Let’s Rethink the Whole Reclining Airplane Seat Thing

1969 Airplane Etiquette

I’ll get to the pillow quote later.

Two articles came out recently on airplane rudeness, one from CNN and another from Jalopnik. One piece of advice jumped out at me from both. CNN says we should redesign the reclining airplane seat — but also that it’s “curious” that people are so upset by this airplane sanctioned behavior — and Jalopnik says that unless you have a giant sitting behind you, recline away.

I am opposed to the reclining seat, but I get that having a button there for that purpose makes it seem like that button is saying: “It is your right to recline.”

The general problems with reclining seats:

  • I am 5’6″ — in other words, not a giant — but if you recline your seat, you are essentially in my lap, and I do not like this. Also, I have bad knees, and a reclining seat pinions them, so that they ache by the end of the flight. I do not like this either. If someone who is shorter than the average man and not tall for a woman is uncomfortable, we’ve got a problem.
  • As we all know, the airplane seat spaces has gotten smaller over the years. As far as I can tell, seats still recline the exact same amount they always have. This doesn’t make sense.
  • If you recline, you’re prioritizing your comfort over the person behind you. And you’re forcing them to decide if they too should now recline to avoid the discomfort they’re experiencing. This may cause discomfort to the person behind them. It’s a domino effect of discomfort.
  • Some airplane spaces are worse than others. (Seat Guru shares how much seat space you get on different airlines.) If you recline for the bulk of a transcontinental flight on an airplane that has an unusually limited amount of space per person, assume the person behind you hates you.

Potential reclining solutions moving forward:

  • You can ask the person behind you if they mind if you recline. That said, many people have a hard time saying, “No,” even though in reality, does anyone like it when the person in front of them reclines? At the very least, you diffuse the situation. They can’t sit there simmering about your reclining seat if they gave you permission to recline.
  • Perhaps the airplane should institute “reclining times.” During daytime everyone’s seat should be up. Nighttime, recline. If we all do it, then everyone has the same comfort level.
  • Another article I read recently talked about standardizing airplane seating spaces. Why hasn’t this happened already?

Funny enough, in Vogue’s Book of Etiquette in 1969, there’s not one mention of reclining seats. Maybe airplane seats didn’t recline back then, or maybe they did and people had so much space, it wasn’t an issue. Too bad the idea that a pillow could make you comfortable on a flight is long gone.

We’re on an airplane etiquette kick lately, so check out our other advice!

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