Seat recline
Please excuse the poor quality of the photograph demonstrating the seat reclining in front of my seat; but there was not much room and it was somewhat dark. Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Seat Recline: What Would You Do in This Situation?

he debate pertaining to seat recline has been contentious for years — with one of the more infamous incidents being this battle which caused a diversion of a flight and resulted in the police being called this past August.

Some people believe that it is the prerogative of the person sitting in the seat to recline it for that nominal increase in comfort; while others do not like to have the seat of someone suddenly invade their space — especially when working on a laptop computer or eating a meal, as examples…

…but what would you do if the person seated in front of you reclines his or her seat — and then leaves it reclined when he or she leaves the seat in order to walk around the aircraft during a flight or use the lavatory?

Please excuse the poor quality of the photograph demonstrating the seat reclining in front of my seat; but there was not much room and it was somewhat dark. Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.
Please excuse the poor quality of the photograph demonstrating the seat reclining in front of my seat; but there was not much room and it was somewhat dark. Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

While you ponder that question, I thought I was going to have the most miserable flight in recent memory. This was an overnight flight from Doha to Amsterdam where the person in front of me reclined her seat at any opportunity and left it reclined even when she left her seat — the recline seemed to be greater than usual for a seat in the economy class cabin and therefore significantly in my personal space — plus the following cast of characters surrounded me:

  • Two gentlemen seated in the row behind the row in which I was seated who had never met before the flight — one speaking English with an Arabic accent of some sort; the other with a British accent — were talking very loudly as the person seated directly behind me was doing something that felt like the equivalent of kicking my seat while one of the overhead reading lights shone quite brightly
  • The woman seated next to me in the window seat fidgeted in disgust while valiantly attempting to get some sleep
  • A baby was screaming a few rows back
  • At least two loud snorers were seated across the aisle
  • The in-flight entertainment system — which operated with no problem between Muscat and Doha — suddenly was inoperable after the airplane took off from the airport in Doha
  • A medical doctor was requested via the public address system for a fellow passenger aboard the aircraft


I wanted to tell the gentlemen seated behind me that I really do not care that you took delivery of five new vessels in China — and nobody else aboard the airplane probably equally had any interest as well.

That did it. I have a right to be reasonably comfortable.

First, I reclined my seat, boorish ruffian that I am. Then, I reset the empty seat in front of me to not recline.

“I have to start getting seats in business class,” one of the gentlemen seated behind me said after I reclined my seat. “These seats are too small for me.”


Here is the bizarre part: just after I reclined my seat…

  • The gentlemen stopped talking and turned off the bright reading light
  • The baby stopped crying
  • The woman stopped fidgeting
  • The snoring was abated
  • Fortunately and thankfully, the passenger who needed a doctor seemed to be doing well
  • The aircraft was nice, dark and quiet


…and I felt like Charlie Brown, letting out a sigh with my eyes wide open, wondering if I was ever going to get some sleep during this flight after being wound up despite conditions being perfect for getting some sleep.

The next thing I knew, a hot towel was being handed to me before the final meal service with one hour to go before landing. I was somehow knocked out after all and got a few hours of sleep.

Did I sit in the magic reclining seat?!?

The in-flight entertainment system never did work again; but it was announced that every passenger will receive compensation.

Com-pen-SAY-shun? What is that?!? Oh, wait a minute: that is one of those things where one is given something of value for his or her troubles and is not at fault — something I had not received in years due to flights being efficient and problem-free for me. Compensation? For an inoperable in-flight entertainment system?!? Cool! I never would have thought about complaining about it — not that I have to do so now.

Every passenger received a discount worth 50 Euros off of a future ticket purchase upon leaving the aircraft. Sweet!

I accept your apologies! Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.
I accept your apologies! Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.
50 Euros. Sweet! Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.
50 Euros. Sweet! Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

It turned out to be a good flight after all instead of potentially hitting the jackpot of irritants one experiences during a flight — and having to experience them all flight long.

It is important to note that I attempted to ask the woman to not have her seat reclined while she was gone; but she simply walked away before I could say anything. I personally would never leave a seat reclined while I am not seated in it.

Also — for the record — I have never had a problem with any person in front of me reclining his or her seat at will in an attempt to be more comfortable. In this situation, though, the recline seemed to be greater in what appeared to be a tighter space, rendering it difficult for me to reach my bag under the seat in front of me or to eat. Yes, she kept her seat reclined during meal times as well.

What would you have done if the seat in front of you was reclined with no one seated in it?

All photographs ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

  1. I think you did the appropriate thing. I am in the camp that believes everyone has the right to recline; why else would the airplane be made to allow this? However, if she is not in the seat it is common courtesy to reset the recline position. Since she didn’t, you were wise to do it for her. Kudos to you, looks like karma smiled on you for handling this properly 😉

  2. Unless the world is ending or I have to get out of a war zone, i will not fly KLM. After a flight in 2013 I decided I would never fly economy again. there are cheap ways to fly business like buying miles and what not.

  3. 1. Bose noise deafening earphones and source of soft music or a book– I use ipad…

    2. Overnight flight? Relax with your eyes closed — it will end soon

    3. If person in front is awake– ie eating breakfast– ask for upright to allow eating, or just cope Again, flight will end soon…

  4. Since you emphasize where the people behaving badly was from, I can grant you that you can replace all your “Arabic”, “Chinese” etc. with…. American.

    Or even better… do not mention nationalities at all. I can *unfortunately* assure you (since I really fly globally) that bad behavior is… a global syndrome..

  5. Seat reclining is acceptable, just be aware of those around you, recline gently, look over your shoulder as you do it. Pull it back at meal time, ask the person in front to do the same. Use some common courtesy and politely expect the same.

    Don’t slam it back!

  6. I just flew in the exit row of an A330 for an 8.5 hour day sector, and I felt a bit unkind for reclining knowing the pax behind me did not have my 5 or 6 feet of legroom. That said, it is really hard to sleep not reclined, so I did recline between lunch and the snack service. I also visit the restroom a bit more often than many pax, but I don’t return my seatback as I’m usually just gone a few minutes. I think it’s more disruptive to be re-reclining again after just a couple minutes away. That’s my thinking anyway.

    I absolutely do sit at least 50% more upright for meals – or all the way up, depending on if it’s a full meal (upright) or just something quick/easy like cheese and crackers.

    I also think, though I haven’t sat in a standard row yet – that Delta’s new A330 seat with the forward sliding seat pan is perhaps a bit less annoying for pax behind me. Do others have insight on that? I’ve only been in an exit row so far.

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