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Is It OK to Recline Your Seat on a Flight?

Is It OK to Recline Your Seat on a Flight?

BY DANIEL REN Published on April 01, 2024 0 COMMENTS

To recline or not recline? That is the question. Over the years, legroom (especially in economy class) has declined from an average of 35 to 31 inches (89 to 79 centimeters). The average seat width has also decreased from 18 to 17 inches (46 to 43 centimeters). As reclining may be passengers' last comfort source, they do so, but often at the cost of the person's comfort behind them. Unfortunately, reclining seats has led to many arguments and even physical fights.


Who owns the space between reclining airline seats?
Photo: Getty Images


The Pros


When passengers pay for seats that can recline, they have the right to do so. When reclining their seat, they do so to increase their comfort, allowing them to stretch their legs out more or sleep more easily. For those with back problems or other medical conditions, being allowed to recline their seat can help alleviate some of these issues.




In 2003, Ira Goldman invented the knee defender, a rubber clamp that prevents the person sitting in front of them from reclining their seat after it is installed. Despite seeming like a good idea, the product has not sold well. Some airlines, such as American Airlines, have banned the knee defender, which underscores social norms against preventing passengers from reclining their seats. 


Despite having the right to recline their seats, passengers should still exercise kindness and consideration before doing so. They can quickly observe their environment to ensure reclining is okay. If they choose to do so, they should recline slowly and carefully. Additionally, showing entitlement towards reclining your seat is not advised, as doing so can lead to more altercation.


How to passive aggressively convey your displeasure at a reclined airplane  seat.
Photo: Getty Images


The Cons


Although it is within a passenger's legal right to recline their seat, many people believe that reclining should not be allowed. First, as legroom shrinks, reclining one's seat may cause additional discomfort to the passenger behind them. After all, the passenger behind them also paid for their seat and have the right to comfort. 


When passengers recline their seats, it does not only decrease legroom for the passengers sitting behind them. It also makes it more difficult for them to use their tray table or electronic device. Sometimes, people break others' laptops or spill food and drink into someone else's lap by reclining their seats. 




Reclining your seat can cause more serious physical incidents to the person behind you if they are not observant. If a passenger behind them is tall, injured, disabled, or a combination of the three, reclining your seat can, at best, make your seatmate behind you uncomfortable. At worst, it can cause additional injuries for them.


Do Airline Passengers Have The Right To Recline?
Photo: Getty Images


Alleviating the Issue


As this issue continues to be highly contentious, airline CEOs, flight attendants, and other experts agree that you should always clearly communicate with passengers about reclining your seat no matter what side you are on. Doing so reduces altercations and possible injury and is simply a courteous thing to do. Flying in economy class can be uncomfortable for many passengers, so it is best to make the ride as smooth as possible by avoiding more problems during the flight.



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