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Submitted by nickl on


 Hi All,

Something I read on the NYT website tonight prompted me to ask of all the travelers in the MT domain: do you recline your airline seat? Why or why not?

Here's a link to the article:

I can't understand how any mature traveler could think it's appropriate to force a fellow passenger to endure a flight with a seat back in their lap or pressed against their knees.

If that's YOU reclining in front of me (SFO-EWR, SJC-AUS, SJC-BOS, or even SJC-SAN), no, I won't deign to ensure your discomfort. I will ask you politely, once, to restore your seat upright. Your choice - but your response will tell me more than your LinkedIn profile ever could. Maybe I'm the customer you're trying to land. Maybe I'm the guy your interviewing with. Maybe I'm their boss. Maybe I'm another schlub who's had just as tough a trip as you.

Anyway I look at it, the extra comfort of a reclined seat (really?) is an easy sacrifice toward a more pleasant experience for all.

uninet22's picture

The "recline or no-redline" argument baffles me.  If the person in front of me reclines their seat and removes those precious few inches of "my" space, then I just recline my own seat and recover those inches.  Am I missing something? 

Solitaire's picture

I never recline my seat and feel it is rude when someone in front of me does so.

Even if someone does recline their seat into my space, I would not recline mine to in turn annoy the person behind me!

I find it a shame that those seats do recline at all when it can cause such a knock on effect and such discomfort to others for such a negligible gain, a definite design flaw in my opinion.


STEVENM's picture

"your response will tell me more than your LinkedIn profile ever could."

That's kind of harsh, isn't it?  You don't know this stranger, or the potential factors.  Simple example:  I don't fly frequently, so I don't know how this would play out on a plane, but I get bursts of claustrophobia in tight spots like that.  Controllable and infrequent, but it's there.  Maybe I don't want to share that with the irate stranger behind me on a plane while I'm in the middle of coping with it, but reclining helps me handle it by getting a little less boxed in.

Remember the M&M mentality?  Most people do things with good or at least neutral intentions.  If you did tell someone it was bothering you and they said no I'd at least argue there's just as good a chance they have reasons as there is they're simply rude.

First world problems, guys.

JaneyKay's picture



I don't recline and yesterday the person in front of me did (with 20 minutes left to go on the flight ... ) and my coffee went everywhere. That's why I don't recline ... you never can see what the person behind you is trying to do ... work, drink ....

He did say sorry and unrecline himself afterwards ... but it didn't really help my cream coloured cardigan and blouse which I was wearing to go do dinner with a customer that evening.

For me it's a question of respect of individual space and thinking about other people.






nickl's picture
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Yes, perhaps it is too harsh. My ire is directed at those who fly frequently - business travelers who really ought to know better. And you're absolutely right - first world problem. If a reclined seat is the worst thing i deal with in the course of a day I'll consider myself extremely lucky. 

STEVENM's picture

"My ire is directed at those who fly frequently - business travelers who really ought to know better."

Know how, though?  People, when in a situation where they've not been given a list of irritants to others, tend to not see other peoples buttons.  They only have their own to go on.  If the person doesn't mind the person in front of them reclining, or would mind if they couldn't recline but they can, they're going to assume it's no big deal.  Plus it's a built in mechanism on the plane, it's 'acceptable by default' because it's there at all.

It annoys you.  Fair enough.  But the judgement of others seems a bit much.

JBormel's picture

What's wrong with this picture:  

Let's serve hot beverages without lids to 200 people on a plane, which by definition, experiences unpredictable turbulence, and see what happens.  


I often but not always ask for one of those clear plastic cold cups to put on top of my coffee, upside down, to function as a lid.  Even half empty, a coffee cup without a lid, on an airplane is a readily avoidable hazard.

scm2423's picture
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I had to read your comment "it's a built in mechanism on the plane, it's 'acceptable by default' because it's there at all." a couple of times but I still don't get it.  By that logic, I have the right to smoke in your car if it has an ashtray, or I have the right to walk into your house at anytime because it has a door.  Just because something has the functionality to do something, doesn't mean it is a good idea to do it.


STEVENM's picture

Cars are owned by individuals.  The ash tray is there to provide the option if the owner wants to use it.  Same with homes, those are owned by people.  Locks (and trespassing laws) are there to facilitate controlling who can enter.

Renting seats on an airline isn't quite the same situation.  You are the temporary controller of your seat when you pay for it, as well as the recline functionality that comes with.

Besides, even if it was, it's kind of off topic.  My point was that you can't legitimately draw conclusions about how good or bad a person is, how considerate or not they are, simply because they lacked the ESP to anticipate your need in a single situation.  People may have reasons, and EVERYONE has blind spots.

buhlerar's picture

If you think it's rude to recline, then don't recline.  But talking about this as if it's generally acknowledged to be rude behavior is really just a fast track toward you having a bad attitude while the other person blissfully goes about his or her vacation.  There are probably just as many people who would consider it rude for you to insist they not recline when they have every right to do so.

Remember Mark's comment about getting mad when the guy poked him with an umbrella.  Of course that was accidental, but the point is Mark suffered the consequences, while the "jerk" went about his day -- and the inequity was all Mark's fault.

You may be right that it's rude, but it's a minor social infraction at best in the eyes of many people, and it's also totally predictable.

If you don't want to be put out by this, be considerate toward others (to clear your conscience) while defending yourself against the consequences of their actions.  For example, don't put coffee (or computers, etc.) too close to the seat in front, in case they decide to recline abruptly.  Or maybe just politely tell the person "I have my laptop on the tray behind you -- if you want to recline that's totally OK but please give me a warning first."

Similarly, if I'm going around a corner in the office with a hot drink in my hand, I might veer wide, slow down, or hold the cup away from me just in case someone is distracted while they come around the other way.  I could complain about the "rude" people who check their phone or walk sideways while talking to the guy they just passed, but I'll suffer the consequences both in terms of ruined clothes and a ruined attitude.

STEVENM's picture

"But talking about this as if it's generally acknowledged to be rude behavior is really just a fast track toward you having a bad attitude while the other person blissfully goes about his or her vacation.  There are probably just as many people who would consider it rude for you to insist they not recline when they have every right to do so."

Agreed.  Whether or not someone reclines their seat, and whether or not they entertain your request that they undo it, is not a good predictor of who that person is, how they think, or how considerate they are.  I think it's pretty absurd to suggest that.  Judging someone for mundane acts where they could easily have no ill intent, not even be aware they're having an impact on you at all, or have reasons that override yours (see claustrophobia example above), though... I think that's a solid indicator of something negative.

All bets are off if you just ask politely and they stick their tongue out and say "neener neener" though.  Let me know when you run into that one and I'll back you up.

quietlife4me's picture
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 Horstman's Laws #7

"How you feel is your fault". 

moucon's picture

You forcing someone to sit upright on a 5- hr flight is just as obnoxious - worse really - than my expecting "you" to  "endure"  my seat in "your" space.  IT ISN'T YOUR SPACE - IT'S MY SPACE.  Change your thinking about this  and life will get a lot easier for you.    When I rent an airline seat for a flight - I get all the space that seat occupies, including the space it occupies when reclined.  Same for you. 

I have a  herniated disk in my lower back and could not sit upright for a coast-to-coast flight if my life depended on it.    I have friends who are 6'4" and desperately need that extra few inches of recline as well.    

Therefore - I wouldn't dream of asking someone in front of me to not recline.  They paid for the seat/space - and that space includes the space the seat occupies when it is reclined.  It's really no more complicated than that.  

I've found the best way to deal with it is to go along, and once everyone in front of me is reclined, to also recline.  Doing that restores the distance to the person in front of you.    To those poor souls who booked seats in front of the exit (that don't recline) -  they won't do that twice.  Frequent fliers figure out in a hurry where the best seats on the plane are located. 

moucon's picture

 I really have to question your judgement.  Crowded flights are places where all kinds of stuff happens,  from baby vomit  on your shoulder to  liquids in your lap.    To expect to get off a flight in coach with your best  client dinner clothes intact is utter folly.  If you expect that, buy a first-class ticket.  Most of us who know better pack an emergency change of clothes in our carry-on bag. 

Secondly is ordering COFFEE on a flight, and not keeping your hand on it AT ALL TIMES.  If you don't want dark, sticky, staining liquids in your lap on a crowded flight... order bottled water to drink.   It's up to you to be pro-active... not up to the guy in front of you. 

The person in front of you rented the space for his/her seat,  and that space includes the space it occupies when reclined.  Trying to deny that person that space (which they rented for the duration of the flight)  is no different than if you tried to prevent your neighbor  in your apartment building from using his parking slot, just because you want a larger place to park.   

If you absolutely require more space on a flight - you do have options that will guarantee it - but they all cost more money.   

moucon's picture

You got it. It's not a big deal.  "Your" space is the space your seat occupies - whether upright or reclined.  The mistake people make is thinking the space in front of them is all "theirs" - it is not.  

probinson11's picture

I look at the person in the seat behind me.  If their legs are long enough for their knees to touch my seatback, I won't recline.  Otherwise, I might.



mercuryblue's picture
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Only if the flight is over seven hours.

I'm in Sydney Australia, so that's an international flight to Asia. It's not a flight across the Australian continent, nor is it a flight across the US continent (if I'm flying across the US I'm usually so tired I could sleep standing up anyway). Nor is it Sydney-New Zealand, Sydney to Fiji. 

On these shorter flights, it's not necessary, and it makes it more uncomfortable for the person behind me than it needs to be. It's also extra difficult for them to use their table. And frankly, the teeny tiny recline you get in Economy is not so special anyway. Flights are difficult enough without making it more unpleasant for those around me. Usually if I am mentally occupied (anything from work to sudoku to knitting + ipod) I don't care - it's only if I'm bored that I can work up the energy to care.

It is Sydney to Singapore though.

If I'm travelling for work, by the time I get to those longer flights, I will be in business class anyway, so my seat position choice won't affect others. If I'm travelling this far for a private trip, that's economy and it's a free for all with a whole different set of rules...


mmann's picture
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...there are degrees of recline.  I usually don't recline until the end of a flight when the descent changes my center of gravity.  At that time a slight recline counteracts that feeling.  I always recline s-l-o-w-l-y so the person behind me has plenty of time to adjust. 

It doesn't bother me in the least when the person in front of me reclines.  I'll admit to some annoyance if that same person fails to put their seatback in its full and upright position when they get up to use the lavatory.  I view this as a safety issue more than an issue of comfort.

  Happy flying!

JulieGeek's picture

 Buhlerar and Mysigp226 have nailed it.

Seats recline, people may choose to recline. All you can do is manage the outcome and your reaction.

No normal person would deliberately choose to damage another's expensive electronic gadgets or spill coffee in another's lap. Alerting your "front seatmate" to the situation--"I'm going to be working on my laptop back here. Would you mind giving me a head's up before you put your seat back?" is a reasonable request from one human being to another. You've infringed upon no "sovereign seat rights", but merely asked for a second's consideration.

That said, the appropriate reaction to the requested notification ought to be a gracious "Thank you" and necessary rearrangement of your accoutrements and beverages, rather than the Death Glare. Because you're considerate, too, right? Not some passive-aggressive nutjob...

gpeden's picture

Use this as an opportunity to exercise self-mastery over your emotions and reactions.  People do what people do. And the flight will end....



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nickl's picture
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 You're right, George. Simple and true. I'll be practicing today, SAN to BOS.

edzaun's picture

If the reclining individual in front of you makes you that irritated, why not simply get a seat in the emergency exit row or better yet, in the front right behind the bulkhead? Those are the extra leg room seats. The emergency row seats have more room in front and the ones on the bulkhead have no seat in front of them at all. Yes, they cost extra, but if it means that much to you then take that option. It allows you to take control of your own destiny rather than complaining about another person exercising a feature that is intended and provided for their use. You have to plan ahead and change seats about 24 hours before push back because those seats go fast.

You write:

Anyway I look at it, the extra comfort of a reclined seat (really?) is an easy sacrifice toward a more pleasant experience for all.

More pleasant for whom? Certainly not for all. You see, that person in front of you might be 6'-6" tall, weigh 240 lbs. (as I do) and need that extra room just to have half a chance to be comfortable, espcially on a long flight. That is why I always book those extra leg room seats; so my knees do not get jammed in the seat in front of me and I can breath. Airplane seats are not baseball caps, one size does not fit all. Unless I am sitting in the extra leg room aisles, my knees jam into the seatback in front of me whether the person in that seat reclines or not.


Ed Zaun

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Mark's picture
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I'm sorry that I didn't see this thread earlier.  I have two sets of comments.

First, some thoughts about reclining, from surely the most frequent traveler here:

1.  Reclining is okay.  It is.  Full stop.

2.  There is an etiquette associated with it.

3.  One does not do it abruptly.  SLOWLY is the way.

4.  One needn't ask permission.  PERIOD.  Otherwise, sorry, the only people who would recline would be those that didn't ask.  (Some of this is informed by the Prisoners Dilemma, by the way)

5. You CAN ask permission, but if you do, you surrender your choice to the choice of the person you're asking.

6.  You have to take care with items on your tray.  (To be clear, a coffee spilling during a slow recline is highly unlikely).  Laptops ARE at risk, but reasonable people (sorry, there is a legal theory, called "reasonable man") know to take precautions.

7.  You can ASK someone to not recline, but they are within their limits to demur.  You becoming upset is a Horstman Umbrella Problem.

For the record, regarding MY habits: 

1.I fly first class 99% of the time. Everybody reclines there.  (To forestall the joke, maybe that's because we're all jerks up there, as someone once told me).  There is a lot more room there, and the concerns to the person behind are moot.

2.  When in coach, I do recline, usually, but have found after years in first that the recline is trivial.  Often the flight is short (on a regional jet), and I literally FORGET to recline.

3. I am a big guy (funny, though, i don't think of myself as big, just normal-sized).  I'm 6'4'' and 250 pounds, I think.

4.  If someone behind me asked me not to recline, I might not. I don't consider their request dispositive, though I do consider it.  The nicer they are, the greater the likelihood of agreement.

5.  I have a bad back, and could stand 2-3 hours in a non-reclined seat if I had to.  It wouldn't be great, but it beats driving.

Now, regarding this thread: 

1.  Some of you are behaving rudely.  Re-read your comments.  

2. It's okay to disagree.  It's not okay to characterize the intents/motivations/mindsets of others.  As an example, the questioner implied that those who don't agree with him are by definition immature and engage in inappropriate behavior.  And, some others started their posts with quick disagreements.  Far better to find something to agree, or thank someone for sharing, before telling them why they're wrong.  It's okay to disagree...but there's a nice way to do so.

2a.  Words like obnoxious and questioning someone's judgement are over the line.  "Moucon," careful there.



Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

The funny story part!

I only saw this thread because our web designer used it to show us a new design.  He picked it randomly!  That's funny.

It worries me that I'm not here in the forums every day, the way I used to be.  This thread makes me want to come back, in part because of the tone I didn't like, and also because I might have answers that would be helpful.

There you go.



toomanyhobbies's picture
Training Badge

Great topic, I thought it only happened to me on my flights :-).  The few that do recline in front of me almost always have done so abruptly and when my laptop was out.  I rarely recline finding it more comfortable to sit more upright in the seats but if I do, I always do so slowly and with some concern for those behind me.  It's just considerate. 

delete_account_per_reacher_145083_dtiller's picture
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I have travelled extensively for work both short haul and long haul, coach and business.  Almost every flyer knows the seats recline.  What happens is that flyers forget.  If you notice the flight attendants fill the glasses to a level that can handle a recline and not spill.  Some flyers fill their own cups from a can of pop and do too high and this is often where a problem happens.  As for the laptop, I agree that it is not workable on some smaller aircraft if you have a monster laptop.  In those cases, they are short haul and I read or listen to a podcst (MT anyone!). 

On short haul I rarely recline as I actually forget and it's better posture for working.  You are working, right!  On long haul in coach then I am sleeping and yes I recline.  I am surprised to be woken and asked not to recline on an overnight flight where I have to wake up and head straight to work.  Nonetheless, if needed, I just try and sleep sitting completely upright.  Not always successful but that doesn't happen often.

Assume the person ahead will recline.  Be prepared.

Good to see you on the forum Mark!

Have a great day everyone!

jclishe's picture

I'm also 6'4" and the height of most airline seats in coach only comes up to the base of neck, meaning that I can't lean my head back. Boeings on Delta tend to be the worst / have the shortest seats, while A319/320's are a little taller and surprisingly some of the smaller regional jets (CRJ's specifically) are actually the most comfortable of all for me simply because they have tall seats and sometimes adjustable headrests.

Everyone always assumes that lack of leg room is the biggest challenge for a tall person in coach, but I'm here to tell you, not being able to rest my head on anything during a long haul flight is unbelievably uncomfortable. Try going on a cross country flight without ever once leaning your head back against your seat. The only possible way for me to provide any relief whatsoever to support my head, is to recline my seat and slouch down as far as I can (which isn't very far since my knees are already wedged into the seatback in front of me).

Also consider that many times my knees are wedged so tight against the seatback in front of me that the person in front of me is physically unable to recline until I change my seating position. Having said all of that, I recline and I fully expect the person in front me too as well. Someone of average height complaining about reclining will get absolutely zero sympathy from me. :)


milgram12's picture

I'm 6'0, and I prefer it when the person in front of me reclines.  That way, I can lean forward and put a pillow on their seat, and try to sleep for some of the flight.  A fully reclined seat ends up being the perfect spacing.

I like GPEDEN's comment, "Use this as an opportunity to exercise self-mastery over your emotions and reactions.  People do what people do. And the flight will end...."



Gk26's picture

I often fly from Dallas to Santiago, Chile, or LAX to Sydney.  On a 14 hour flight, everyone reclines in coach.  :)

Typically the flight attendants on Qantas will ask people to not recline during the meal services though as it makes it hard for the person behind you to eat.