I’ll recline if I want to.

Words: Lee Tulloch

Sorry, I’m not going to do a 14-hour flight sitting bolt upright. But there are some people who would like me to.

Just as there are people in the cat camp and those in the dog camp, now we travellers need to define ourselves as Pro-Recline or Anti-Recline.

To recline or not recline? It’s a heated debate and it comes back to haunt us every now and again. Recently, a video went viral on You Tube of a man repeatedly punching the seat of the woman in front after she reclined her chair.  The anti-recliners said he was right to be frustrated, given he was in the last row of the section, so he couldn’t recline. Others thought it was violent and over-the-top.

A few years ago, a female passenger on a United Airlines flight from Newark to Denver, furious that the male behind her had used a device called the Knee Defender to stop her seat reclining, threw a glass of water over him, causing the flight to divert to Chicago’s O’Hare airport. A few days afterwards, an American Airlines flight en route from Miami to Paris had to divert to Boston when a French passenger became upset and disruptive after the woman in front reclined her chair. The Frenchman was arrested, although no doubt the Anti-Recline camp would have preferred the woman in front of him to be led off the flight in handcuffs.

Isn’t this getting just a bit insane? Not only the extent of the rage over the incursion into personal space, but the flight diversions as well. Did United really have to interrupt its service over a glass of water and a few angry words? Was a stroppy Frenchman that uncontrollable?

I recline my seat. I don’t do it at mealtime and I rarely do it on a short hop such as Melbourne-Sydney. But there’s no way I’m going to fly from Sydney to Dubai without the option of changing the angle of my back during the flight. I’d prefer it if the person in front of me didn’t recline, but we are civilised and accept that this is also his or her right.

You can let the flying experience drive you insane. You can take your anger out on the person in front of you, or the flight attendants. Or, if you feel this way – this is radical – don’t get on the plane.

Naturally, we’re talking the Economy cabin here. One person reclining his seat sets up a domino effect whereby everyone behind has to do the same thing to retain her personal space. It’s true that reclining is pretty squishy if you’re working on your laptop or watching a movie on a device set up on your tray table. Long legs are another issue altogether (the knee-seat relationship will, frankly, never work.)

But passengers in Economy are all in the same boat (or aircraft.) To then whip out a Knee Defender and attach it, making the flight for the person in front just that bit more difficult is so appallingly selfish I can’t get my head around it. In the case of the offended woman on the United Airlines flight, I think a glass of water was a modest reaction. I would have given the jerk behind an involuntary Ice Bucket Challenge.

I recall once, years ago, getting an upgrade to business class because my Economy seat was broken and wouldn’t recline. The airline had to provide me a working seat, otherwise they would have contravened the mandated health and safety requirements for the flight. If your seat doesn’t recline for any reason – hello compensation.

As airlines keep squeezing more and more seats into Economy cabins while boosting the amenities of their lucrative Business Class offerings, Premium Economy or ‘economy plus’ as some airlines call it, has become a popular option for those who find the back of the plane torturous. I didn’t appreciate the intervention by Delta CEO Ed Bastian, who said that passengers should always ask permission when they recline. What if the passenger behind says no? Yes, it’s polite to ask, but seats are built to recline and it’s not illegal to do so.

I’ve flown in Premium Economy over the years and found it an acceptable, if not thrilling, way of gaining a little more legroom (and a few extra perks such as priority boarding and noise-cancelling earphones.)

But it costs. And this riles people with seat rage further – that basic comfort is becoming an ‘extra’ rather than a given. Over to you, Mr Bastian.

You can let the flying experience drive you insane. You can take your anger out on the person in front of you, or the flight attendants. Or, if you feel this way – this is radical – don’t get on the plane.

Perhaps in the end all these seating issues will be taken out of passenger’s hands, making the issue redundant. Everyone’s favourite airline, Ryanair, has been threatening to introduce the vertical passenger seat. Some designs are apparently like barstools with seatbelts, others are frames that hold passengers upright for the duration of the flight.

I imagine they won’t recline.







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