Plane etiquette
January 25, 2007 3:15 PM   Subscribe

Is it rude to recline your seat on an airplane?

After reading the comments in this thread, I'm wondering about the etiquette of reclining a plane seat. Luckily, I usually don't need to as I'm not particularly tall and I don't generally sleep on planes. However, if the person in front of me reclines their seat, I will tilt mine back to recapture some of that breathing room. Is this considered horribly rude? Do the people sitting behind me secretly hate me? What's the general etiquette on reclining your airplane seat?
posted by lalex to Human Relations (100 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've never heard of reclining your seat on a plane being described as rude.

Rude is picking your nose or reading grumble mags.
posted by ReiToei at 3:18 PM on January 25, 2007


No, it is not rude.
posted by mzurer at 3:21 PM on January 25, 2007


I rarely recline my seat as I think it is rude, for some reason. But they are made for reclining! That's what that button is for! Do you secretly hate people when they recline their seats? If so, I bet the people behind you secretly hate you when you recline yours. So it's a plane full of angry hateful people all because of that darn button.
posted by Sassyfras at 3:21 PM on January 25, 2007 [2 favorites]


There is nothing rude about reclining your seat. If the person behind you is seven feet tall, you could elect to not recline your seat out of courtesy, but I see nothing wrong with wanting to recline a bit to make the flight and the seats a little more tolerable.

Having to sit next to a screaming child throwing a tantrum while the parents do nothing is rude. . .
posted by galimatias at 3:21 PM on January 25, 2007


A little bit is not a big deal, even for tall people (of which I am one). Cranking it all the way back on a 9 AM flight is inconsiderate, yeah. But only if you care what other people think.
posted by GuyZero at 3:23 PM on January 25, 2007


If you're really worried about this then just split the difference and recline halfway.
posted by quadog at 3:24 PM on January 25, 2007


I never recline my seat more than an inch or so, because I think it's rude. I am not sure why I think this, though. I suppose it's because space is so precious and because many people recline their seats when I'm trying to use my tray or something like that. But I don't get mad unless the person does it when we are eating, taking off or landing, since those times are specifically banned. And, even then, I say nothing!
posted by acoutu at 3:25 PM on January 25, 2007


I'm 6' 1" and I go halfway. In fact, I go all the way, then pull it back to halfway so the person behind me knows it's only halfway. I also have a hard time saying "no" to people. Yep.
posted by nathancaswell at 3:25 PM on January 25, 2007


I usually recline only when the person in front of me reclines. At that point, I have no choice.
posted by Slap Factory at 3:26 PM on January 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


I may not be a fan of the person in front me reclining their seat, but that person is sometimes me, so I can certainly never resent anyone for doing the same,
posted by Robot Johnny at 3:27 PM on January 25, 2007


I never recline my seat. One - I sit out really, really straight when I drive, when I work. Two - hose seats don't recline enough to be worth it. Three - I get irked when the seat in front of me is reclined when I need to use my tray/laptop/portable DVD player so I want to make it easier on the person behind me. I don't hold it against the recliners. I just don't want to be one. I don't think it's rude.

Of course, if I'm in first class, I recline away because those seats are made for nappin'.
posted by Gucky at 3:27 PM on January 25, 2007


It's rude. I mean, not that you can't if you don't wanna, obviously, but the person behind you is never going to think "Whoopee! He put his seat back!"

I am tall, and I'm using that airspace for my face. In coach, it's nearly impossible to use a laptop or read a large hardback book once that seat goes back. On some airlines, I can't put my table all the way down if the seat isn't upright. I'm an aisle-sitter, but middle and window have to limbo past the reclined seat to get in and out.

Maybe it makes me petty, but yes, I do hate you a little. If you absolutely must do it, fine, but pick a degree and stick with it so that I can at least have an unspilled drink while I sulk.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:28 PM on January 25, 2007 [7 favorites]


I usually recline a little bit, if at all. I don't think it's rude for the person in front of me to recline, unless then just hit the button and pop all the way back with no warning at all. Recline gently, please!
posted by muddgirl at 3:30 PM on January 25, 2007


For me, it's like standing at a concert. I'm gonna stand up if the person in front of me stands - otherwise, I'm perfectly content to stay seated. Similarly, I'll recline my seat only if the person in front of me does - otherwise, I have no space to do much of anything.
posted by aberrant at 3:30 PM on January 25, 2007


It doesn't bother me when people recline in front of me. What DOES bother me is that when I'm using my computer and they recline so fast that the seat back hits my computer screen and whacks it down.

For that reason, I start my recline with only an inch or so, then a few seconds later I go the rest of the way... sort of a 'courtesy flush' of reclining just to be sure I'm not causing the guy behind me any damage.
posted by Thrillhouse at 3:32 PM on January 25, 2007


I wouldn't say rude, but it is fairly inconsiderate to recline your seat if the person behind you is trying to eat or work (you can't really open a laptop behind a reclined seat). Unfortunately, you can't really expect the person ahead of you to keep their seat upright if the person in front of them has theirs reclined, so I think it is best not to recline at all. By reclining, you could start a domino effect that extends back to the poor guy 6 rows back trying to get something done. I never do, unless it is during the night.
posted by ssg at 3:39 PM on January 25, 2007


Reclining in and of itself is not rude. But if you recline, smash the knees of the tall person behind you, and then continue to smash that person's knees repeatedly at random times throughout the flight trying to get the seat to fully recline, then I totally hate you. A lot.

Before you recline, turn around and look at the person behind you and adjust your expectations accordingly. That way, you get to recline a little, and us taller people stuck behind you can spend more time doing our own thing and less time fantasizing about your death.
posted by jtfowl0 at 3:45 PM on January 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


Yeah. I'm not a tall guy, but when the jerkoff in sitting in front of me on a transoceanic flight reclines his seat the moment we're wheels up, I want to add graffiti to his bald head. It's inconsiderate. The source of the problem is being packed onto 737s like cattle, but it'd be nice if people were a little more cognizant of the tight conditions.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 3:46 PM on January 25, 2007


Rude? Of course it is if it is excessive. If it happens, I usually manage to grip the back of the seat and twang it every time I get up until the point is taken. Or ask the flight attendant to move me.
posted by A189Nut at 3:48 PM on January 25, 2007


Most of my flights are 12 hour ones (New Zealand is about 12 hours from anywhere), and I would say that it is definitely rude unless you're going to sleep. That's what they're there for, not to attempt to reclaim a minute amount of space at the expense of everyone behind you. I've sat behind people that have reclined their seat the instant the plane reached altitude, and kept it that way for the entire flight. Assholes.

On the other hand, reclining does come in waves, so the person to blame is often not the person in front of you, but the person in front of the person in front of (^n) them.
posted by Paragon at 4:00 PM on January 25, 2007


I'm feeling Sassyfras. It's not "rude" so much as "broken." Because the function is there, and flying is already such a sad every-man-for-himself affair, people tend to just use it for no reason. Unless it's sleepy time, it's much more comfortable (and, let's face it, dignified) to have all seats up. When some guy in front of me immediately reclines into my face as soon as it's permitted and proceeds not to sleep, I think of him as an uncaring buffoon. And I blow at his hair.
posted by Doctor Barnett at 4:01 PM on January 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm 6 feet 2, and not particularly svelte. I do not like it when people in front of me recline their seats, and I have been known to ask the people in front of me if they would reconsider (usually offering to buy them a drink as recompense/bribe), but "rude"? That may be a bit of a stretch.

All I ask is, as jtfowl0 says, you look behind you as you're getting settled - if the person behind you is small, recline as far as you want. If the person behind you is not small, either recline just a little bit or, as a courtesy, ask them if it's OK. A little common courtesy goes a long way.
posted by pdb at 4:05 PM on January 25, 2007


It's not, like, inherently rude. But I usually take a look behind me to see what the person immediately behind me is doing. If they're awake and using their tray table, then I won't recline my seat. If they're sleeping and have theirs reclined, I will. Situations in between are a judgment call.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:06 PM on January 25, 2007


Well, I'm 6'8" and fly at least once a week. I try not to recline all the way, but I definitely always recline at least a bit. I'm actually tall enough that I can't physically sit in the chair with my legs straight ahead because my knees hit the seat in front of me, so it's always interesting if the person in front of me reclines all the way and I don't recline at all.

I know it's discussed frequently on FlyerTalk and the consensus seems to be that fully reclining is rude.

Much more than reclining, I get annoyed by fights over armrests.
posted by atomly at 4:06 PM on January 25, 2007


I don't think it is rude to recline your airline seat, provided the plane is done ascending and is back in place before descending. It really gets my goat when the passenger in front of me reclines the seat from the moment they plop their ass down in it and leave it that way for the **whole** flight. I'm generally not a recliner myself, so this might have something to do with it. If I'm gonna do it I'll peek behind me to make sure I'm not going to crush the person behind me, or make sure they aren't using the tray on the back of my seat.
posted by brain cloud at 4:17 PM on January 25, 2007


I'm with atomly. Screw all y'all; I'm reclining some. Probably not all the way, but it's definately more comfy than sitting ramrod-straight.

This may be another one of those things that will send me to hell in a napalm suit, but so be it.
posted by craven_morhead at 4:34 PM on January 25, 2007


I wouldn't characterize it as rude but I wish you wouldn't. ('Specially if you're the type who does it right away, all the way, for the duration.)

I hardly ever recline, myself -- just makes an uncomfortable seat even more so.
posted by Rash at 4:38 PM on January 25, 2007


You're taking space from the person behind you and giving it to yourself. Ask first unless it's clear they're not using it (i.e. sleeping)
posted by 0xFCAF at 4:39 PM on January 25, 2007


Thinking it's rude is to mistake the fundamental law of airplane real estate: the space behind you into which your seat can recline is yours, just like the space in front of you into which the guy in front can recline is not yours. The only space that is truly ungoverned is the armrest.

Still, the more I fly the more I recognize that it is a Hobbesian war of all against all, and you just have roll with it...
posted by MattD at 4:48 PM on January 25, 2007 [2 favorites]


I need to fly more with the people posting in this thread because everyone is so "polite" by only reclining "a little bit" or "halfway."

I'm a 6"2' student who can't afford to fly in anything but economy. I wouldn't mind the long flights I take to South America a couple of times per year if either (a) airlines weren't ruthless about how many seats they can pack in peon class, or (b) seats didn't recline at all.

In sum, almost all tall people will think it at least mildly rude for you to recline your seat all the way while all short a-holes will have no problem with people reclining their seats...

Oh, and what about people who shove their crap under the seat they're sitting in? Oh man!
posted by sablazo at 4:54 PM on January 25, 2007


I'm tall enough (6'-5") that if I sit up straight, my knees hit the seat in front of me even if my butt's all the way back in the seat. But, I kind of expect people to recline their seats, and my eye level is generally just over the tops of the seats anyway, so you're not really infringing upon anything. In fact, I'm giving you an extra bit of lumbar support.

Actually, I usually empty out the space under the seat in front of me and just spread my legs out in there, so reclining isn't even an issue.
posted by LionIndex at 4:55 PM on January 25, 2007


I think it borders on rude. Once I was working on my laptop and the person in front of me leaned back so far that I could no longer tilt the laptop at a viewable angle!

Also, several people (like me) tend to feel clausterphobic on flights and when that seat starts to lean back toward your face, the walls of the plane might as well be closing in on you.
posted by bristolcat at 5:02 PM on January 25, 2007


Yes, it's rude. I don't do it, and I fall asleep the minute I sit down on an airplane no matter what time of day it is. Consequently I am not using the tray-table, unless I'm eating, so I don't care whether you recline or not. But then, I'm 5'8".
posted by Methylviolet at 5:04 PM on January 25, 2007


I'm with jacquilynne. If there is nobody behind me, or if they are sleeping, I might recline a touch, but generally I reserve the recline for extra long flights, and then only for short periods, or when I'm sleeping. If they are using the tray table (say, for a laptop) or are not reclined, I don't recline.

I don't begrudge others who recline when they are trying to get some sleep, but it does irritate me when they have absolutely no consideration for the person behind them and recline as rapidly as possible. One could easily break a laptop that way.

The tray table issue is why I started carrying a capable PDA with a QWERTY keyboard to use on the plane instead of my laptop. Also, I generally try to avoid the whole issue of recline by either getting an upgrade, sitting in the exit row (preferably in the row behind the no recline seats), or choosing a seat without one in front of it, all depending on the type of the plane and upgrade availability, of course. ;)

All that said, in the grand scheme of things, I'm more worried about legroom than anything else. I'm sad that AA is regressing in that respect, although I now try my best not to fly at all, thanks to the security theater, so it's becoming less of an issue for me.
posted by wierdo at 5:11 PM on January 25, 2007


I think it's rude, primarily because I find that my personal space is impinged on unacceptably when the seat in front of me is reclined. I never recline my own seat, since I don't want to contribute to the problem.
posted by killdevil at 5:17 PM on January 25, 2007


I usually use my laptop on the plane (15" MBP), and I do not mind at all when the person in front reclines. I actually prefer it a bit! the tray shifts around less when the seat is reclined.

I've not really considered that there were people who were bothered by this... and I've flown quite a bit in the past year or so.

I would hazard a guess that some people include seats-holding-people as "people" in their personal-space calculations?
posted by clord at 5:19 PM on January 25, 2007


I never even notice the people behind me, so I don't know if they're tall, or if they're eating, or what. I recline if I want to, and I never really notice whether the people in front of me recline.

You people with conditions on reclining, do you always monitor the status of the seats behind you or something?
posted by agropyron at 5:21 PM on January 25, 2007


If it was rude or required some obscure etiquette they would make an announcement about it - like they do with every other goddamn thing.
posted by dendrite at 5:27 PM on January 25, 2007


Ever sat in the very back row of a plane? The one against the wall? You CAN'T recline if you're sitting there.

I had the "pleasure" of sitting in that seat recently. The lady in front of me reclined all the way, and I literally had the back her her seat pressed against my nose.

I asked her -- as nicely as I could -- to put her seat back in its original position, but she wouldn't. To be fair to her, it was a really small, packed plane, and the guy ahead of her had reclined all the way.

So via a chain of reclining people, I was screwed. Not fun.

PS. I think the "is it rude" question is silly. If you inconvenience someone else in a situation when you have a choice not to -- especially without apologizing -- then you're being rude. That's what being rude IS. There may be some situations where it makes sense to be rude, but in those situations you're still being rude.
posted by grumblebee at 5:27 PM on January 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


If we're going to establish some etiquette here:

Please either recline SLOWLY, or only a little bit, then pause for a second or so before reclining the rest of the way.

If someone is using their tray, this gives them the necessary warning and time to avoid trouble.

(At the more expensive end of the consequences, things like portable DVD players and laptops are frequently broken by people reclining their seat without warning, crushing the screen).
posted by -harlequin- at 5:29 PM on January 25, 2007


It's rude.
I'm 6'4". My knees were already pressed into the back of your seat before you reclined. The instant you recline, it becomes excruciating. It stays excruciating until about 45 minutes after you return your seatback to the upright position.
My femurs do not get any shorter. And turning around and giving me the I'm-implying-that-you're-the-rude-one-here glance because you can feel it every time I shift my weight really doesn't help matters.
posted by willpie at 5:51 PM on January 25, 2007


I've never thought twice about reclining if the person in front of me does it. I do check to see if the person behind me is using their tray (wouldn't want to cause food/drink to spill). If the person in front of me doesn't do it, I don't usually recline unless I'm trying to sleep. I see nothing rude about this, although I can see how it would suck to be in the back row without the option of reclining.
posted by juv3nal at 6:01 PM on January 25, 2007


Don't do it without warning (that's how laptops get broken, or stuff gets spilt), and avoid it if the person behind you is tall. Also, don't go all the way if the row behind you is the last row of the plane and can't go back.
posted by krisjohn at 6:04 PM on January 25, 2007


if the person behind you is small, recline as far as you want.

Um, no. Some small people have long legs. And would just generally prefer moderate leaning otherwise espoused in this thread.
posted by desuetude at 6:12 PM on January 25, 2007


Not rude! The seat is MADE to recline. My space is where I sit, and where my seat can recline to. If someone does not recline in front of me, yippee for me. If they do, I'm just getting what I paid for. Our reality - those of us that ride coach - is a small space. Of hundreds and hundreds of flights, and I can hardly remember a flight when the person in front of me did not recline. It has never bothered me if someone reclined their seat in front of me, because they are entitled to do so. And they might as well, considering how small airplane space is.

Rude on planes: hogging the armrest; spilling over the seats; putting feet in other people's leg room; getting up frequently when sitting in the middle/window; not controlling screaming/kicking child immediately; taking an inordinate amount of overhead compartment space; blasting noise so that it disturbs flying companions... and the list goes on. Doing what is perfectly acceptable by virtue of the plane's physical setup - not rude.

Honestly - these answers remind me of the post about politeness a few months back - everyone posted about how they always stood for everyone moderately in need of a seat - this starkly conflicts with my real world experience. Do people only post to these questions when they are excessively polite and want to make a point of it?
posted by Amizu at 6:14 PM on January 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


Technology to the rescue.
posted by Wet Spot at 6:39 PM on January 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


Being 6'7" I think it is inconsiderate of the person in front of me to recline his seat. But if I get in my seat first and put my ankle over my opposite leg knee then that person will not be able to recline it. They just think the seat is broken.
posted by JayRwv at 6:39 PM on January 25, 2007


Rude seat etiquette is when the person in the row behind you grabs your seat as they are getting out for leverage thus shaking me away while I am not rudely not reclining because I am trying to help them with their airspace. Why is the back of my seat used as the person in the row behind me's railing? Let me sleep uncomfortably bolt upright. I am not bothering you.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:11 PM on January 25, 2007


My partner (tall) and I (tallish) are fairly frequent fliers and I will admit it, we are full time recliners. We recline slowly, not during meals or takeoff, and less or not at all if we are seated in front of an unusually large person. And of course, we don't mind at all if the people in front of us recline, although if they do it enough to get poked by our knees, well, that's not really something that it's possible to control.

I have never thought of this as rude or selfish, because I don't do it to increase my own space at the expense of others, but because I like to recline. There is the same amount of space for each person regardless of whether everyone is sitting upright or reclining, so really the only people who are encroached upon are those who want to sit up AND have their full alotment of space (and are sitting behind a recliner). It seems to me that these people are causing half of the compression themselves, and should choose which they care more about-- sitting up, or having the full amount of space. If they aren't reclining because they prefer to sit and be squished then that is their preference, and if they aren't reclining because they think it's rude, they could consider applying this same logic to any people behind them.

Until, of course, you get to the back row, which just sucks. But in almost all cases you can find out beforehand if you're going to have the backrow seat, and if you find it THAT uncomfortable you could probably wait and book a different flight. It seems kind of weird to me to apply one seating choice to a whole plane full of people with different comfort preferences just because the back row is uncomfortable.

To put it much more concisely, it seems that the argument that it is rude is based on the assumption that sitting upright is the universally preferable or default position unless you're trying to monopolize space, which I question--although I'm surprised to see how many people feel that way.
posted by lgyre at 7:19 PM on January 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


When you are sitting in front of me and recline your seat, that is rude. When I am sitting in front of you and recline my seat, that is just using the seat as designed. ;)

No, it isn't rude. However, it is nice to be aware of the passenger behind you. During meals it is polite to pull your seat up, at least a bit, so that they can lean over their tray while they eat without bumping their head against your seat. If you see that some poor person behind you is trying to use a laptop and you are not sleeping or otherwise needing the recline, then you might consider at the very least not fully reclining so that they cna actually open their screen. If you do decide to recline, let them know in advance so that you do not damage their computer.
posted by caddis at 7:29 PM on January 25, 2007


I'm a pretty big guy, but I've never even *thought* of reclining as being rude. It's your chair. Use it how you want to. I'll make do.

Even if the person ahead of me goes all the way back for the entire flight... it's, what, three inches? Big deal.
posted by Malor at 7:51 PM on January 25, 2007


I don't think it is rude. Annoying, yes. Rude, no.

You know what is rude? When people use the seat in front of them (your seat) to pull themselves up out of or drop down into their seat. Don't they realize that the seat in front of them is designed to recline and when they do that, they are actually disturbing the person who is in the seat? I think I'd rather be seated next to a screaming child than in front of a front-seat puller.
posted by necessitas at 8:01 PM on January 25, 2007


(or what johnnygun said)
posted by necessitas at 8:03 PM on January 25, 2007


It's rude. Sit the fuck up, you lazy bastard. Are you able to stay upright at your desk, the dining table, a couch for a couple of hours? Then you can do it on a goddamned airplane. What makes you so fucking special that you think you can take up what little precious space I have in front of me? "It's my chair, it's meant to do that" completely disregards the fact that you're crammed into an airconditioned aluminium cigar with a whole heap of complete strangers. You paid for your space - stay the fuck in it, and I'll stay in mine.

I especially hate those fuckers who recline, then sit forward to read a magazine or when lunch arrives, leaving the chair reclined. ARGH.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:08 PM on January 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


I don't think it's rude at all. The seat is made to recline and damnit, I'mma gonna do it. If the person in front of me reclines and I can't see my book, well, too bad. I'll just adjust or listen to music or something else. There's a squijillion people on the plane and it's cramped and the food is awful and there are way too many other things going on to harsh my mellow than worry about the seats.

Also: If you tall dudes who don't want people reclining would just reach on over with your long monkey arms and tap me on the shoulder and say "Oh hey, you bumped into me there" I would totally pull my seat forward and be fine with that and you wouldn't have to sulk.

But y'know, we're geeks on the interwebs, communicating with other humans isn't our forte.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:12 PM on January 25, 2007


The trouble is that the design of the plane is rude. On a train, the seat reclines such that the bottom of the chair slides forward, so that reclining takes away space, rather than adding it. I wish planes did that.
posted by Margalo Epps at 8:20 PM on January 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


I never recline fully unless it's sleepy time and everyone on the plane has already done it. Otherwise I'll only recline half-way max, just because I do find it a little obnoxious.

It's slightly annoying when the seat in front of you gets reclined and takes up "your" space (whether it really is your space is another matter), it's uncomfortable and awkward especially when you're in an aisle seat and the other passengers have to get past to go to the toilet.

Also, I'm slightly claustrophobic so that never does me good.
posted by liquorice at 8:23 PM on January 25, 2007


If it isn't rude, then those who recline shouldn't mind when I use the tray table for food/drink/book/laptop/drumlines.
posted by gnomeloaf at 8:51 PM on January 25, 2007


Not rude! The seat is MADE to recline.

I have absolutely no idea what those two sentences have to do with each other. If I hand you a special hammer that's made for hitting people on the head, does that mean it's not rude to hit people on the head? Are you saying the airline makes the call on what's rude and what isn't? If they put up a big sign saying, "it's not rude to grab the boobs of the woman sitting next to you." is it really not rude?

Do people only post to these questions when they are excessively polite and want to make a point of it?

I wish I was excessively polite. I try to be, but I fall way short. In fact, I am often rude. I'm ashamed of it, but I can't deny it. Most people I've met are rude from time-to-time, and many -- I think -- are aware of their shortcomings and try to improve. That's admirable. I get more upset by rude people who go into denial or justify their rudeness. I wish, at the very least, more people had the courage to say, "Sometimes I'm a bit selfish."
posted by grumblebee at 8:55 PM on January 25, 2007 [2 favorites]


i don't think it's rude to recline, but i do think it's extra-polite to peek over the seat, look at who's behind you, smile and politely ask if they'd mind if you recline. they pretty much have to give you permission.

but!

when you do the peek-over, its's extra-extra polite to tactfully check out their anatomy. if they're ginormous, then your decision to recline gets rude on a scale that exactly correlates to their size. that is to say that the larger they are, the ruder you become with each degree you recline your seat and then each minute you choose to keep it there.

i'd draw you a graph but, um, i made that stuff up.

in summation, if they're large enough that your reclining will cause them discomfort, and especially if they're nice enough to *let* you recline anyway, you can be nice back, pun intended, and minimize your reclining.
posted by twistofrhyme at 9:04 PM on January 25, 2007


I think it is kind of a prisoner's dilemma in that it would be most comfortable for everyone if no one reclined but it is most comfortable for any individual to recline. And once someone reclines in front of you you have to recline too.

I ask the person in front of me not to recline all the way. I don't recline my seat. If I ask a person not to recline their seat all the way and they do, I understand that the person in front of them made their decision for them.

I guess I think it is rude to recline unless the person in front of you has reclined.
posted by I Foody at 9:10 PM on January 25, 2007


I'm 6'5 and when I press my lower back against my seat, my knees still touch the seat infront of me unless I spread my legs rather widely apart.

Those who have tried to recline their seats on me have noted that it's very difficult.

It's hard to say if it's rude or not because most people aren't aware of how long the legs of the person behind them are. I myself avoid reclining. But the button was put there and there is a limit on how far the seat can go, so the assuption can be made that the feature is meant to be used.
posted by Sonic_Molson at 9:18 PM on January 25, 2007


1. The seat is made to do that.

What irks Grumblebee irks me too, but for a slightly different reason. The point is not just that the recliner is actively taking advantage of the seat's potential, whether or not he designed it, but it's also that the technology has a non-rude potential (unlike the special head-bashing hammer). Seats can be uncontroversially reclined when no one is sitting behind you, or when the person behind you has already reclined and is resting. Reclining in other circumstances is what's controversial.

2. There's no reason to prefer sitting up over reclining


This overlooks the default condition: everyone begins and ends the flight sitting up. You are moving into another person's perimeter. Similarly, there's no reason to think that someone sitting on a long park bench has secured the pareto-optimal position, but if you sit down right next to them -- thinking she can just slide down or go to another bench -- you're being an asshole.

3. The space behind me is mine, and the space in front of me into which the prior row can recline is not.

I seriously people feel that way (but for the Hobbesian struggle part). If you do, I've finally found a place to mount my newborn when I fly.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 9:23 PM on January 25, 2007


I think it is kind of a prisoner's dilemma in that it would be most comfortable for everyone if no one reclined but it is most comfortable for any individual to recline. And once someone reclines in front of you you have to recline too.

Yes, it's human nature to treat someone else poorly if you've been treated poorly. I've seen it. I've done it. It's still rude.

If, on the subway, an elderly or handicapped person has to stand because I'm sitting in their seat, I'm being rude. It doesn't matter if I'm having a terrible day or if I got up to check the map and someone took my seat.

When I say, "it doesn't matter," I mean that it doesn't change the fact that my behavior is rude. Again, there may be mitigating circumstances that make me feel that it's okay for me to be a bit rude now and again -- but I'm still being rude!

It irks me that we live in a society in which people wallow in excuses, justifications and denials.
posted by grumblebee at 9:32 PM on January 25, 2007


I don't recline at all, because I don't need to (I can sleep sitting up, or I slouch). But I fucking hate it when the person in front of me slams their seat all the way back because then I can't put down the tray table or move my legs (I'm 5'7" and long legged with knee problems so I like to be able to wiggle a teeny bit.)
A slight recline is fine during naps/part of the flight (especially if it's a long one.)

My mom on the other hand hates it when people recline at any point in time. She has shorter legs, but is wider overall and can't put down her tray table at all and therefore has to use mine.

My dad hates recliners, but he's 6'3" and can't move if people do.

If I ever have the money to fly first class, I'm totally reclining all the way, just to see if it's any better.
posted by sperose at 10:03 PM on January 25, 2007


Are people really this insane? The seats only adjust 2 freaking inches at the head end... they barely move at the base! And, as pointed out, the airlines design them to be reclined if preferred. You just paid all that money for a ticket, and you're not going to recline your seat because someone else random might lose a negligible amount of space in front of them?

The thing is, if it's something that causes the person behind you a great deal of pain, then they should speak up gently to let you know, so that you can accommodate them. I would think that most people would not be afflicted by losing an inch of legroom, so therefore I don't think it's rude to take it. (Of course, if you know you're crushing someone's knees, or if you recline your seat in an incredibly abrupt way as to break someone's legs or laptop, then you are a nimrod)

I compare this to the last hors d'oeuvre on a platter at a party. If someone's passing around the dish, and serves it to you when there's only one left, are you necessarily rude to take it from anyone else who may have enjoyed it? Are you rude to take the last snack from the snacks table if no one is there handing them out (but it's there for you to take)? There are some specific scenarios where it would be proper to give it up. Most of the time, it's yours for the taking, and it's not your obligation to research vigorously how many people would be distressed to see that they've lost the last hors d'oeuvre. If we were all expected to do that, no one would eat. Similarly, if we were all expected not to recline our seats (except in rare scenarios when no one else is on the plane), everyone would be sitting bolt upright all the time for flights of any duration. Which is dumb.
posted by brianvan at 10:29 PM on January 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


Seems clear to me: it depends on the flight. On international flights, which usually encompass a sleep period, it would be crazy to think people aren't going to recline to rest. But a 3-hour cross-country flight should be manageable without a nap, and therefore without having to recline the seat.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 10:34 PM on January 25, 2007


If you are in coach, then it can be kinda rude. There is hardly any leg room in the first place, and to then have someone recline into you gives you even less. I not so secretly hate people who recline in front of me.
posted by KingoftheWhales at 10:40 PM on January 25, 2007


Put me down in the "rude" column. I'm about 6'2 and it makes me extremely unhappy when the person in front of me puts the seat back, especially without giving me any notice. Because I often have my knees parted to try to eek out an extra few centimeters, the little metal dealies on the side of the chair bang into my knees when the seat in front reclines. I think it would be a general courtesy for the person in front of me to at least acknowledge me before putting the chair back, and if they were to ask directly, i'd always say yes. It REALLY bugs me when the flight is in the middle of the day and the person has no intention of sleeping.

For myself, I never put the chair back except on red eye flights, and when I do, I always give notice to the person behind me. Sometimes they give me a strange look, but usually it seems that the courtesy is appreciated.
posted by saladpants at 10:55 PM on January 25, 2007


Also, several people (like me) tend to feel clausterphobic on flights and when that seat starts to lean back toward your face, the walls of the plane might as well be closing in on you.

Oh man, this is so me. In order to not go insane on any flight longer than about 2 hours I have to drink. Heavily.

I never thought about whether reclining was inherently rude or not rude (I don't fly much so I think I mush be missing out on some sort of airplane politics), however, being both tall and quite claustrophobic I do secretly fantasize about the slow death of recliners seated in front of me. Then I go into a whiskey haze and it doesn't tend to worry me as much. I suppose this technique wouldn't work well if I ever had to travel for business.
posted by Famous at 12:35 AM on January 26, 2007


I never recline but I do pick my nose.
posted by handee at 1:11 AM on January 26, 2007


Not rude. Why should normal and short-heighted/weighted people be expected to pass up an "amenity" they paid for just so a taller/fatter person can be more comfortable without having to pay for it by moving up to a roomier section of the airplane?

What I mean is this:
The section of the plane I bought a seat in suits me fine . . . Due to the way airlines have structured their seating arrangements and ticket costs, you (taller/fatter person) unfortunately might have to pay more to be as comfortable as me - but that hardly obligates me to worry about your comfort. I mean, aren't you being a bit rude thinking you can just walk your fat/tall ass into coach and expect everyone to look out for you and your comfort?

So, don't recline, if you want, out of courtesy - but don't consider yourself rude if the guy behind you is too tall/fat for the seat he paid for.
posted by Boydrop at 1:11 AM on January 26, 2007


Incredibly rude, especially if the person in the seat behind is very tall. I mean really, how much common sense does it take to see someone crammed in with their legs splayed out on each side of the seat, as there isn't enough room to sit like a normal human being, then decide NOT to make their already uncomfortable situation worse?

I'm 6'6" and I usually ask people to stay upright if they recline in front of me. If they won't, I sic my badly-behaved, screaming toddler on them.
posted by bifter at 1:18 AM on January 26, 2007


It's not always possible, but if you need more legroom, vote with your wallet. According to this site, legroom in economy class varies for US carriers from 31" to 35". I flew a combination of United and United Express flights in the past week and can tell you that as little as an inch or so would have made the experience much more comfortable than their 31 inches (I'm 6'2").

And though I don't think that reclining your seat is particularly rude, you should be more aware of how much you do so if somebody's behind you. One of my recent flights was a red-eye, and I found it impossible to sleep without reclining just a bit.
posted by SteveInMaine at 1:21 AM on January 26, 2007


I dont get it...... if you're too tall to barely fit in your seat with the seat in front you NOT reclined.... then what the heck are you doing riding coach?! Again, why aren't you rude for expecting everyone to worry about YOUR problems?

Again, be courteous if you want, but I hardly think taking full advantage of something you paid for makes you rude.
posted by Boydrop at 1:26 AM on January 26, 2007


For those concerned with their entitlement to recline their seat to the physical disadvantage of the people behind them, here are some other things you are not forbidden by the terms of carriage from doing:

- farting loudly and odiferously
- belching ""
- eating natto
- listening to incredibly loud music on headphones
- singing along to the music on your headphones
- loudly mocking / providing spoilers to the in-flight movie
- allowing your small child to make lots of noise (as long as they are belted at appropriate times)
- allowing your small child to kick the seat in front (as long as they are belted at appropriate times)

Are any of these things rude or inconsiderate, and would you hesitate to do them, or look unkindly on others that did?
posted by bifter at 2:13 AM on January 26, 2007


Previously on Metafilter.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:54 AM on January 26, 2007


I only recline if the person behind me has been repeatedly kicking my seat. In that case, I recline swiftly and all the way back. Then I return to the original position. It's a simple stimulus-response event that usually does the trick, especially after it happens twice. I've found this can also be an effective remedy against just about anything else the person behind me is doing that annoys me.

If I hand you a special hammer that's made for hitting people on the head, does that mean it's not rude to hit people on the head?

This cuts to a basic question about free will vs. determinism, and so on. If an institution hands out weapons in a small space and suggests that people use them on each other, then a sort of paradox is created: people still choose whether or not to use the weapons, but the institution has just increased the chance of violence, simply by making it easier.

Also, we seem to be ignoring the fact that this sort of thing really varies by airline. On Midwest, there are fewer rows, and they serve you fresh chocolate chip cookies (because we midwesterners like our personal space, goddamit!). On southwest, passengers are cattle on the roundup, and chances are you're going to make some movement that will get in the way of someone in your vicinity no matter what you do.
posted by bingo at 5:55 AM on January 26, 2007


I hardly think taking full advantage of something you paid for makes you rude.

I have an expensive stereo in my apartment. If I crank that baby up, the walls vibrate. I love it. Of course, the neighbors complain, but I hardly think taking full advantage of something I paid for makes me rude.
posted by grumblebee at 6:33 AM on January 26, 2007


I'm on the tall side, and I can just barely find a place to stash my legs if the person in front of me doesn't recline their seat. If they do, I have a problem.

That said, I don't necessarily expect them not to, but I may put crap in their hair if they do.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 7:25 AM on January 26, 2007


I try to avoid reclining before meals/drinks have been served and finished, because I hate it when the person in front of me suddenly reclines their seat and jiggles/spills the things on my tray.
posted by srah at 7:26 AM on January 26, 2007


I dont get it...... if you're too tall to barely fit in your seat with the seat in front you NOT reclined.... then what the heck are you doing riding coach?!

coach fare - $295
1st class fare - $1,395

If you are going to pick on someone because they are big, you should do it right to their face, not hide behind a computer.
posted by caddis at 7:28 AM on January 26, 2007


As someone who travels by plane a lot, and having given the matter a lot of thought, it comes down to this: upon entering the airport, the average traveler turns into a complete moron. If you clocked all the time that a person spends seething with righteous indignation, 80% of it would occur when flying commercially.

I've experimented a lot with what attitude I should cultivate so as not to lose my mind, and the one that works best for me is to imagine that all of my fellow travelers are terminally ill with a communicable disease. I empathize with them from as great a distance as possible. Seat back: full upright position.
posted by MarkAnd at 7:50 AM on January 26, 2007


Unbelievable. You are all crazy.

I fly pretty often. I am pretty sure I have never sat behind someone who did not recline the set. I'm a touch over 6 feet, and the state of recline of the seat in front of me has almost no effect on my leg room, except on United, where it goes from bad to slightly more bad, and only if I can't keep my carry-ons out of the underseat compartment. It can affect my computer use if the plane is crowded, but I don't consider that as important as comfort. If you absolutely need to have enough room for a laptop, buy a small computer or a seat in a larger cabin.

On any flight more than two hours, sitting upright is uncomfortable and I sure as hell won't be able to sleep. I bought the seat, it reclines, I'm going to recline it. You should too. The only person who gets screwed is the one who is stuck in the seat that won't recline. They should have checked in earlier.
posted by mzurer at 7:54 AM on January 26, 2007


6'3" mostly legs here. I never recline, unless the seat behind me is empty, and I frequently jam my knees behind the seat in front of me so it won't recline either. This has gotten me in some awkward situations. The worst was not on a plane, but on a bus in Mexico, and it resulted in my pansy ass almost getting kicked by some very macho men.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 8:43 AM on January 26, 2007


Simple solution: fly Southwest whenever possible. Check in precisely 24 hours before your flight to get an "A" boarding pass. Get thyself to the front of the "A" line when boarding begins. When availing yourself of any seat on the aircraft, choose one of the three on the starboard side of the aircraft right behind the bulkhead.

You don't just get a little more legroom, you get acres of it. Nearly your own entire estate! Your own country, even. It's fantastic. And nobody in front of you, natch.

alas, you don't get a try table either, but it's a small sacrifice
posted by contessa at 8:48 AM on January 26, 2007


alas, you don't get a try table either, but it's a small sacrifice

Sure you do. It's in your armrest.

When availing yourself of any seat on the aircraft, choose one of the three on the starboard side of the aircraft right behind the bulkhead.

Except, in my experience, those seats are always taken by "anyone needing assistance or families with small children". They get to board first.
posted by MarkAnd at 8:51 AM on January 26, 2007


The Knee Defender is your friend.
Also, note that if you've forgotten it, a strategically folded and placed SkyMall can accomplish the same thing.
posted by madajb at 9:19 AM on January 26, 2007


As with most things, reclining is fine in moderation. But reclining your seat to 100% as soon as it's allowed, and leaving it in that position for the rest of our 10 hour transatlantic flight, is rude.

I would estimate that I've experienced that sort of rudeness on 25% of my long distance flights. Lately, it's been 0%, because I simply jam my knees against the seat back in front of me in a way that wards off any attempts to recline 100%. It's also possible to incline the seat in front of you with a little manouvering and a bit of leg muscle.

I do recline my seat, but rarely 100%, and then only for a short time when I'd like to nap, and the person behind me is also asleep / reclined / not a giant.

madajb - thanks for the link to the knee defender. I'll order a pair of those before I fly ld again.
posted by syzygy at 9:51 AM on January 26, 2007


I secretly hate everybody who reclines their seat into my face. Airplanes already never have enough legroom for me, and the person in front of me reclining his seat back for the entirety of an 11 hour place ride I want to scream. This problem is even worse because, if you are sitting in the last seat in the airplane you cannot recline your own seat.
posted by mustcatchmooseandsquirrel at 10:13 AM on January 26, 2007


The recline function of airplane seats are a holdover from when there was actually room in airplanes. They've packed seats in so much these days that they really should remove the ability.

It's so interesting to me that a bunch of airline issues have come up recently (the family of the screaming toddler getting kicked off a plane, the liver patient having to buy another seat on Southwest). There's a lot of mud slinging about how kids and fat people suck--but I think all of these issues are an indication that the airline industry really needs to change its business model. I'm looking forward to the airline that "innovates" by making flying coach a reasonable experience simpley by adding more space. I certainly would pay more for that.
posted by Kimberly at 11:27 AM on January 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


Kimberly, have you ever flown Midwest Airlines? They bake cookies on board! And serve you mimosas with breakfast and your meals on real plates, with real utensils.
posted by nathancaswell at 11:33 AM on January 26, 2007


but all flights go through Milwaukee, which is quite convenient when you live there, no so much if you don't.
posted by caddis at 12:01 PM on January 26, 2007


What does that have to do with the size and comfort of their coach cabins?
posted by nathancaswell at 12:08 PM on January 26, 2007


When the person ahead of me reclines, I work my knees into their back until they unrecline. Then they lean over and give me the dirty look like I'm the one who leaned their chair against my knees.
posted by jon_kill at 12:15 PM on January 26, 2007


I try not to recline, but on a 12 hour flight across the Pacific where the person in front of me has fully reclined, I'll do it. And if the person behind me works his knees into my seat, I thank them for the extra lumbar support.
posted by reformedjerk at 1:50 PM on January 26, 2007


If you're in a middle or window seat, and recline your seat, and I'm sitting behind you, you can reasonably expect the leverage grab from me. I'll put the armrests up for better maneuverability, but if it's a choice between losing my balance or grabbing your seat, I'm grabbing your seat.
posted by initapplette at 3:04 PM on January 26, 2007


When the seat in front of you is fully reclined, you practically have to hold onto to get out of your seat. It is reclined well over the spot on the floor where your feet are. Of course, you don't have to push hard or anything to annoy the person, just hold on for balance.

All you people who put their knees into someone's back, shame on you. You are the rude ones. If it hits your knees and you don't move to let it down further, I have no problem with that, but if you stick your knees up there afterwards just to annoy you're just being an ass. I would probably complain to the crew.
posted by caddis at 3:17 PM on January 26, 2007


I'm looking forward to the airline that "innovates" by making flying coach a reasonable experience simpley by adding more space. I certainly would pay more for that.

United Airlines is doing this now -- pay $50 for adequate more legroom.

As for the Knee Defender, it doesn't seem like a solution to me since you'd have to put the wedges into position ASAP and they require your tray table be down for installation (but I hardly ever have mine down, and it's gotta be up during launch so you can't install them ASAP).
posted by Rash at 5:26 PM on January 27, 2007


you put knee defender on and I call the stewardess who confiscates your little device - na, na - dickwipe. I hope it didn't cost you too much.
posted by caddis at 9:02 PM on January 27, 2007


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