The Illusions of Reclining Seats on Airplanes — and How to Mitigate the Controversy
Aristotle is thought to have originated the phrase “the whole is more than the sum of its parts” — and that phrase seems to quite well describe the annoyances of seats which can be reclined on commercial aircraft.
FlyerTalk members have long been fiercely debating the issue of reclining seats with rather heated exchanges. In fact, reclining seats on commercial aircraft has for years been one of the most controversial topics on FlyerTalk, with many FlyerTalk members firmly-entrenched in at least two camps: those who recline, and those who do not like anyone reclining in the seat directly in front of them.
As Shakespeare might have so eloquently asked, “To recline or not to recline? That is the question.”
The latest salvo on the seat recline debate had been launched by Slate with an article controversial enough to cause a discussion on FlyerTalk to be closed. Is reclining your seat really pure evil?
Note that this is really a “class” issue, as the debate over reclining seats on commercial aircraft usually does not spill over into seating in premium class cabins, where legroom and seat pitch are usually not an issue. This is primarily an economy cabin class issue, where space is tight and you seemingly have to fight for every inch you can grab — including on the shared armrests. The issue of shared armrests is another topic for another day, however.
Basically, this is the debate in a nutshell: those who are for reclining seats want to be more comfortable and have more space as well as purportedly better air flow from an overhead vent; while those who are against reclining seats feel as though the passengers in the seats directly in front of them are encroaching on what little space they have…
…and no one is happy.
Although I never really was much into her comedy, I remember a routine performed by Ellen DeGeneres back in 1996 which I had always felt best illustrated how ridiculous is this conundrum of reclining seats on commercial aircraft:
…which is why I never really understood the debate. Are we really talking about a huge difference? The seat recline is only a few inches at most, if that. Why are people so adamant about whether or not a seat is reclined to the point where they might believe that it is a “God-given right”?
For example, FlyerTalk member mbwmbw claims to have been prohibited by a flight attendant from reclining his seat because the woman seated in front of him could not comfortably work on her large laptop computer; while FlyerTalk member aubreyfromwheaton accused an Air France flight attendant of pushing the button and abruptly “dereclining” him as he was asking the flight attendant to repeat what she said when he had his headphones on his head while listening to music.
Meanwhile, FlyerTalk member ajax claims that reclining a seat prompted a “violent reaction” from the passenger directly behind ajax, which included pushing and slamming into the seat occupied by ajax, accompanied by profanity and threats of violence. Although ajax reported the incident more than once, nothing was done other than ajax being advised by a flight attendant to not recline the seat for the duration of the flight.
Is it really a violation of seat recline etiquette to recline your seat for nine hours on an airplane?
The seat recline debate had even reportedly resulted in an aircraft on its way to Accra, Ghana returning to its point of origination at Washington Dulles International Airport while accompanied by two F-16 fighter jets for an emergency landing after a fight erupted between passengers — all because a passenger reclined his seat.
One enterprising company created a patented product called Knee Defender back in 2003 which prevents the passenger in front of you from reclining his or her seat. This product had reportedly been banned on some airlines — such as on United Airlines back in 2004 — but use of the product is supposedly not against the law, as long as it is not used during taxiing, takeoffs or landings of aircraft.
Really, folks? Aren’t we all supposed to be mature adults here? Could reclining your seat on a commercial airplane actually be considered inappropriate? Do we really need Knee Defenders and F-16 fighter jets to help settle this long-running debate once and for all — or should passengers not be able to recline in seats on commercial aircraft altogether?
Perhaps a fee should be charged for those passengers who want to recline their seats? If so, the fee should probably be paid to the passenger directly behind the reclined seat instead of to the airline to create a win-win situation…
…or should the passenger pay the person in front of him or her not to recline the seat — whether or not it is a bribe?
I personally have never really understood why there is such a big deal pertaining to seat recline. I never had a problem with someone in front of me who decided to recline his or her seat; nor have I had an issue with someone who was seated directly behind me whenever I reclined my seat. I do like to recline my seat even if the additional comfort is only marginal at best — but since learning of how adamant are FlyerTalk members on either side of this issue, I have since asked the passenger behind me if he or she minds if I recline my seat.
In my opinion, the problem stems more from a lack of consideration and respect for fellow passengers rather than from the issue of comfort. 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. If passengers were more polite, considerate and respectful of each other, this whole debate over the recline of seats on commercial aircraft would be a minor issue at best — if at all.