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Opinion: Think Before Reclining

The rear economy class cabin consisting solely of standard economy seats as indicated by the all-blue seats. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | João Machado)

The aviation world has been sharply divided yet again. It’s not unusual for this to happen in the community, we argue about a lot of things such as the merits of tomato juice on flights to the impact of the industry to climate change.

This time, however, the issue has more to do will civility instead of beverage choice or the ire of a 17-year-old Swedish girl.

A video came to light recently of a passenger sitting in the last row of economy, in a seat that doesn’t recline, punching or pushing the reclined seat in front of him. This was apparently due to the passenger in front of him reclining her seat.

According to the reclining passenger she had moved her seat to the upright position when the passenger behind her asked her so he could use his tray table. She then reclined the seat afterward and that is when this drama started.

People are divided over this issue, does a passenger who purchased the seat have a right to recline in the seat they purchased or should the passenger not recline?

I’m not here to argue the merits of whether what the man did by punching and pushing the seat in front of him counts as assault or not. That is for the armchair internet lawyers to decide. All rational people know the answer.

The Need for Civility

This incident boils down to one thing really: civility.

First of all the behavior of the person punching and pushing the seat is not acceptable. Physical actions like that are not ways to resolve conflict in a civilized society. The behavior of that passenger is abhorrent and the passenger on the receiving end should justifiably be angry.

However, the reclining passenger is not absolved of all blame. While technically yes she is allowed to recline her seat the real answer is a little more nuanced. Flying in coach is a miserable experience for everyone involved. Is it appropriate to somehow enhance your experience by leaning back a few inches at the expense of the person behind you?

Zero-sum Reclining

Reclining your seat on a zero-sum game. In coach cabins where the seats recline by the upper portion moving backward the space the recliner is getting is being taken away from the person in the seat behind. If everyone did this then it would almost reach a point of equilibrium because everyone who has a reclined seat in front of them would recline themselves except for the poor souls in front of exit rows and in the last row. However, this doesn’t happen.

One now must consider if they believe their comfort is worth taking away space from someone else. It falls back to just be civil. No one is obligated to donate money to charity, yet we take a financial loss to help someone. In an aircraft lavatory, no one will likely catch you if urinate on the floor, yet most of us prefer not to because it ruins the experience for everyone as a whole.

I’ve been stuck in coach on very long-delayed flights where the person in front of me reclined for every possible second they could. I only had a reprieve when a flight attendant had to tell them twice to move their seat to an upright position so I could eat during meal service. It truly was a miserable experience.

While seat reclining is nowhere as egregious as urinating on the floor in a lavatory it stems from a similar thing, civility. It’s important to be considerate of others, especially when we’re all stuck in a miserable situation. Next time you’re sitting in coach and want to recline your seat, think about how it will make the other person feel and then think about if you really have to recline.

Hemal Gosai


  • Hemal Gosai

    Hemal took his first flight at four years old and has been an avgeek since then. When he isn't working as an analyst he's frequently found outside watching planes fly overhead or flying in them. His favorite plane is the 747-8i which Lufthansa thankfully flies to EWR allowing for some great spotting. He firmly believes that the best way to fly between JFK and BOS is via DFW and is always willing to go for that extra elite qualifying mile.

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