Laptop Computer Screen Damaged by Reclined Seat Aboard Airplane: Who is Responsible; and How Should This Be Resolved?

Here is an interesting scenario: what happens when the screen of a laptop computer is damaged from someone who reclined his or her seat aboard an airplane during a flight? Who is ultimately responsible for the damage?

Laptop Computer Screen Damaged by Reclined Seat Aboard Airplane: Who is Responsible; and How Should This Be Resolved?

Pat Cassidy claims to be a Silver Medallion elite level member of the SkyMiles frequent flier loyalty program of Delta Air Lines; and he further claims that his laptop computer was “destroyed when the person in front of me reclines their seat.

After contacting Delta Air Lines via Twitter, Pat Cassidy purportedly received the following response from the airline:

Hello Patrick,

Thank you for writing us about your experience. I’m sorry your laptop was broken due to another passenger reclining on your seat. It’s not fair when one person’s behavior affects another person. Please know that Personal property damaged in-flight as a result of a passenger action is not reimbursable. We regret the inconvenience this has caused you.

As a goodwill gesture, I’m adding 7,500 bonus miles to your SkyMiles account. They should be transferred into your account within three business days.

Thank you for your loyalty with Delta Air Lines, we are looking forward to serving you again.

For the record, some people would say that 7,500 SkyMiles is not the equivalent of a $75.00 gift card — but rather the equivalent of $150.00 if each SkyMile was valued at two cents apiece.

At least one person accuses Pat Cassidy of creating the situation solely as a publicity stunt

…and that assumption can be understood when reading the following exchange of messages between Delta Air Lines and Pat Cassidy

@Delta let me know who I can email about this? You’ll know it’s me because the bottom of the email will read “sent my from iPhone”

Goodness! Did you speak to a gate agent or Red Coat about the damage when you got off the plane? If not, you can write in to to have someone evaluate the damage & reach out to you. HWG

I’m just not sure that’s going to be good enough, not sure if you picked up on this but I have a podcast.

…but even if accusation that this is nothing more than a publicity stunt was true, what if this incident actually happened?

Thoughts Pertaining to the Seat Recline Debate

Seat recline

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

The ability to recline seats in the economy class cabins aboard airplanes has been an issue for decades for a number of reasons.

The problem with the seat recline wars stems more from selfishness and self-importance — along with a lack of consideration and respect for fellow passengers — rather than from the issue of comfort, in my opinion. As with similar heated debates over armrests and children and window shades and swapping seats, passengers should be able to quickly work out a compromise without having to resort to confrontations to resolve what should be a simple minor issue at best.

I do like to recline my seat — even if the additional comfort is only marginal at best…

…but since learning over the years of how adamant are passengers on either side of this issue, I have since resorted to the practice of asking the passenger behind me if he or she minds if I recline my seat — even though I am technically not required to request permission — and I cannot recall my request ever being denied.

What a simple solution that can easily avoid confrontations of just about any kind aboard an airplane — and all it takes is a moment of civility with minimal effort.

Simply put: if passengers were more polite, and considerate and respectful of each other, this whole debate over the recline of seats in the economy class cabin aboard commercial aircraft would be a minor issue at best — if at all.

I have written extensively over the years pertaining to the seat recline debate aboard airplanes in the form of articles posted here at The Gate — including but not limited to:


This situation is not the fault of Delta Air Lines, as no one associated with the airline was complicit with the occurrence of this incident — but the airline compensated Pat Cassidy anyway even though it was not obligated to do so.

Passengers are permitted to recline their seats if they are equipped to do so; and passengers working on laptop computers which rest on the tray tables in front of them is not at all uncommon aboard airplanes.

Is the actual design of the seat itself to blame? Perhaps diminished seat pitch — or the amount of space between rows of seats — might be a contributing factor to what happened? Should a smaller laptop computer have been used instead of the large one which was supposedly used prior to being damaged? Maybe laptop computers should not be permitted to rest on tray tables while passengers are working on them?

So who is actually at fault pertaining to this incident — assuming that it is not a publicity stunt — and who should ultimately be held responsible for what purportedly happened?

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

3 thoughts on “Laptop Computer Screen Damaged by Reclined Seat Aboard Airplane: Who is Responsible; and How Should This Be Resolved?”

  1. NB_ga says:

    Unfortunate situation (assuming it is legitimate). But, goodness, it is not the fault of Delta or the reclining passenger. As adults, we are responsible for our belongings. Pat placed his computer in a precarious position where it was accidentally damaged. Sad… but solely his fault. From the clips included here, he has become bitter over his own wrongdoing. Perhaps he man up and get over it. Complete foolishness!

  2. FF78 says:

    Horsesh** … and a few thoughts on this:

    1-Airlines work with manufacturers to design seats….stop with the pinch points in the seat, or better yet, stop building seats that recline. We’d all be happier that way. Economy is economy…if you want recline, buy business or extra legroom. I enjoy the 12″ of space between me and seat in front. I enjoy it less when it’s 6″ and I can get out of my seat…let alone eat a meal, read a book or view my laptop. wtf.

    2-I’ve opened my laptop many a time to have the knucklehead in front of me recline into my PC. Fortunately, it has never snapped like in this example, but I’ve seen it happen multiple times. Simple solution: stop making seats that recline.

    3-I don’t understand the folks who say that the person working on their laptop, in their own #(*$& seat is responsible for the damage. This is why air travel ranks slightly above a root canal.

    I’ve lost a few laptops in my day, mostly because the seatmate or the flight attendant spilled drinks over the keyboard/motherboard, but I saw that coming. Now, I always close the lid during the meal service and kindly request my seatmate to put their drink on their own traytable. Over 4M miles, it’s saved me 10s of thousands of dollars. It’s been more than a few times that I’ve worn that fellow travelers drink.

    Very unfortunate….but this is on the airline…they need to create a safe environment…and environment that is predictable.

  3. Kyle says:

    I had my screen crack from an aggressive recliner in front of me on Air Canada a few years ago. Never thought to ask for compensation from the airline.

    The crack could have been avoided if the guy had looked back to see if there was a reason his seat wasn’t reclining fully at first, but he just kept pushing the button and forced the seat back without even giving me enough time to move the laptop. So, so frustrating…

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