Reclining Etiquette

I’m trying to do an unofficial survey on what people do when the passenger in front of them reclines the seat on an airliner. I can think of some options:

1. Ask the passenger to un-recline. The man next to me on a recent flight did just that – leaned forward and asked the passenger to pull his seat back up. To my surprise, the other passenger complied.

2. Recline your own seat. This is what I usually do, to maintain the amount of space that I’m entitled to. I never recline it first, though.

3. Just bear it. The husband did this on a recent flight. The passenger in front of him reclined, but the husband didn’t.

4. Aim the air nozzle. I wanted to do this with the passenger who reclined on the husband – point the cold air stream at his head – but the husband wouldn’t have it. (Also, the guy was wearing a baseball cap.)

I really believe it would be better if airline seats didn’t recline, at least not the squished-together ones in coach. But that’s not likely to change.

So, tell me, what do you do in that situation?


6 thoughts on “Reclining Etiquette

  1. Sarah

    I usually just bear it. I’m relatively short so the leg space usually isn’t too much of an issue for me, and I’m usually either reading, sleeping, or knitting, so I don’t use the tray table for much.
    Now what *really* bugs me is when the kid behind you kicks your seat incessantly…

  2. Rob Brooks

    The issue is not just reclining, it’s the *way* folks recline. I’ve had times where I was leaning forward to get something stowed under foot, and just barely got out of the way before I was whacked by a rapidly-accelerating seat back! A friend had a similar situation, and he pushed back on the seat back pretty aggressively, which resulted in a somewhat-testy exchange.

  3. Kate

    Of the four options, I would recline my seat. I generally recline my seat anyway- but I’m always careful to do it gently and only a little bit (never fully reclined!) so as to minimize the bother to the person behind me.
    One thing that bugs me about the person in front of me fully reclining their seat is that by doing so, they create too small a space between the tray table and the back of seat for me to open my laptop. Also, if my laptop is already open and they quickly recline their seat, it smashes into my laptop and violently throws it into my lap. I frown upon any violence done to my laptop- intentional or not.

  4. Lefty

    Well unfortunately reclining passengers is something travelers will have to live with.
    Wishing that people would look before reclining is a bit too much to ask from the average dimwit on an airplane.
    Unfortunately, my frustration has gotten the best of me once or twice. After someone caught my laptop cover under his reclined seat, I gave the back of the seat a good swift knee to let my neighbor know he had encroached on my space. At least he moved his seat.

  5. Matthew J

    Great article, I have always hated it when someone would just recline at full-speed and not even have a care about what is behind them. I, as a general rule don’t recline all the way unless the seat behind me is empty.

  6. David N

    Many of you all are just missing the point.
    This isn’t about legroom and comfort for some of us, but the non-existence thereof. Forget the laptop, forget getting bonked on the head: I can’t hardly reach my shoes.
    I’m not that huge: 6-3. Look around in an airplane next time. We’re everywhere.
    I usually have less than an inch of legroom with the seat forward. The sudden slamming of the seatback, sometimes including the metal parts of the tray table, strikes me directly in the knees. The subsequent pushing and shoving, or re-slamming, “needed to get the seat to move farther back” hurts a little more, but mainly confirms that the person is completely oblivious to the existence of other life forms in the galaxy.
    The perpetrator is usually average to smaller size, apparently because they can’t conceive of what it means to be pinned in place for hours. I’ve found that large travelers like myself whose ears are completely visible above the seat back usually DO NOT EVER recline their seats, regardless of the size of the person behind them.
    I’ve tried putting up with it, but coming home exhausted, cranky and sometimes in pain (wanting to go to the chiropractor) just isn’t worth it.
    I’ll be asking them early and firmly to put their seat forward. To date I’ve pretty much always been treated like I’m being unreasonable or ruining their flight. If necessary, I’ll be involving flight crew from now on and asking for re-seating if they can’t make it stop.
    Sorry for the irritation to the hard-working crew, but it is the airline’s fault that taller passengers are not being accommodated acceptably. Just like the oblivious passenger in front of us, they’re waiting for us to tell them they’ve passed our limit.
    Any other place someone whacked me in the knees with a heavy object and then left it there, they’d be spending the afternoon in the pokey.
    If some of you who just want to be able to open your laptops want to help out, make some supportive noise when one of your medium large neighbors complains. We generally expect and get little to no sympathy from anybody. As if I could put my legs in the overhead bin if I wasn’t so selfish.


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