Yahoo Readers Sound Off: Is it Wrong to Recline Your Seat on a Plane?

Is reclining a right or a privilege? (Photo: Getty Images)

The battle of the recliners vs. the anti-recliners now has air passengers at each other’s throats.

Reports that a Southwest Airlines passenger allegedly tried to choke another passenger who’d tried to recline her seat during an L.A.-to-San Francisco flight Sunday has readers on both sides of the recline debate in an uproar.

Related: Airline Wars Continue: Passenger Chokes Woman for Reclining Seat

Even though no one has been charged in the incident so far (an FBI spokesperson tells Yahoo Travel the matter is still being investigated), and there’s been no official confirmation that anyone got choked (just unconfirmed accounts from other passengers), this is one story flyers are hopping mad about. It touches on one of the more controversial issues of modern commercial air travel: as airlines continue to squeeze even more people into economy class, is it ever okay for a passenger to recline his/her seats?


The guy behind this woman obviously doesn’t mind that she’s reclining. But other passengers aren’t as cool about it. (Photo: iStock)

The issue has Yahoo Travel readers blowing up our comments section. The cramped uncomfortable seating and conditions on these airplanes is the root cause of this type of problem,“ writes a Yahoo Travel reader coincidentally named "Defender.” The reader went on to say: “What else do you think will happen when you cram people together like sardines in a can? This can be compared to steerage class on the Titanic.”

While not quite on the level of the Titanic, the alleged Southwest choking incident might be a calamity we can learn from. Ever since the story broke, Yahoo Travel has been receiving some valuable insight from our readers and experts. Who knows: maybe this could be one small step toward solving the recline wars once and for all.



“Whatever — I recline when I want!” (Illustration: iStock)

This faction is up in arms over the Southwest incident, as they see their fundamental right to recline as under attack. “When I’m paying a ton of money for my 17” of seat I want to recline the seat back,“ writes Yahoo Travel reader Kem. "Sitting straight up hurts my back."

Bloodthirstyjesus24 has a memo for those who complain about recliners: "If you don’t like the seats and how they operate in coach, then don’t buy a seat in coach.”

Some readers complain about those who feel it’s their right to use any means necessary to stop people from reclining. Marine1 writes about a 16-hour flight she took from Atlanta to Johannesburg. She says she was going to recline her seat to get some much-needed sleep, but the woman behind her had other ideas. “I was doing it slowly, as I always do, but [the seat] wouldn’t move,” she recalls. “When I looked back, the woman behind me had her knees together,” thus preventing Marine1 from moving her seat back.

Marine1 was upset, to say the least. “I was not about to spend 16 hours in a straight up position,” she writes. “I usually stay awake 24 hours before I fly so I can sleep the entire trip. There is no way I could survive a flight of 16 hours without sleeping. I would go nuts. But I didn’t choke the woman (I thought about it). Instead, I went and talked to a stewardess who asked the woman to move her knees. When she said no, the stewardess moved her to the last seat in the plane right in front of the last [lavatory]. I was a happy camper and I hoped the odors from the [lavatory] were disgusting.”

These readers have no love for those who complain about seat recliners. Yahoo Travel reader Terre writes about a flight where a fellow passenger was loudly and obnoxiously complaining about the passenger in front who had reclined his seat. Terre walked by the loudly complaining person on the way to the lavatory and noticed something strange about the anti-recliner: “HE HAD HIS SEAT RECLINED!!!” writes Terre. “Guess the person behind HIM did not matter.”

Something else that upset Terre is the lack of criminal charges in the Southwest incident and other alleged air-rage cases sparked by reclining disputes. “It’s the ‘all-about-me’ attitude,” this reader writes. “Maybe if [and] when this #$%$ happens and the authorities make a few people miss some flights and spend a few nights in jail this would stop.”



This guy refuses to recline. And his knee make sure the person in front of him doesn’t either. (Photo: iStock)

“The seats are just too close together to allow a person to recline in standard coach,” writes Yahoo Travel reader and anti-recliner Brion. “It really imposes on the passenger behind. I have twice in three flights had someone recline unexpectedly and my laptop screen gets wedged between the seat, tray, and me to the point where I have to beat on the back of the seat until they lifted it back up to release it. I’m glad it never snapped the screen but I’m afraid it will at some point.”

Don’t tell Elissa about the right to recline. “If people have the right to recline, people also should have the right to access their own lap, use their tray table, etc.,” she writes.

Related: You’ve Got to Fight For Your Right to Recline on Airplanes

Not surprisingly, we heard from a number of tall readers who vehemently oppose seat recliners. “I’m 6'5” and an international traveler that always flies economy because the company I work for is CHEAP,“ Yahoo Travel reader Cooter writes. "I absolutely detest recliners that sit in front of me. I just flew Frontier Airlines last week from Orlando to Cleveland and none of the seats on the plane recline — and for good reason — because there is already no leg room. I had a moment of personal satisfaction when the short-legged guy to the side of me was fumbling for the 'recline’ button on the arm of his seat and there was none.”

WATCH: Are Reclining Seats a Right or a Privilege?

Writes 6'1” Yahoo Travel reader Phron: “I think it’s rude to ram your seat into someone else’s knees, which is inevitably what happens. If I did recline, I’d ask the person behind me if it’s OK first. Then I’d go back half way.”

Taking drastic action

Despite admitting to a temptation, very few of our anti-reclining readers advocated choking a seat recliner. But some weren’t averse to taking other action against seat recliners. Michael has a completely passive-aggressive solution that involves using the cabin’s air vents. “The most non-confrontational defensive method I have seen is to angle your seat’s air nozzle as far forward as possible and max out the [air] flow,” he writes. “This will send a cold air stream onto the head of the person in front reclining his or her seat. I have seen this work when the person in front requests that the air be turned down and the reply is, 'Certainly, if you will move your recline up to half way.’ It often works out that way.”


One Yahoo Travel reader turns the recline war into an air war. (Photo: iStock)

Of course, there are even more drastic steps. One made the news last year when a United Airlines passenger got into a confrontation with another passenger because he’d clipped a device called a Knee Defender on the seat in front of him to keep it from reclining. Don’t try this yourself; “Knee Defenders” and similar devices are banned aboard most major airlines.

Of course, choking is out, too. “No matter what 'rights’ any airline passenger might have, no one has any right to hit another passenger — period,” Knee Defender inventor and anti-recliner Ira Goldman tells Yahoo Travel. “Yet that’s what often happens when passengers recline; they hit the person directly behind — in the knees, the head, or sometimes break their laptop screen.”

Reclining Etiquette

Air vent retaliation, Knee Defenders, and other anti-reclining tactics don’t sit well with etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, owner of The Protocol School of Texas. “I think people taking aggressive and subversive measures to keep a person from reclining isn’t the answer,” she tells Yahoo Travel. “Certainly, someone is not going to think favorably of you if they find you are attaching clips to their seat or kicking and kneeing them from behind. Blowing air in their direction is not the answer either — that is an argument waiting to happen!"

Related: Airline Don'ts: Never Get 'Passenger Shamed’ Again

She says a much better tactic is to ask the flight attendant for assistance, or maybe even address the problem tactfully and politely. "In a perfect world I might recommend saying to your forward seat neighbor, 'Would you kindly consider moving your seat forward — I’m quite uncomfortable,’” she says, adding, “but you never know who you are going to get sitting in front of you! The flight attendant may have more luck.”


Some say you can recline, just don’t be a jerk about it. (Photo: iStock)

So what are Gottsman’s rules for reclining? She says regardless of what you do, just be considerate. “If the person behind you has long legs, or is larger in scale, it would be inconvenient and uncomfortable to recline your seat back and courteous of you to take their comfort into consideration,” she says. “If a child or smaller framed individual is seated behind you, it would be easier to justify, and even more polite to ask, 'Would you mind if I reclined my seat back?’”

But she says reclining is a no-no if the person behind you has his/her tray table out. “The hard and fast answer, of course, is be considerate of your fellow passengers,” she says. “And take note of how the other person will be affected. Just because you can [recline] doesn’t mean you should.”

A solution

Unfortunately, with each side in the recline/anti-recline conflict so deeply dug into their position, a solution to the recline wars doesn’t seem forthcoming. It appears that if a solution isn’t found soon, not only will we see more incidents like the Southwest Airlines dispute, one reader suggests we may see a consequence that affects all of us: airlines might try to profit from the dispute. “I am surprised there is not a $25 fee for a reclining seat,” writes Yahoo Travel reader Madmax — who really should keep in mind that airline execs do read Yahoo Travel and he should be careful what he suggests.

If the possibility that profit-hungry airlines will try to find a way to profit from our recline angst doesn’t induce us to reach an agreement, nothing will.

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