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Stop Reclining Your Seat on Airplanes

You heard me. On cramped flights, the person who reclines their seat in front of me really chafes.


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A customer reclines in the cabin of a Transcontinental and Western Air Douglas DC-1 Airplane. Photo from University of Southern California/Corbis via Getty.

I love airline travel. The predictable flow of airports soothes me, and I get giddy during takeoff because I still don’t quite understand the science (read: magic) that keeps planes aloft. But there’s one thing I hate about flying, and it’s not the overpriced tickets or the baby crying three rows ahead of me in economy class.

It’s the people who recline their seats with total disregard for the person behind them.

Let me be clear: reclining is perfectly acceptable on flights longer than, say, four or five hours, especially if it’s an overnighter. If you are flying long enough to need real sleep, recline away. But if you’re reclining your seat on a two-hour, midday puddle jump, I hope you miss your connection and get stuck at LaGuardia Airport without even an $8 coffee to comfort you.

It’s no secret that airlines have spent the last two decades removing everything from flying that made it remotely comfortable. Seats have gotten smaller while we’ve gotten bigger, and legroom has all but disappeared. According to a deep dive by the Telegraph, seat pitch—the distance between any point on your seat and the same point on the seat in front of you—has been slashed by an average of three inches on long-haul flights over the last three decades, with one carrier cutting as much as six inches. It’s not uncommon for some carriers to offer just 28 inches of pitch. The Telegraph found that seats are getting slimmer, too, with some major airlines cutting width by as much as four inches. According to Forbes, all that suffering heaped upon those of us in economy class has led to a 32 percent increase in passengers on the average plane, because carriers have been able to jam in a few extra rows.

So when we all pile into our clown car in the sky, we do so knowing that for whatever time we’re at cruising altitude, we’re going to sacrifice some personal space and our legs are going to fall asleep. Which is why my fellow economy-class members who recline their seats are the worst.

Billy Joel reclines on a flight during a tour. Photo by Wally McNamee/Corbis via Getty.

Let’s get real. Those extra three degrees of slope on your reclined seat back aren’t going to make you more comfortable. Your leg room isn’t magically larger. All you’re doing is encroaching upon the person behind you who also paid $324 to be shipped to Dallas. Did they have a drink on their tray table? You didn’t think to check before you reclined onto their warm Diet Coke, did you? Were they working on their laptop? Now their screen is hunched forward at an angle that makes productivity impossible.

The thing is, you know you suck when you hit that recline button, but just in case you truly are ignorant, hear this: your actions have direct consequences for the people around you—any space you take is taken from someone else. The person behind you deserves the same respect you give the person in front of and beside you by not kicking their seat or elbowing them over the armrest. Meanwhile, what do you have against your spine? It’s begging you to sit up straight for once.

So if you want to lounge back and make life a little bit worse in an already untenable situation, I suggest you get rich, leave us common folk behind, and live it up in business class, which United is expanding while, you guessed it, shrinking economy. Until then, please return your seat to its upright position.

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This post originally appeared on Outside and was published March 17, 2019. This article is republished here with permission.

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