On aeroplanes, you shouldn’t recline your seat. This is why
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- May 26, 2023
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Should your airline seat recline? On a recent trip, the person seated in front of me never bothered to inquire. The moment he took off, he simply lurched backwards. No alert.
My knees halted him before he could go too far. On my one-hour Jetstar trip from Christchurch to Auckland, New Zealand, there were just 28 inches between seats, which is what occurs when the person in front of you is 6’1″, which is also my height.
This scene will occur repeatedly this summer when people in economy class lean their cramped seats back into what little personal space is left. Government officials are aware of the issue, which is why Congress mandated that the Federal Aviation Administration set minimum requirements for aeroplane seats. However, they won’t be prepared for the hectic summer travel season. The newsletter that the travel industry doesn’t want you to read is called Elliott Confidential. Breaking news, in-depth analysis, and cutting-edge travel advice are all featured in every issue. But keep it a secret!
What happens, then, if you’re crammed into a seat this summer and the flight attendant tells you to “sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight”?
You might wind up like the man in front of me, though. He continued to bulldoze back at regular intervals in the hopes that my knees would miraculously vanish. No, they didn’t. After giving up several times, he finally decided to stay upright the entire flight. I’ve experienced this before, and I’m certain that it won’t be the last.
Others won’t be as fortunate. Their knees won’t be a strong enough barrier, or even worse, the ‘leaner’ won’t fully recline until after using the loo. The already cramped area will instantly feel like a pressurised coffin.
Is it acceptable to recline your seat when flying?
Simply put, no.
It would be impolite to recline your seat, according to Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Texas. “Unless you were sitting in a seat with extra legroom, or in first class, it would be inappropriate,” she said. Space is limited, therefore it should come as no surprise that you will be seated close to others.
When there was sufficient room (34 inches between economy-class seats should be the norm), it used to be fine. But those times are a long time ago. I used to be able to cross my legs in economy class, but now I can’t even move them once I’ve sat down.
Since the plague has ended, space appears more limited. Maybe it helps the aeroplane feel more full to fill those empty middle seats and remove the masking requirement. However, it’s also possible that airlines spotted a chance to covertly move the seats closer together before the FAA releases its new space regulations. (Airlines don’t announce when they reduce seat size in public.) However, there is a growing understanding that leaning back is inappropriate virtually often. We simply have no more room.
In either case, passengers will recline their chairs. Reality check: No amount of manners experts will be able to prevent travellers from reclining in their economy-class seats. Roughly half of the people who fly commercially support reclining seats. For people who travel frequently, the percentage is larger. Seventy per cent of frequent travellers surveyed in a recent informal survey by App in the Air said their seats should be able to recline.
The seat-leaners contend that since they paid for a seat, they have the right to utilise it however they choose. Additionally, they claim that if they weren’t allowed to lean back, the seats wouldn’t be able to do so.
Both justifications are ludicrous. The airline seat is not yours to use any way you, please. Just try doing a nappy change on it; the flight attendants will reprimand you and direct you to the lavatory. Regarding the second claim, the “If they didn’t want the seats to recline, they wouldn’t recline” option, that’s just an airline bluff.
“The airlines have effectively sold the space where the seat reclines twice – to both the person sitting in the seat and the person behind them,” claimed Eric Finkel, a frequent traveller and business consultant from Vancouver, Canada. According to the airline, “letting the passengers fight it out and making money in the same space twice is a feature, not a bug.” The bottom line is that, despite the fact that you shouldn’t, almost half of the passengers on your flight will want to.
Does “never” truly imply “never”?
The no-leaning rule only has a few exceptions. You can learn a little in rare circumstances, such as on a red-eye flight or if you require additional room due to a back problem. But, according to etiquette experts, it’s a negotiation.
Ask the host if it’s okay if you slightly recline your seat, advised Adeodata Czink, an etiquette expert from Business of Manners. “That functions better than a BANG!”
If the person behind you replies “no,” strike up a discussion. Maybe as a compromise, you can move halfway back? Alternatively, you could request to be moved to a different seat from the flight attendant (read down for further advice).
However, there are many situations in which you should never relax. For instance:
when the person in the seat behind you is utilising a computer. Because the seats in economy class are so cramped, using a laptop is impossible with even a slight lean. You could be giving someone a new computer if you abruptly recline your seat. Nick Leighton, an etiquette expert and the host of the weekly podcast Were You Raised By Wolves, stated, “Nobody likes their laptop snapped in half.”
when serving food and beverages. “Avoid reclining when the majority of the passengers are enjoying their snack or meal,” advised etiquette expert Rosalinda Oropeza Randall. The cause is clear. When you push your seat back when someone is eating in front of you, the food and possibly the drink will fall onto their lap.
If you’re behind a group of small children. For a variety of reasons, it is not advisable to encroach into a toddler’s personal space. A juvenile passenger may use their tray table as a drum set or worse to punish you for violating the airspace. Additionally, young travellers enjoy sticking their fingers between seat cracks. You risk gravely hurting them if you suddenly lean back. If the person in front of you is tall, wounded, or otherwise unable to move.
I used every available square inch of personal space on a recent red-eye trip from Buenos Aires to Houston while using crutches due to a skiing accident that left me with a shattered pelvis. Do not even consider leaning back if a tall man with crutches is in your line of sight. The passenger could need to be taken out of the aircraft on a stretcher as a result of your self-centred conduct.
No one should recline their aircraft seat in economy anymore. However, if you feel you must, at least get permission. Failure to do so could lead to significant injury to other passengers, damage to devices, and expensive dry cleaning. Additionally, it is courteous to ask.
Elliott’s advice on how to deal with a seat leaner
What can you do if someone reclines in your personal space? Take a seat somewhere else. Take a nearby unoccupied seat if it isn’t behind a leaning passenger if one is available. You might also be able to convince a different traveller to exchange seats, perhaps someone with shorter legs.
Get assistance from a flight attendant. Crew members seek to prevent any passenger conflicts in midair. They’ll make every effort to make room for you. However, refrain from continuously hitting the flight attendant’s call button as this would only irritate them. Try to reach a compromise. part passengers insist on pushing their seats all the way back, but the majority are ready to make a compromise so that you may maintain part of your space while they lean a little.
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