Is Reclining Your Seat on an Airplane Considered Rude?

By Jim Liao, Epoch Times
June 17, 2016 Updated: June 17, 2016

The Dan Le Batard Show—a sports talk show based in Florida, often posts polls on its Twitter page.

On June 14th, it posted a poll asking a golden question for frequent flyers:  “Do you recline your seat on your on the airplane?” The results were 46 percent yes and 54 percent no of 7,621 votes.

Though close to a 50-50 split, the vast majority of comments are strongly against passengers reclining their seats.

Recently, a quora post also asked the same question, but addressed former or current cabin crew members. Contrary to the general public, most responded that it is fully within a passenger’s right to recline his or her seat, though it is good practice to notify the person behind you first.

Anna Alapatt, a former Emirates crew member, said, 

“It isn’t rude, I believe it is your right on the plane. Just my personal opinion. The thing is, that person can also recline their seat. So, I don’t really get the issue.

“What I didn’t like was adults who couldn’t communicate with each other. Instead of being able to politely tell the person that it bothered them, they would pull me in as the mediator. Ok, fair enough, I want to be a counselor one day so I didn’t mind. But, why is it so difficult to talk to another human?”

Christopher Babayode, a nutritional therapist and flight attendant of 14 years, said,

“It is quite simple really! In a confined space everyone has to be tolerant. There are rules, during meal services unless by agreement the seat has to be upright. Outside meals you are free to recline your seat, if you do so it is advisable to tell the person it will affect that you are about to do it.  If they are not happy with that they can of course recline their seat to get the space back!”

Proper Etiquette

In The Etiquette of Seat Backs and Elbow RoomEd Hewitt offers several points to consider in regards to proper seat etiquette. Firstly, consider who is behind you. A reclined seat could be particularly devastating for tall people—think over 6’0 tall with long legs.

Secondly, you don’t necessarily have to recline all the way—a couple of inches or so may do. Other factors to consider are meal time. You don’t want to cause someone’s food to fall off their tray. But during night flights, a reclined seat is arguably okay, as ostensibly everybody is trying to get some rest.

Hewwit also suggests various ways using body English to communicate to the reclined party that you are feeling a bit uncomfortable.

Banning Reclining Seats

The reclining seat issue has caused problems on airlines in recent years with several incidences of planes being diverted due to fights breaking out.

What ensued were mini-movements to ban reclining seats and get rid of the controversy altogether. In 2013, Skyscanner ran a poll on banning the adjustable seats, with results showing that an overwhelming 91 percent of people were in favor of banning or having set times for reclining. Also notable is that two airlines—Spirit and Allegiant, no longer have reclining seats. Aside from eliminating trouble, Allegiant estimates that it saves $3.5 million a year on maintenance from the switch to stationary seats, according to a 2014 report from Slate.