of course you can lean your seat back on someone who is 6’5″ who can’t afford to buy a business class seat. That doesn’t mean you should.

      • Beth says:

        Wilson, you are spot on! And I have no doubt that you are a true gentleman. Common courtesy is hard to come by sometimes. I applaud you for thinking beyond your own nose.

    • Rose says:

      YOU move to first class. YOU are the one who would like to recline your seat strictly for your own comfort at the expense of the passenger’s comfort behind you. That passenger should not have to pay to move up front. YOU should. It’s YOUR comfort. What a horrible argument you make.

  11. Ava says:

    If you don’t want someone reclining on you buy first class. If you can’t afford it then we all have to take what we get. They do not go back that much in the first place. Shish!

    • wilson says:

      You’re clearly not 6’2″.

    • Beth says:

      I’m guessing that Ava is a short, petite person. Airplane seats are inhumane (economy) and purchasing business or first class is beyond normal peoples’ ability unless they get lucky with an upgrade or are flying on the company (or public) dole. Have a little compassion. It is downright painful when someone smasshes the back of their seat into your knees. I’ve been on long-haul full flights where I literally cannot physically remove my knees from the back of the person in front of me because there is no place to put my long legs. In one instance, the man in the seat in front of me kept literally PUNCHING me in the knees because he was unhappy that they were up against the back of his fully reclined seat — as if I can do anything about it! It’s one thing to recline for sleeping on a long-haul flight once the meals are over and the lights are dimmed for that purpose (sleeping). To stay that way for an entire flight is just plain inconsiderate (and I might even say barbaric in some circumstances).

  12. Dante says:

    I understand about courtesy an all.. However if they did not want you to recline your seat why would the airline allow them to recline.. The reason they recline is because it is not very comfortable sitting straight up flying for any length of time..

    • wilson says:

      I hate being reclined on so I’ve never reclined on anyone, and I fly cross-country all the time and lived to tell about it.

      • Linda says:

        I understand why you would hate being reclined upon, but can you take into consideration that the passenger in front of you may have no choice but to recline due to six herniated discs,radiculapathy & fibromyalgia which makes it unbearable to sit straight up for any length of time.

        It isn’t just uncomfortable for me to not recline, it’s unbearably painful for me not to recline. I always wait to recline for as long as possible, but eventually I just have too.

  13. Rowill Ferre says:

    Reclining the seat all the way down is very rude and discourteous to the passengers behind you.ONLY during long night flights of 8 to 12 or more hours when the cabin lights are off,shades drawn and everybody is asleep then by all means you may do it.Always think how would you feel if the passenger in front of you going from any place to a destination 3 or 4 hours away would feel having your seat on their lap and unable to move when the other passengers need to use the rest rooms.If you need so much sleep you can still do it in an upright position regardless of height and weight.If you are so finicky then by all means purchase a Business or First Class ticket.
    Thinking of others first makes a better kind of human being….

  14. Lady Marion says:

    I was coming back from Chicago after a short night previously. We sat on the tarmac a bit with hardly any AC in summer. I reclined my seat – no problem. Later, I reclined my seat & the guy behind me went nutz: kicking my seat, cursing out me & the woman next to me (who hadn’t done a thing!), cursing out the flight attendant who *finally* tried to intervene. Eventually, they moved him to another seat. He kept saying (after he had hit my seat repeatedly) he had knee problems!!! Hey, dude, just ask politely & I wouldn’t have reclined my seat at all. He totally ignored the flight attendant who tried to calm him down, which I thought was illegal (must obey all instructions, etc.). When we landed, one of the other passengers said he was a psychologist & the guy behind me just lost it on the plane – some comfort! I asked the flight attendant what would happen & she just said he’d be banned from United from then on – woop de do!

  15. Cathy says:

    It seems a shame that we have to resent one another for trying to get comfortable and not the airlines for purchasing planes with less and less comfort space. I have thought that I should quit flying because of the discomfort and the anxiety it produces in relation to strangers, and yet I would not see my family who live all across the US. As for being told I should buy business class if I want comfort (how ironic is that), I’m a retired school teacher. Much as I’d like to, I doubt I’ll ever be able to do that.

  16. Doug says:

    Reclining any time is fine, the button is there for a reason.

    You want more room? Buy a better seat.

    It’s my seat, I’ll recline when I want to.

  17. Christina says:

    Agreed totally with Doug.
    Not everyone can sit upright for hours. You might have knee problem but the person sitting in front of you could have back problem. If you have a problem with people reclining their seat … ask the flight attendant to move you to another seat. You will be move to another seat anyway if you keep kicking and hitting the seat and the person in front of you complaint!
    According to the airlines, everyone have a right to recline their seat…

    • RichardNika says:

      Why don’t you two spend the money to buy better seats so no one will be bothered by your reclining? People with no consideration for other people – that’s the way the world is nowadays.

  18. John says:

    Personally, I think it’s bad enough the airlines make you put it all the way up for take-off and landing. But I follow that rule. Once in the air, I recline it all the way. I just find it more comfortable sitting with my seat slightly leaned back vs. fully straight up. I’m following the airlines procedures, so that should be good enough. I wonder how many people who complain about the person in front of them leaning their seat back, have their own seat straight up. I’ll bet many don’t and want it both ways, they lean back but you can’t lean back towards them.

    When I went to Australia last year, it bugged the crap out of me that Qantas asked you to put the seat up when they were serving meals. I have no problem with the position of my tray when the person in front of me has their seat reclined.

    • wilson says:

      I hate when people recline on me, so I have NEVER reclined on the person behind me, even if they are 5 feet tall with plenty of space.

  19. Frances says:

    Lots of people opine that having paid for the seat they are entitled to recline if they wish. The person behind them has also paid for their seat – are they not entitled to have the space they paid for to use their laptop, pick up their bag from the floor and be able to get in and out of their seat comfortably?

    I was on an 8 hour flight, a cup of hot coffee on my tray when the person in front of me abruptly sent their seat back and I ended up with hot coffee all over my new white slacks. I was never able to remove the stain completely, result ruined slacks. A little consideration goes a long way cannot we all “Do as we would be done by”?

  20. Glenda says:

    If the seat allows for reclinign I will recline, BUT:
    -I will do it 30-45 min into the flight
    -Will look behind me before I do so
    -Will do it gently
    -Won’t recline all the way
    -Put it back upright when meals are served and if someone POLITELY asks me to do so, especially if they have a medical condition or something else.

    I understand it is uncomfortable, but kicking, pushing and swearing and being mean and spiteful won’t help. You have as much right to space as the person in front of you has to being reasonably comfortable, and viceversa.

    Compromising is the way to go: I won’t go all the way back even though the airline allows for me to go all the way and you can give up some of your space although you would prefer not to give up none.

  21. Carol says:

    At most I’ll recline my seat just a couple of inches to get a slight change of back position on a really long flight, but on a flight of an hour or two I usually I don’t move it at all. What really bugs me are passengers who sit down, hit the seatback button, and throw their full body weight into reclining the seat all the way back. Then, even when the seat is fully reclined, they continue to push on it hoping for another inch or two. And I’m ashamed to say it — because I am a woman of \mature\ years myself — but these are usually older travelers. Then the real challenge — trying to get out of your seat to use the rest room when the person in front of you is fully reclined. On some liners, it’s impossible no matter how small or limber you are, especially if you’re in anything but the aisle seat. Bottom line –full reclining is just plain rude, and the seats shouldn’t even have the feature if the airlines aren’t going to allow more room between rows.

  22. Andy Sutton says:

    If I have paid for a ticket and the seat allows me to recline then frankly I will do it when I want, to the extent I want. If you are sitting behind me and don’t like it. I suggest you spend the extra cash and ride up front! Do not tell me how I can use my seat when I have paid for it. Likewise if the person sitting in front of me does it and I am eating or whatever. It is their right and I will not say a word. You have the choice of what class you want to take and the various spaces available to you. To complain about lack of space in economy to moronic.

    • wilson says:

      It’s courtesy, but you clearly have none so it’s alright. I’ll continue to kick your chair.

      • Pam says:

        Obviously you have no class. Kicking a chair, now really. The person in fron of you may have problems sitting that erect, bad back etc. Kicking the chair, now that’s the answer! Ever heard of opening your mouth and discussing the situation with the person in front of you? Maybe I can help you with that. How about something like this “Excuse me, I know it is much more comfortable to recline but I am finding it rather cramped back here, would you mind moving your seat back up just a bit?”

    • RichardNika says:

      And if the person can’t afford to spend $2,000 instead of $200 for a ticket, then he or she deserves to be discomforted and possibly injured, right? It’s people with an attitude such as that who make the world a less pleasant place to live in.

  23. Joel says:

    I think it’s a day and night issue. If it’s a daytime trip don’t recline. If it’s a night (and I don’t mean 7pm or later, I mean overnight) trip where the expectation is that most passengers will be trying to sleep and there is no food/drink service reclining is to be expected. I think the “I paid for my seat so I’ll recline” argument is lacking in substance. I paid for my seat also and part of that includes the space over my knees and the tray table that I might be trying to utilize. If the seat in front of me reclines my tray table is effectively useless. I make a number of short, less than 60 minutes, flights and am shocked at how many people immediately recline as far as they can for the 30 or fewer minutes between takeoff and landing.

  24. megan says:

    When did comfort of one passenger become more important than another? We all know airline seats recline and we all should expect that function will be used any time it is permitted. The space for the seat in front of you to recline is NOT YOUR SPACE. I can not travel without constantly adjusting the angle at which I sit due to disc degeneration.I f you don’t like it when the person in front of you reclines, that is your problem. We all know air travel is hell and we should all try to be kind but it is wrong to assume that the person in front is not entitled to recline. I agree that people that need the room to work or have long legs should upgrade to seat with more leg room, select seat behind exit rows that do not recline or buy their seat and the seat in front of them. Alternatively, long legged people can extend their legs under the seat in front of them instead of insisting on sitting with feet flat on the floor.

    When approached with politeness and consideration for my comfort, I have offered to switch seats with the person behind me if not traveling with my children. Sometimes that offer creates a win/win.

    • RichardNika says:

      Did you ever hear of the “golden rule,” Megan? Apparently not.

      If a passenger willfully tries to crush my knee(s) after I have asked them not to, and I’m injured, I will get their seat number and subpoena their identity from the airline and there wil be a lawsuit. If it comes to trial. I’ll make sure that someone like you who doesn’t care about hurting others isn’t on the jury.

      • Linda says:

        Let me ask you something Richard,

        Do you believe that passengers of size should be required to purchase the seat next to them so that they do not encroach upon their neighbors seat ?

        As a former morbidly obese passenger, I believe the airline has the right to charge me for two seats if I am encroaching into my seatmates space. If an airline is going to charge a morbidly obese person for an extra seat, then a long legged person should be required to pay extra for the extra leg room by purchasing a seat with more leg room.

        The airline allows for a passenger to fully recline, so it is that passengers right to have FULL access to the seat they paid for. The reclined space in front of you is not your space and when you encroach upon another passenger space for whatever reason… you should be required to pay the extra fee.

        Interestingly enough, American Airlines is coming up with creative ways to increase revenues by implementing new fees. The implementation dates are still unknown, but they are as follows.

        1. Charging for fuel for your flight on top of your fare price
        2. A seat reclining fee
        3. A seat tray usage fee
        4. An aircraft boarding fee
        5. A carry on fee
        6. An overhead storage fee
        7. An early deplaning fee

        Here is the link in case you would like to view it:
        http://www.examiner.com/airlines-airport-in-minneapolis/american-airlines-to-begin-charging-for-fuel-reclining-your-seat-and-overhead-lighting

        • Esther says:

          uhm, I think that article was written with tongue firmly planted in cheek. A good clue was the passing around of a collection basket for fuel in the boarding area. Any fuel charge increase would be reflected in the price of your ticket, not in a collection basket.

          BTW, the space in front of you on an airlines IS your space. Do you not accommodate the passengers in the back seat of your car or do you just push your seat all the way back so your passengars are folded up like an accordion? The fact that the airlines put in reclining may have worked at a time when airline seats were slightly further apart. But in order to make more money, they have crammed in a few extra seats. I’ve lived a while and I remember when it wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable to fly as it is now. Here is an interesting article on the subject of airline seats and space.
          http://www.independenttraveler.com/resources/article.cfm?AID=161&category=13

    • Danny says:

      Gee, MegHead . . . If it’s “NOT [MY] SPACE,” then why are MY video screen, MY tray table, MY complimentary reading materials, the seat back pocket for MY use, and the designated storage location for MY briefcase, located there?

  25. Stan says:

    I travel a lot on long hauls and find that rudeness is growing by the year, and it might be because airlines use pain and discomfort as a marketing tool to get people to buy expensive business or first class seats. I am 6’3″ and my next 16 hr fight in in 4 days. I know my knees will be injured or at least bruised badly during the flight because of the person in front of me is going to slam their seat back, even if my bleeding knees offer resistance. I am told by the flight attendants that it is my fault since I did not pay another $7,000 for the seat over economy.
    I view it as nothing less than assault with intent to do bodily harm. I am very careful in considering the comfort of others, as a result I am often the only one who does not get any sleep or is not able to walk for days afterwards.
    I remember years ago when flying was interesting and fun. That was 30 years ago or more. But now the airlines hate their passengers, and use every method they can think of to cause pain and extra expense. If a car company or cell phone manufacturer was so flagrant in disregarding safety and welfare of customers, they would be fined and ordered to change their policies. What is it that airlines have over the regulator? A good case of the revolving door of friendly regulators getting high paying jobs as rewards from the industry. The worst of the lot are the US domestic carriers because this would not be tolerated in more civilized societies. If the choice is available I will take a train over a plane any day, even if the train takes 2 days longer to get to my destination. I have nothing against flying, I am a pilot myself, but I hate what has become of the once proud airline industry.

  26. wilson says:

    I’m 6’2 so I get really annoyed when people recline on me. People should see who is behind them if they really want to. If the person behind you isn’t that tall, then it’s not as bad. My wife is 5’6 and couldn’t care less if someone reclined on her. When someone does recline on me, I kick them, and if they go to the bathroom, I put their seat back up.

    I have a bigger problem with people who grab seat backs when they get up or walk around the cabin. I hate getting woken up that way.

  27. Chintaran says:

    The Airlines should put an inquiry like ‘Do you prefer to recline your seat at any rate?’ on their online seat selector pages just to indicate what person will sit in front of you.

    In that way I could sit always among the nice and courteous people and not with the big whining ‘MINE! MINE!’ kids LOL.

  28. Naoma says:

    I am 5’10” and have an artificial knee – it is agony when someone reclines into my lap! I will ask them nicely and explain the situation. Usually they will put the seat back up. If they don’t, I cross my legs and block the seat with my good leg so that the seat in front won’t recline; I have no other choice.

  29. Kaz says:

    I read that someone else has the same problem as me bad back. If I don’t put my seat back not only could I put a disc out in my back L5 to be precise I get a migraine. And yes I do have to limit my time in front of a computer. What kind of chair or mattress I buy the hight of my heels ect ect. I too put my seat back slowly. A back problem isn’t an excuse for the length of a flight, train or bus trip to inconvenience others. You get to take it on holiday or home add the pain tablets as well.

  30. Pam says:

    I find it very difficult to remain sitting for any period of time that erect in a seat. So, I recline my seat a bit, not all the way. Last time I did this I received several very rude bangs to the back of my seat for which the “gentleman” received a verbal blast from me. I may add, this so called gentleman was at least 70 lbs overweight making the seat a tight squeeze anyway. Which is of course, is not my problem.

  31. Debra Mc says:

    I’m only 5’3” & I have been hit in the knees by reclining seats. As a frequent business traveler I sometimes have the luck to get a free upgrade, but I’m most often in economy. I used to be able to sit comfortably in economy even with a reclined seat in front of me, but the reduced pitch has changed that. Not too long ago while snoozing on a flight I was hit in the knees by the seat in front & the stabbing pain made me react instinctively to fend off attack. I flung my arms out rapidly & slammed the seat in front of me into the upright position before I even opened my eyes. It remained there for the rest of the flight & the tall woman in the aisle seat beside me said, “Wish I had the nerve to do that.” Not nerve, just instinctive reaction to an attack in my sleep. If the seats are going to be so close as to risk injury to the person behind, then the recline should be limited to a safe distance to protect passengers from injury. In no other instance would people be allowed to insist they have a right to harm others. Why is a plane different?

  32. Kathleen says:

    Just the other afternoon flying to Los Angeles, one of the men in front of me slammed back his seat to recline and whacked my knees. I yelled ouch and he immediately brought his seat up and as we were all getting off he apologized. Part of the problem is that airlines have jammed so many seats on a plane that now if you want leg room you have to pay extra or sit in an exit row.

  33. Chuck says:

    I don’t have a problem, if someone reclines a seat an inch or two. Sitting upright for several hours can be uncomfortable. It’s the person who drops the seat as far back as it goes, the minute the “Fasten Seat Belt” sign is turned off and leaves it there for the whole flight that bugs me.

    Have you tried to read a broadsheet newspaper in coach, when the seat ahead is reclined all the way?

    What’s bad is when you are in the window seat, and all of the seats ahead of you are reclined. Try getting out to use the lav. Either I have to contort myself, or I simply hang onto the reclined seatbacks/

  34. bg says:

    i will recline a little bit, i have a problem when the person in front of me fully slams their seat back, making it impossible for me to use the tray table or reach my bag under the seat…knees in the back usually work…coutesy in this country has gone away

  35. RichardNika says:

    I was on a Spirit Airlines flight some years ago from Atlanta to Ft. Lauderdale. I’m a fairly large guy with long legs, and Spirit really packs people in. A woman in front of me tried to recline her seat but my knees blocked it so she stopped. I figured that would be the end of it. It wasn’t. Perhaps 10 minutes later, she drew herself up and slammed herself back into the seat with all her might. Her obvious intent was to crush my knees and force me out of her way. I screamed from the excruciating pain. Then I pushed her seat back and I’m not in the least embarrassed to say that I cussed her out, using every filthy word I could think of, while also making it clear verbally what she’d done and why I was cursing her. I’m not in the habit of cussing men out let alone women, but I sure did this time. She made no further attempt to move her seat back and never uttered a word, nor did anyone else. When I disembarked, I pushed past her and never looked at her. Subsequently, I had to visit an orthopedist because of pain and excess fluid in that knee. Fortunately, it has healed. Hopefully, my outburst dissuaded her and others around her from ever doing such a thing again.

    My relationships with two people I know well have been irretrievably damaged because when I told them about this episode, they said that a person has an absolute right to recline even if told that the person behind them has had recent knee surgery. One said “If it was me, I’d tell you to go —— yourself.”

    On a trip to Europe, one guy who didn’t understand English – supposedly – kept trying to recline his seat into my legs. He didn’t try to force it like that woman had. I finally made him understand that he had to stop. On a subsequent trip, I carried a note printed out in five languages to ask the person in front of me not to do that. Fortunately, I didn’t have to use it.

    Nowadays, if the seating is cramped, which it usually is, and a person is in front of me, I will advise them politely that I’m sorry but my legs will block any attempt to recline the seat. I’ve never had a problem I always try to get a seat behind an empty seat, but that’s not usually possible. If the seat next to me is empty, then I can shift my legs way to one side and it’s not such an issue.

    Do I ever recline MY seat? If the seat behind me is empty, I might. If an adult is in it, never. Period. Never. If a small child is in the seat behind me, then maybe.

  36. dg says:

    If you do not comfortably fit into the airline seat, then I would suggest you fly first class and pay extra to accommodate your specific needs. The seats recline for a reason and I do not want be more uncomfortable than necessary because of YOUR extenuating circumstances. Take responsibility for yourself or take the train!

  37. Bob W. says:

    Frankly, I think the airlines should eliminate the extreme recline position. The first recline position should be adequate and doesn’t make life impossible for the passenger behind you.

  38. DB says:

    Tried to recline several times once on a packed flight to Honolulu. The guy behind me kneed into the back of my seat each time. Guess if someone in back of you doesn’t want you to recline and you are able to accommodate that refusal then it’s okay (goes the other way, too). I’d recline every time unless I meet resistance.

  39. Chris P says:

    I really don’t think it’s “rude” to use the seat that you paid for in a manner in which it was intended to be used. However, people that think they are entitled to make other people uncomfortable for their own “extra” comfort are very rude. I do believe it is polite and respectful to make sure the person behind you isn’t eating or drinking and you don’t dump their coffee in their lap when you recline…and I use that word loosely. We are, after all, only barely reclining, in most cases….Also, if I KNOW the person behind me is especially tall and reclining the seat will cause him or her to be uncomfortable, then I don’t do it. Period. That extra 3-inch recline isn’t worth that to me.

    Oh, and Chuck makes a really good point. Try to get out of your window or middle seat when the seats in front of you are reclining even a little. You need special handholds from the ceiling to keep you from falling over! Very not cool.

  40. Stu says:

    It’s just sad to read some of the attitudes expressed here. Too many people just say, “Everyone else be damned, I’m going to take what I want!” The airlines certainly made the situation worse by cramming the maximum number of people into each aircraft. But it still comes down to class and good manners, and apparently a lot of folks don’t have either. Some of it is cowardice since you have your back turned to the person whose space you are invading. I wonder if so many people would be so “brave” if they had to face the person they are affecting for the entire flight.

    I’m 6’5″ and fly business/first class whenever possible. But on single-class aircraft or airlines (which invariably have the least legroom), my knees are jammed tightly against the seat in front of me. When anyone has tried to recline in front of me in the past, I’ve just told them “Sorry, but there’s no way.” Unlike Richard (above), nobody has tried to ram their seats back anyway. A few have tried slowly pushing, but when they realize they won’t back able to recline, they gave up.

    And to those of you who believe business/first class is the entire answer, you should know that there isn’t much extra legroom in some of those cabins either, especially on domestic flights. If I need to use the restroom, it is impossible to get up with a reclined seat in front of me. We have started requesting the first row of the cabin just so there’s nobody in front of us, just a bulkhead. We usually book early and keep track of the seats online, so it’s been relatively easy. There are some negatives, since you can’t have a bag at your feet for takeoff/landing and sometimes we’re the last to be served a meal so we an entree choice may no longer be available. But that’s a small price to pay for the open space in front of us.

  41. David McAvoy says:

    I don’t know what airlines you guys are flying but all the regular ones (American,Continental,Unites etc) have seats that recline only 2 to 3 inches at most. I’ve seen postings about seats that recline all the way back? What airline is that? I recline most every flight over an hour but push it back slowly. If someone were to ask me politely not to recline I probably would consider it.
    I am more bothered by those passengers next to me who constantly move their hands over the armrest or move their feet into the space in front of me where my feet should go.

  42. Angel Garcia says:

    The reality is that the space in front of you is for your legs. You can’t really put them anywhere else during a flight. You can, however, fly sitting upright. If your back is so messed up that you can’t SIT, then YOU are the person that needs to pay extra for upgrade.

  43. StarB says:

    It is not rude to recline. It is however rude to recline and then complain to the person behind you that their legs are in the back of your seat and bothering you, sigh loudly, tell everyone who will listen how irritating the person behind you is because you’ve reclined on their legs and they won’t move them, etc. The problem might be that the seat is reclining too far back or that we are growing so large as people we no longer fit in the seats without infringing on one another. Be polite people. Flying isn’t usually fun so don’t make a fuss.

  44. Mark says:

    I’ve flown 2+ million miles.

    There is no real physical comfort in reclining a “few inches”.
    Its a “mental” comfort (for the recliner).

    I hoped the new airplanes will eliminate this function.

  45. filigreegirl says:

    I am tall. I need all the room I can get. In the best of all possible worlds I would fly first class, but that is not an option. I do think, however, that 3 more inches of space between the seats would end the discussion altogether. I am old enough to remember when there was enough room for a person of my height, which is closer to 6 feet than 5 feet, enough room to comfortably cross their legs. I hate to fly and do so only when I have to. I used to enjoy a window seat, but now I opt only for an aisle because my long legs need all the space I can get. Phooey on being treated like cattle on an airborne cattle-car. Give me legroom or give me my car. As far as reclining goes? If the person in front of me reclines, I will do so, mainly so I can maintain a fair amount of space between my face and the back of the seat in front of me.

  46. If I wish to recline my seat I very quietly with ninja-like stealth, sneak to the front of the cabin and recline everyone else’s seats too creating a somewhat domino effect.

    It’s true! You should see me doing it when I have a window seat!
    Seriously, During Meal or Drink service never, otherwise ask the person behind you if they mind, you are invading their space by leaning back. If it was your space to begin with the airline would have stolen it from you and added another row of seating!

  47. Barbara says:

    If the person in front would recline and was in my space. I would ask nicely if
    they move the seat back up so I would have space. If they didn’t I would ask the
    flight attendent to please ask for me. If that didn’t work I might just take a
    paper and bop that person on the head too. I know when I have reclined my seat I look behind to make sure the passenager is not eating and if there tray is down I have advised I am coming back. Probably the rudest is the person who puts there foot on the arm rest of the seat in front. I am not sure I would ask nicely for them to remove the foot, I might just pinch the heck out of that foot. Alot of people who buy tickets today think they own the plane and can do what ever they want. Would be nice if the flight attendants could give a short
    lesson on etiquette on the airplane.

  48. T. A. Powers says:

    In my view, the problem isn’t whether or not passengers should be able to recline their seats. The problem is clearly the greediness of the airline industry and its efforts to cram the flying public into smaller and smaller spaces–while simultaneously charging as many absurd fees as its member airlines can dream up. It is time to seriously consider re-regulation of the airlines. When the airlines were regulated, the quality of almost everything involved was much better. And, while we’re on the subject, we can anticipate that the industry’s lobbyists will start screaming about how re-regulation would cause them to charge much higher fares. I, personally, think that any increase in fares would be minimal, especially when considering the economy of scale provided by today’s legions of flyers, and the fact that the industry is already squeezing every possible penny they can get out of the flying public!

  49. Sally says:

    Recline whenever you want!!! Why did they make these seats to recline in the first place if they weren’t made to be used!!!

    Get over it, get a life and quit ur crying!!!

  50. Craig says:

    The real issue is that the airlines have cramped the seating space too much for comfortable use of the seat in any position. I am tall and no matter if the seat in front is reclined or not my knees touch the back. The 4 inches of recline when the forward seat comes back is not enough to impede my already limited use of my seating area. I recline as it is my right to use my uncomfortable seat amenities as I choose. Invariably the seat in front has been reclined and I would not dream of imposing my will on their use and choice. I simply recline my seat. All this talk of hitting heads, seat kicking and other rudeness directed to towards the recline in front is selfish and childish. Grow up and learn some manners.

  51. John says:

    Any airline is at fault which crams the seats so close that any reclining seat hits the knees of the person in back. They’re miserly and cheap, trying to save a buck on backs (or knees) of their customer’s threshold of pain (forget comfort). Don’t fly airlines which brazenly treats their customers like cattle. If you do, you asked for it, and don’t complain!

  52. Mai says:

    LOL My hubbie and I do the same I’m 5″ he’s 6’6. We always try to reserve a emergency exit seat for him, but they usually do not assign them until flight time. That failing we check in early and always tell the agent we will split up and he always wears his fire department jacket and hat as it usually gets at least for him a glorious window aisle seat on check in! They have even moved him to first class quite a few times on long over seas flight and left me back in coach which I don’t mind as I am small and curl up with the little blanket and pillow I bring and sleep for most of the flight.

  53. Robert says:

    Using a little common sense can go a long way!
    I agree with you, there is a time when to and when not to recline your seat fully.
    Try to courteous of your fellow passengers!
    Good post, thanks.

  54. Laura Townsend says:

    I am 5’6\ and because of multiple knee surgeries and a rear ending car accident (someone dropped his cell)I have poor circulation in my legs and a damaged lumbar spine which causes chronic pain. I still try to be considerate of other travelers. I leave under my seat free so I can extend my legs and recline only a slight bit to easy pressure on my lumbar area (and never at meal times). If I’m taking a late night flight I will recline farther but only after checking with the person behind me as I know how I hate it when someone drops back when I’m trying to read or watch a DVD on my computer.

  55. Vicki Schell says:

    I hate it when the person in front of me reclines his/her seat, as it usually hits me in the knees; but I try to be understanding, realizing they are trying to get comfortable and perhaps sleep. But I find very irritating the person who reclines the seat as far back as it will go the moment take-off is over, and keeps it that way the entire flight: even while they are not in the seat, even while we are eating dinner [it is hard to eat form an airline tray when the seat in front of you nearly abuts your nose]. Once I had the tray down, folded my arms and rested my head, trying to sleep that way, and the gentleman in front turned around, shook me awake, and asked me to sit up, so he could recline his seat further. I generally do not recline my seat, and when on a long international flight I do recline it a bit to aid finding a sleeping position, I recline it the minimum amount. As others as stated, courtesy is the key — if this is a war, we should consider that we’re in it together, not gladiators fighting one another.

  56. Michelle says:

    I’m tall and leggy myself but I couldn’t care less if people reclined, it’s their right. I recline whenever I like. I cannot sleep on planes unless I’m reclined and even then it’s difficult to impossible. But I feel more relaxed when I do and my back doesn’t hurt as much. I may be missing out on some human gene here but this is one of those things that I can’t see what the problem is all about, completely baffles me why there are complaints. Seats don’t recline that much. It’s the children on planes and overly large people who don’t get two seats or are put in the middle seat that makes me angry.

  57. Jeff says:

    I always prefer to sleep on flights longer than a couple hours and the 3 or so inches my seat reclines is the difference between my head falling forward or laying back. Sore neck versus shut-eye. Given how little the seats actually move I never realized in was much of a bother. I certainly always felt the fellow in front of me was entitled to recline. If not, why let the seat adjust in the first place?

  58. JR says:

    at 6’2″ when that seat comes back on my knees and is almost touching my nose i get mad……..i never recline my seat if there is someone behind me no matter what there size……..i will try the ac to the head next time.

  59. George says:

    I think its the persons right in front of me to recline. Of course I hope they are considerate to look and not slam the seat down if Im leaning forward or eating. We all have to share the same space and the seat is made to try an be as comfortable as possible.

  60. Plaid says:

    A problem I have run into is the person (always a young female) kicking my seat repeatedly to annoy me if I recline. Solution: I tell them, “Please stop kicking my seat I have a bad stomach, and I’m trying to keep it down, and if you keep kicking my seat and it comes up I’ll put it in your lap, and you won’t have time to get out of the way!” It works !

  61. lola says:

    Just be courteous when you recline and maybe ask the person behind you if you could recline before doing. And if some one reclines too far, just ask them to put their seat up a bit. But if the injure you, talk to them sternly and just get them not to do it.

  62. Anise Leinen says:

    I have had ten knee operations (all before age 20), and I’ve literally begged the person in front of me to not shove their seat back– and they did it anyway. ​Once, I screamed, which actually worked. But I don’t really recommend it. If it ever happens again, I will say, “I hope you wanted to hear every detail of those ten knee operations, because YOU WILL hear all about them for the next three hours.” And then I’ll start describing them in great detail…

    IMHO, it’s just unethical to recline a seat when the person behind you has BEGGED you not to and TOLD you why.

    I’m an extreme case. But the truth is that airline seats should not recline. Period. There is not enough room on today’s airplanes to do it anymore.

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