Should you recline your seat on a short flight?
Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash

Should you recline your seat on a short flight? For some people, that question may have a simple answer: If your seat reclines, you’re allowed to recline it. But what about the person behind you? What if their seat doesn’t recline, too? On a short flight, especially, shouldn’t you be mindful of that passenger and their space?

The story of a dispute over reclining etiquette on a recent AA flight is drawing opinions from all sides of the issue. On a flight from New Orleans to Charlotte, passenger Wendi Williams recorded a video of the passenger behind her repeatedly jabbing her reclined seat with his hand, seemingly in response to her reclining her seat into his space. This, Wendi says on Twitter, happened after he had already “punched” her seat nine times. Notably, the unnamed man’s own seat did not recline, and allegedly he had previously asked that she not recline while he ate. Wendi told the Daily Mail that she had complied with this request. Here’s the video Wendi posted:

According to the Daily Mail, “Wendi also claims that despite complaining to a flight attendant, they offered the man a complimentary drink and threatened to have her escorted off the plane. She also says that after complaining to American Airlines, she was told she would have to get in touch with the FBI ‘to get any resolution.'”

My take

Personally, I usually don’t recline my seat on a short flight. But if I’m tired or if the person in front of me reclines into my space, then I will. When I do recline, I always give the person behind me the head’s up that I’ll be leaning back so I don’t crush their laptop or food.

Once, on a flight from Paris to Lyon, I reclined my seat because the person in front of me did and I’d just gotten off a 10-hour LAX-CDG flight on which I’d barely slept. I was exhausted. The American woman sitting behind me snapped at me, telling me that she had a bad back. I can understand a concern like that, but if the person in front of you reclines and you don’t, you end up squished. What made matters worse is that the woman had her own seat reclined but didn’t want me to recline mine. I told the woman to ask the person in front of me to sit up, and that if that person stopped reclining, then I would, too. If she hadn’t been so nasty about it, I would have just asked the person in front of me myself. If you ask me, she should have paid for first class or just stayed home.

Once I even paid the passenger in front of me not to recline by giving them a coupon for an inflight wi-fi Gogo session.

What do you think? Should you recline your seat on a short flight?

As you can see in the comments of Wendi’s tweet (and around the internet), people are very divided on the topic, which surprises me. I don’t know the whole story since I wasn’t there, but just based on the video, I think that the passenger hitting the woman’s seat seat deserved to be dragged off the plane and banned from flying again. What do you think? Which passenger was in the right here? Tell us in the comments below!

 

Johnny Jet
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45 Comments On "Should You Recline Your Seat on a Short Flight?"
  1. Mike Bishop|

    If passengers weren’t meant to recline their seats, the airlines could easily fix them in place.

  2. Brenda|

    Airplanes are tight and the seating is uncomfortable. I tend to recline my seat as soon as it is allowed by the pilot. I don’t feel you should have to give the person behind you a heads up but it’s nice if you do that. I don’t expect a heads up from the person in front of me. If the person of front of me doesn’t recline I still recline. That’s the seat I paid for. The behavior of this guy is absolutely ridiculous and worse is the behavior of the flight attendant and American Airlines.
    I’m a physical therapist. I’m trained to teach people to find positions of comfort and support for their spine and their legs and to find ways to move. It’s an absolute no brainer for me.
    That guy should have bought himself a better seat. It’s not her fault and he is acting like a baby. Only babies are much nicer!!

  3. Butch|

    Airlines need to change seats.. it has gotten absurd the way they have jammed people in.. the FAA should mandate a space requirement.

    People are going to go more and more insane because it is not reasonable space.

  4. David Miller|

    Simple – no airline should have the capability to recline.

  5. Susan Granger|

    I agree with Mike Bishop. If you give me a reclining seat, I have the implicit right to use it. If the pilot decrees that no one is allowed to recline, that’s one thing. But if the person in front of you reclines, you have no choice but to recline or get squished.

  6. terry|

    In My Humble Opinion no airline seats should recline unless the airlines povide more space between seats.

  7. Frank R|

    He acted like a child that constantly kicks the back of a seat. Watching him tapping the back sear while he looked at his cell phone tells me he is just an annoying individual. All he did was prove this to the world

  8. kat|

    That is assault. I would of called the police the minute the plane landed and charged him.

  9. Nancy|

    Honestly? Until the Airlines give us all more room (which will never happen) I wish the seats didn’t recline. Reclining forces everyone to recline, like dominoes, and then every single seat is LESS comfortable for everything but resting. Eating, working, reading to me all work better in a non-reclined seat.

  10. Peter D.|

    I never recline my seat and I find it annoying when the person in front of me does – especially when I am trying to use the tray to eat or work. The airlines need to face up to the realities of the cramped quarters that they have created and discontinue reclining seats.

  11. Jody|

    Most people on planes (and many public spaces) seem oblivious (often intentionally so) to those those around them… loud talking, talking on a phone with speakerphone, shouting during a call, listening to music with no earphones, walking into you while texting, DRIVING into you while texting… Reclining a seatback (often explosively reclining it!) with no consideration of the person behind you is simply the norm of this self-centered/self-focused society. Good manners have become the exception and entitlement has become the new normal. “THIS IS MY SPACE! DEAL WITH IT!”, is the new mantra.

    Yes, the seat-pounder should have been dragged off the plane and banned from American. Same goes for the American flight attendant who reportedly threatened the woman with arrest because she recorded the video of the man hitting her seat!

    As for the woman, she clearly didn’t care, and that’s a shame. A well-behaved American flight attendant (they’re mostly an angry bunch nowadays because of disrespectful treatment from AA– my stepsister flew for them for three decades) could have de-escalated the situation by kindly requesting the woman not recline her seat fully, and offering free drinks or food to both parties. Apparently that was not seen as a possible solution.

    EVERYONE was wrong here, but in degrees.

    Welcome to America 2020– and American Airlines 2020
    (Oh, the irony.)

  12. Pam Kersey|

    The problem lies with the airlines – they have taken away so much room that reclining ones seat invades the other person personal space. In all fairness – just be polite and if you’re going to recline let the person behind you know first… and don’t be a jerk!

  13. Anonymous|

    I had a similar incident. Maybe hind me push forward when I reclined. He reclined his seat. I complained and the attendant told him to stop. He did, but once in a while hit the seat. I feel we have a right to reclin. If they don’t like. Het a seat with more leg room. I do.

  14. Joe|

    There are lots of things you can do on a flight, but common courtesy would dictate otherwise. We’re all crammed in there and miserable together. Why make it worse?

  15. JB|

    Of course the origin of the issue is the airlines’ continued efforts to maximize revenue by jamming in as many seats as possible. However, my view as a regular traveler is that the additional comfort of reclining your seat is marginal at best while the inconvenience to your fellow passenger is significant. Personally I never recline my seat for this reason as everyone one of us knows how unpleasant it is when the person in front does it to us. So, if you are happy to be ever so slightly more comfortable and are not really concerned with the impact on the person behind you go ahead and recline (aka the scourge of our time – selfishness).

  16. Linda|

    No it is a pain in the 2 B’s if you do! Butt & Back! No matter if you do or don’t you are all stuck in a sardine can so keep your bitch to yourself!
    The seat reclining problem matches allowing your child to rome from seat to seat in your row or to continue kicking the seat in front of them! Your child is not cute when they do that nor should it be allowed!
    Manners people, again we are stuck together!!!

  17. Barbara|

    No one should have the right to hit, push or kick another passenger’s seat. He was completely wrong. He should have been arrested at landing departure.

  18. Gary McKee|

    Generally, I don’t recline my seat out of consideration for the person behind me. Many times I’ve had the person in front of me recline theirs without warning during the meal service which I find extremely annoying and inconsiderate. On a very long flight, at most I’ll recline my seat only half way. With the tight seat pitches these days, I wouldn’t object if the airlines deleted the ability. I believe many fliers would be happy with the move.

  19. Bill|

    If my seat has the ability to recline, and I wish to recline, I am going to recline it.

  20. Dee|

    If seats are not meant to recline then the airlines should change it so none of the seats recline. I think he was wrong and extremely rude! I can’t believe the airline was upset with her.

  21. Mark|

    coach class seats should not recline. Problem solved.

  22. Nancy|

    The man in the video was rude and disgusting. There are ways to solve problems like this with civility. I’m all for airplane etiquette. That also includes a dress code! His bad behavior was rewarded. Wrong. I am petite so I rarely recline my seat. My husband likes to recline his seat. There is no easy solution as the quarters are tight. Give passengers more room and hopefully that would help.

  23. Juanita Allen|

    He is the jerk, how irritating is that to have someone do that! And he gets rewarded! I put up with that behavior if it’s a child., And it doesn’t look like the table is up into his chest, it looks the same distance as a usual coach seat, the on!y difference is the seat doesn’t recline. I have had instances where I’ve had to sit there and I say to myself, well next time get to the airport earlier, or check in earlier. And, would be have done it with a in shape man sitting in front of him?

  24. KC Adams|

    The man-child (I’m being kind) should have been arrested for assault, or at least harassment, upon landing. The FA should be reprimanded. The lady passenger should be given a flight voucher. And the airlines ~ ALL of them ~ should realize air rage is just going to get worse unless they design planes to no longer cram passengers on top of each other.

    As for those who lose their everloving minds when the person in front of them reclines, cough up some extra dough for a better seat, take a bus or train, or just stay home, m’kay?

  25. Juanita Allen|

    The man doing the hitting on the back of her seat is wrong

  26. Anonymous|

    All seats should be fixed upright and not allowed to recline. Unfortunately people are inconsiderate about the space round them, so what do you do with selfish people.

  27. Bob White|

    The blame needs to go to the airlines for shrinking the available space for passengers.

  28. Jane Rains|

    You should not recline your seat unless no one is sitting behind you. Space is too tight these days. I sympathize with the guy behind the lady.

  29. Michelle Winner|

    The entire event has so many variables. First, it’s the airlines fault for cramming more passengers in by adding more revenue seats. It simply makes people more protective of their perceived personal space “they own” for the flight’s duration. Secondly, it is polite to ask / check the person behind you if they are finished working on their computer or eating on their tray. I don’t usually recline on flights less that 2 hours. But sometimes I need to get in a different position so I may allow myself to adjust the seat just a tiny bit slowly and carefully. Gone are the days of blasting the seat back with force and everyone should be aware of this – you can hit folks who may be resting their heads on their trays! Lastly, this was allowed to escalate by the flight attendants who are supposed to be trained in mediation and are in charge of safety aboard under the captain. If seatbelt sign was not on, I would have asked him to come back to the service area for a chat. Usually the senior attendant takes care of these types of things. I was a flight attendant decades ago – but we did have larger seats! The guy was clearly physically aggressive and the lady was not willing to compromise either. I feel that if one person has to be blamed it’s the guy. And heck no, don’t offer any liquor!

  30. Dena|

    It is time that the airlines treat their customers with the respect they deserve. You can’t squeeze people in these small seats with no leg or arm room and not expect manners and nerves to fray.
    The airlines should be the first to accept blame. The other issue is one of civility that has gone the way of the dinosaurs it seems. Each of those people had they been at a party, and bumped into each other…..I am certain both would have said “oh, excuse me, or I’m sorry, accepting blame, or partial blame, or no blame…….BUT….the point is, they would have been civil to each other. So……what makes this situation so different?? The situation could have been avoided by simple civility……..The airlines have been squeezing people into planes like sardines, charging for luggage, uncharging exit rows,no blankets or pillows…..basically they have been taking away, but not giving anything back. One shouldn’t have to pay for first class in order to be comfortable for a two hour flight. One should get a decent seat and space.
    And one last thing……I would be big money that if the person in the seat in front was a man……this dude would not have done what he did.

  31. Lynn Arbogst|

    If you recline to the first notch, just to get a little tilt, it should not be a problem, but it is pretty inconsiderate and downright rude to recline the seat into the lap of the person behind you. Just because the seat can be reclined into the lap of the person behind you doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk and do it. How would you feel if the person in front of you was laying in your lap?

  32. Donna|

    My sentiments 100% with Brenda. I lean my seat back as soon as I am allowed to whether it is 30 minutes or 3 hours. Period. The airlines keep jamming us in like cattle. And prices keep increasing. If we don’t have room to recline then don’t make reclining seats. And that guy should have been fiercly reprimanded. That behavior is disgusting. If I was the woman in front I might have tossed my drink on him and said it was becasue my seat kept moving.

  33. N|

    As a frequent SW flier, I don’t recline often and mostly because I don’t think to do it. When the person in front of me reclines it doesn’t really bother me because it barely takes up any of my space and it doesn’t affect leg room at all. I think the man and flight attendant were in the wrong.

  34. David Huber|

    I feel that it is your choice I don’t recline mine butt I have no problem with people that do. Life is too short to fight over something so petty. Most people can recline theirs if the one in front of them is reclined which gives you the same space. Get over it.

  35. Jay|

    I fly 75-100 1 way’s per year, most are 1-2 hrs, but about 20 of those are 3-5hrs. My personal take is that if you lower your seat slowly, instead of jamming it back, it does make a difference on how it’s perceived. Outside of that, I usually ask the passenger behind me if they’re ok with me reclining & that I’m trying to catch up on some sleep. I’ve only had 2 people object (out of 100’s), so I believe that part of it is in the approach.
    Personally, I think the guy in the video needs a good ass-kicking, because it’s not her fault that he ended up in the last seat & if he can’t accept the situation, then don’t fly. If you chose that seat, you should know what you’re in for & just because you’re uncomfortable, doesn’t mean she needs to be. I think it’s a sign of the times- this is a spoiled, entitlement-driven behavior.

  36. Rich Hughes|

    I’ve been on some flights that when a meal is served, flight attendants ensure that everyone’s seat is not reclined. It’s simple and avoids trouble. Why isn’t this standard on every flight?

  37. Sid|

    The airline and the babyman are wrong here. His defenders are saying that because he doesn’t have a reclining seat that she should be courteous and not recline hers. So she stays upright. Nice of her. But what happens when the passenger in front of her reclines their seat? See the problem?

    I don’t like being cramped either and I can empathize, but empathy is not a reason to excuse his behavior. Everyone on that plane paid for their seat and with that comes perks and disadvantages. If you have to use the rest room often don’t complain if you decided to buy a window seat. If you need that extra two inches to watch your little iPhone movie then buy a seat with no one in front of you.

  38. Gayle|

    Too bad the airlines don’t care enough about their passengers to give decent room. I recline if the person in front does and sometimes the person behind complains to the flight attendant who then asks me not to recline so far. What a crock

  39. Kevin Wilkerson|
  40. Tom|

    The man was totally wrong and ignorant. If he was banging on the seat in front of him the Stewardess or Steward who ever is working should tell the man to stop There is know reason for his actions to be acceptable .The man would not be doing that to another man and get away with it he should not do that to a woman or anyone l think the stewardess was wrong on how she handled but firing was to extreme she have been shown how to deal with situations like that in the future and the airlines should let the women know who the man is so she can charge him with assault. The airline should have a policy if the chair goes back it is ok do it or if it’s not ok fix the seats and take ability out of the seat to recline. I usually never recline and when I have a chance me and my wife sit in safety escape seats

  41. Billy Read|

    Interesting, I agree with what many have said above – if the seat has a recliner, then it can be used to recline the seat, otherwise the airline wouldn’t install them. It’s the airline’s fault if the seat are poorly designed/positioned, and I’ve learned that you have to make compromises and accept a little discomfort if you bought your economy tickets nice and cheap. As for the guy in the video, he would not be doing that if it was a guy sitting in front of him.

    Best Wishes,

  42. Ruth|

    The man could NOT recline his seat at all. His seat was against a flat wall. But he still shouldn’t have beat on her seat.

    The only answer is not to have any seats recline.

  43. AttentionAllPassengers|

    Now that tens of thousands have given their two cents about seat recline on every social media site possible, I’m sure the airlines can solve this quite nicely by removing any and all recline options from seats……so enjoy your 6, 12, 14 hour flights sitting bolt upright while you’re cramped into paralyzing positions arms stiffly at our sides (lest we interfere with the armrest hogs).

  44. Kathy|

    I don’t fly that often but I never recline my seat. The person behind me has little room as it is, and I believe it is the courteous thing to do. Just because “I paid for this seat so I can recline it” doesn’t mean you should do so.

  45. Frederick|

    I wouldn’t do it myself, but there’s a lot of things other people do that I wouldn’t. Even if I had a right to recline doesn’t mean I necessarily should on a short flight. I think the dispute could have been handled better though, by both of them.

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