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.

The Seat Recline Debate Continues — Violently This Time

A  violent altercation occurred between two passengers on Wednesday, October 5, 2016 aboard a Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” airplane — which operated as Jetstar flight 33 from Phuket to Sydney — as the incident was the result of a female passenger allegedly fully reclining her seat during the flight, which caused distress to the offended male passenger sitting next to the woman seated behind her.

The man — who was 27 years of age — turned out to be the son of the woman seated behind the reclined female passenger.

“It was a night flight, so it was two or three o’clock in the morning”, according to this article written by Georgina Mitchell of The Sydney Morning Herald. “This other passenger got out of his seat and whacked that woman’s seat who did that to his mother three or four times.”

This caused the woman — who is 42 years old — to follow him back to his seat and punch him. He responded by getting up and “laid a couple more on her.” According to the article, Scott Haywood and a fellow passenger “jumped up to hold the man back before the ‘terrific’ staff intervened and moved both parties from business class to different parts of the plane.”

Both the man and the woman were escorted off of the airplane by Australian Federal Police, who awaited the aircraft when it landed in Sydney.

The incident is currently under investigation.

Not the First Time Seat Recline Has Been Controversial — Or Violent

What happened aboard that airplane operated by Jetstar is by no means the first time that reclining a seat aboard an airplane resulted in violence or assault of some type. For example, consider the incident of two passengers who were embroiled in a heated argument over seat recline aboard an airplane — which operated as United Airlines flight 1462 on Sunday, August 24, 2014 — resulting in a diversion to Chicago, where police and agents of the Transportation Security Administration were summoned.

The fight reportedly started when the male passenger — seated in a middle seat of row 12 in the Economy Plus cabin — used a device known as the Knee Defender to stop the woman in front of him from reclining while he was using his laptop computer. A flight attendant asked the 48-year-old man to remove the device. After he refused, the woman — also 48 years old — stood up, turned around and allegedly threw a cup of water at him, which resulted of the diversion of the airplane to Chicago instead of its original intended destination of Denver. The flight originated in Newark.

The Knee Defender was invented back in 2003; and it is designed to prevent the passenger in front of you from reclining his or her seat and impeding upon your personal space. This product had reportedly been banned on some airlines; 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.

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.

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?

My One Incident Involving a Reclined Seat

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.

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.

I have said in past articles that I personally have never really understood why there is such a big deal pertaining to seat recline, as I never had a problem with someone in front of me who decided to recline his or her seat in an attempt to be more comfortable; nor have I had an issue with someone who was seated directly behind me whenever I reclined my seat…

…but I asked what you would do if the passenger seated in front of you reclined his or her seat and then vacated it for a significant amount of time — leaving the seat reclined when he or she leaves the seat in order to walk around the aircraft during a flight or use the lavatory, for example?

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.

In this situation, though, the recline seemed to be greater than usual for a seat in the economy class cabin in what appeared to be a tighter space — therefore significantly in my personal 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.

To me, the solution was simple: I reset the empty seat in front of me to not recline. If the passenger in front of me wanted the seat reclined upon returning, all it would have taken was a simple push of the button…

…but readers of The Gate responded with thoughtful comments from different points of view of the debate pertaining to what if the seat was reclined while vacant for a significant amount of time; and — as usual — I learned from those comments.

The Illusions of Reclining Seats on Airplanes — and How to Mitigate the Controversy

Etihad economy class
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

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.

Seat recline has been a hotly-debated topic of contention of frequent fliers for many years; as it is a debate where no one seems to be happy: 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 — not that the recline is all that significant in the first place — 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 where they cannot work on a computer or eat a meal comfortably.

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. One article pertaining to the seat recline debate was controversial enough to cause a discussion on FlyerTalk to be closed.

Is reclining your seat really pure evil? As Shakespeare might have so eloquently asked, “To recline or not to recline? That is the question.”

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.

Derecline became the word of the day on Wednesday, October 6, 2010.

Meanwhile, FlyerTalk member ajax claimed 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?

Possible Solutions?

Pertaining to the Knee Defender, people who recline tend to despise it when it is used on the seats in which they are sitting; while people who sit behind people who recline tend to like it when it is used on the seats in front of them — but it has not proven to be a solution mutually agreed upon by all passengers who are involved in its use.

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?

Gulf Air economy seats
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

How about seats which recline and not recline be sectioned off from each other? Would that be a viable solution?

Airlines could consider increasing the space between seats so that the passenger who reclines his or her seat does not impede upon the personal space of the passenger seated behind him or her.

Yeah. Right. I will just go over there in that corner and keep dreaming.


economy class seats Delta Air Lines
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

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 FlyerTalk members 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; and I cannot recall my request ever being denied.

In my opinion, the problem stems more from a lack of consideration and respect for fellow passengers rather than from the issue of comfort. 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. 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.

In this case, there certainly was no need and no reason for the situation to get out of control by the two passengers in question to the point of resorting to violence or assault, as the behavior of both of them was inexcusable and unacceptable.

All photographs ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

  1. ” the ‘terrific’ staff intervened and moved both parties from business class to different parts of the plane.”

    This happened in business class on a 787? what am I missing?

  2. In this day and age for airlines to squeeze in more passengers, they have made reclining a seat an issue amongst passengers. Even though in economy a seat’s recline pitch may not seem like a lot, once the seat is reclined, the top of the seat is in your face….it’s amazing how close it can be. The airlines created this problem, they need to fix it in their quest for more money!!!

  3. Let’s lobby the government through Boarding Area to set and increase leg room, which would mitigate this problem.

  4. Airline seats are designed for the average 5’8″ American. Leg room is based on the same measure. So if you are over 6 feet tall, expect pain when the seat in front of you reclines. The airlines want their cake and to eat it too. They want to reduce the space between seats to increase capacity but don’t want to replace their seats. I vote they get rid of the reclining seat in all but first class. Or there should be a standard minimum spacing between seats tha recline.

  5. Reclining made sense when seats were far apart but now, one nice thing about flying econo carriers is no recline at all which is what it should be – prob saves on weight and cost. If you want to recline, buy a higher class – as you note, it’s not like that 2. ” of recline actually makes a diff. Remove recline.

  6. You get what your are paying for. Everyone is hunting for the cheapest tickets possible these days. Therefore the airlines are cutting your space more and more. If i have to fly in a squeezed economy seat for more than 3 or 4 hours OF COURSE I will recline my seat. But I try to avoid it by booking the front row or pay for premium economy.

  7. Jetstar! Coming from Phuket! Going to Sydney! Can you imagine the ferals that would have been on that flight! Holy Moly! How horrendous. I wouldn’t subject my worst enemy to Jetstar, let alone from Phuket. Animals. The airline and the Sydney hogans.

  8. I think it is the airlines’ fault as they want to squeeze people like sardines, and thus adding as many seats as possible, in order to maximixe their profits.
    I would love to see the CEO’s of UA, AA, DL, etc., take at least a 5 hr flight in economy class at least once during their tenures. This is just a fantasy!

  9. This debate is really stupid.

    If everyone reclined their seats, the seat pitch would remain the same as if it was not reclined.

    I think the seats should be powered automatically and once in mid-climb, ALL seats recline simultaneously.

    If some reclines in front of you, recline your seat to alleviate the encroachment.

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