Air travel controversy: Passengers who recline their seats on flights are seen as 'rude'

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Where do you stand — or sit, as the case may be — on a controversial air travel issue?

For years people have weighed in on whether they (or other passengers) should fully recline their seats during a flight, especially amid a long flight — because the act of reclining that seat means the person seated behind the airplane chair will have far less space than otherwise.

People are vehement on both sides of this issue. (“Yes, go for it! It’s your seat and you paid for it!” some say — while others maintain with equal passion, “No, don’t recline your seat! It’s extremely rude to the person sitting behind you.”)

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Now comes further discussion and controversy.

A user on Reddit named u/cherryham123 recently shared that she was on a flight to the U.S. from Australia — “14 hours,” she added — “and sometime into the flight, I reclined my seat to sleep.”

One commenter on Reddit put it bluntly: "Recline the seat. She can deal with it," referring to the passenger positioned directly behind the Reddit poster. 

One commenter on Reddit put it bluntly: “Recline the seat. She can deal with it,” referring to the passenger positioned directly behind the Reddit poster. 
(iStock)

But then, the person posted, “The girl behind me poked me and told me to not recline my seat because she was uncomfortable. What is the etiquette here?” 

Fox News Digital reached out to the user for comment. Ree Winter, an Australian, replied and shared further details of her trip with Fox News Digital via email. 

“I was flying to America to see my partner,” she said. “It was a flight to LAX [Los Angeles International Airport]. After the woman behind me poked my seat repeatedly, I turned to look at her — and she then told me that she was trying to watch a movie and I shouldn’t recline my seat.” 

“I’ve never been on a long-haul flight where the person behind me was so aggressive about seat recline.”

Winter told Fox News Digital further about the incident, “It’s a 14-hour flight, so you really want to be able to sleep through some of it! When it was obvious that this woman thought she was in the right and was going to continue to annoy me, I called a flight attendant, explained the situation and asked if I could move seats.” 

Winter said, “The attendant was happy to oblige, since there were a couple of seats vacant.” 

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“I’ve never been on a long-haul flight where the person behind me was so aggressive about seat recline,” Winter also said. “I get [that] it can be a little uncomfortable because I’ve had it happen to me, but you either adjust your screen or also recline your seat.”

And “once the food is served, everyone is instructed to put their seats upright anyway,” Winter also said. 

"It's your seat — you can do what you want with it," said one person on Reddit about the controversial seat recline issue. 

“It’s your seat — you can do what you want with it,” said one person on Reddit about the controversial seat recline issue. 
(iStock)

Many fellow Redditors chimed in with thoughts about the issue of reclined seats. 

One person wrote, “The proper etiquette is, you don’t poke the seat in front of you.”

Another commenter wrote, “Recline the seat. She can deal with it.”

Yet another person commented, “People do recline [their seats]. I try not to during meals, but other than that, it’s your seat — you can do what you want with it. If she didn’t want to sit behind a reclined seat, she should have booked a different fare class or a bulkhead.”

“Look, I hate when people reflexively recline … But it is part of the seat purchased.”

And still another person wrote, “Reclining when someone is behind you … suggests my comfort is more important than your space. Regardless of flight length, I don’t do it when someone is behind me unless I’m in a premium cabin where folks have plenty of room.”

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A different commenter wrote, “Look, I hate when people reflexively recline … Especially kids who then lean forward. But it is part of the seat purchased. If the other flier doesn’t like it, they should purchase a different seat.” 

"A new question has emerged about how we respect our fellow passengers: Should you, or should you not, recline your seat" while on board a flight?

“A new question has emerged about how we respect our fellow passengers: Should you, or should you not, recline your seat” while on board a flight?
(iStock)

This same commenter went on, “You can offer to be polite and warn them if they have a laptop or are especially tall to not bash their knees, but etiquette does not require you to give up your comfort and purchased space for someone else.”

Wrote someone else, “Ask the person behind you if they mind before reclining the seat into their lap/knees.”

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Then along came this especially intriguing comment. 

“As a tall person,” someone wrote, “what happens when the person in front of me reclines, yet my knees are pretty much already in their seat back before they recline (also, how do they not feel my knees?)”

The notion of whether seats should be reclined on an aircraft during a flight has been debated for years — and it's still a hot topic today. Strong opinions exist on both sides of the "aisle." 

The notion of whether seats should be reclined on an aircraft during a flight has been debated for years — and it’s still a hot topic today. Strong opinions exist on both sides of the “aisle.” 
(iStock)

He continued, in part, “I’ve been in this situation, but been too nice to say something.”  

Someone else was quite succinct and clear on the issue: “After the meal, it’s OK to recline.”

‘Travelers have the right to recline’

Jacqueline Whitmore, an etiquette expert based in Florida and a former flight attendant, told Fox News Digital on this issue, “Most airplane seats were designed to recline to offer more comfort to passengers, especially on long flights. So travelers have the right to recline their seats.”

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She added that there are considerations. She mentioned the following five tips for those preparing to recline an airplane seat. 

1. Recline slowly and gently. Doing so will (usually) alert the person behind you.

2. If the person behind you has long legs, be courteous and don’t recline all the way.

3. If you’re already reclined, slowly bring your seat forward when a meal is served.

4. If you’re trying to eat or work and the person in front of you reclines their seat too far, it’s OK to politely ask that person to slightly raise their seat.

5. It’s a common courtesy to take a peek behind you before reclining your seat, in order to watch out for potential knees or computers that might get smashed in the process.

“If the person behind you has long legs, be courteous and don’t recline all the way.”

“Bottom line,” said Whitmore. “Etiquette is situational. Assess the situation and use your best judgment.”

A commercial airline cabin is shown packed with passengers. "Many passengers are older, larger and in many cases have less mobility," said Lori Bassini during a congressional hearing a few years ago. 

A commercial airline cabin is shown packed with passengers. “Many passengers are older, larger and in many cases have less mobility,” said Lori Bassini during a congressional hearing a few years ago. 
(iStock)

Other opinions abound on the issue of reclined seats aboard flights.

Reclining a seat on a flight is “irritating, inconvenient [and] self-indulgent,” according to London-based organizational consultant Simon Sapper, who shared thoughts with USA Today.

A few years ago, Lori Bassani, then-president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (AFPA), which is headquartered in Euless, Texas, referred to the cramped seating situations on board today’s planes as “torture” during a congressional hearing in front of a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee.

“If you must recline, just put the seat back a little bit to get the comfort you need without encroaching too much on the person behind you.”

During her written testimony, she explained that “many passengers are older, larger and in many cases have less mobility.” 

She also said that planes routinely are fully booked — and that incidents of “air rage” have been increasing.

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Earlier this year, an article in Travel + Leisure magazine referenced the fact that over the past few years, “airline seating [has been] starting to feel a little cramped.” 

The airlines have moved the seats closer and made them thinner in order to accommodate more passengers.

The article also posed this question: “While there is little that passengers can do about the changing layout of planes, a new question has emerged about how we respect our fellow passengers: Should you, or should you not, recline your seat?”

‘Only recline when necessary’

Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst based in San Francisco, said that proper “airline etiquette” was to “only recline when necessary,” as he told The New York Times.

He added that “if you must recline, just put the seat back a little bit to get the comfort you need without encroaching too much on the person behind you.”

Crowded conditions often exist on board, as airline carriers pack in more passengers. Even so, airline seats "are designed to recline," said one person.

Crowded conditions often exist on board, as airline carriers pack in more passengers. Even so, airline seats “are designed to recline,” said one person.
(AP)

However, Lisa Orr, an etiquette and protocol consultant based in Canada, had an entirely different take on the matter.

“Airline seats are designed to recline, so it’s completely reasonable that passengers use that feature of their seat,” she told Reader’s Digest. 

“However, how you recline makes all the difference,” she added. 

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Experts note that the decision to “recline or not recline” on board a flight should be made based on the length of the flight (that is, a short flight may not require it); on the timing to recline (better to do so early on, so the person behind you gets used to it for the rest of the flight, some experts believe); and on an awareness of others around you, including the person sitting directly behind your seat. 

Some experts even advise speaking to the person behind you and giving them a heads-up that you may be reclining your seat. 

Most people appreciate the courtesy ahead of time, experts said. 

One person writing on Twitter recently shared his feelings about reclining a seat on a plane. He said he’s perfectly fine with reclining — but “I wouldn’t recline if there were a parent holding a baby behind me,” he said.

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Said another person on Reddit about the issue, “I never recline my seat on the plane. The difference it makes is so little in my comfort that I’d rather sit uncomfortably than be fighting with the person behind me.”

And another person put it this way about her seat on a plane — leaving no question about how she’d handle the issue of reclining a seat: “I paid for it.”

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