Plane passengers have every right to recline their seat on a flight

You'd think people would be used to the idea by now. You'd think that we'd all been travelling on planes for long enough to understand that seats recline, and that passengers have every right to recline them.

But they don't. Of all the sources of air rage, of all the elements of the travel experience that annoy people, reclining seats seems to be the worst of them. People hate it. And they have absolutely no right to.

I've seen this frustration so many times; even experienced it a few. I was on an overnight flight from the Gold Coast to Tokyo recently, only a few hours in, when there was a vicious kick to the back of my girlfriend's chair.

She looked around, and the guy in the seat behind her began ranting about how she couldn't recline her chair because he didn't have enough room, and then tried to forcefully move it back to the upright position.

My girlfriend explained that it was a night flight and she was definitely going to recline her seat to sleep – and hey, he'd booked himself on a budget airline. Of course there isn't much space.

But the guy didn't give up. The entire night he'd kick her chair every half an hour or so, and even hiss insults in the darkness.

I've seen similar things on so many flights. I've seen people tap the person in front of them on the shoulder and tell them not to recline their seat, and then arguments have ensued. I've seen people try to force the seats in front of them forward, and then things get heated. I've seen people constantly kick at the reclined seats just to make a point.

Here's the deal travellers: that space in front of you, between you and the next seat? It isn't yours. You didn't pay for it. You're not entitled to it.

The person in front of you is absolutely allowed to recline their seat into that space. Don't like it? Recline your seat as well. There, you've got exactly the same amount of room as you used to. This is how aeroplanes work. I'm not sure what people don't understand about that.


There are only a few situations in which, in my opinion at least, it's pretty bad form to have your seat tilted all the way back. When meals are being served, you shouldn't be reclined. It's almost impossible to eat an aeroplane meal with a TV monitor 10cm from your face.

Similarly, if you've got a spare seat next to you, then you really don't need your seat tipped back. Give the people behind you a break and just stretch out in the extra space beside you. Everybody wins.

I'd even say that on short domestic flights, most people, unless they have back problems or extremely bad hangovers, won't need to recline their seats. Those cabins are squeezy enough as it is, and the flight is only an hour or so – just stay upright.

In any other situation, however, there's no need for all the rage. There's no justification for people coming up with "knee defenders" to prevent the person in front of them from reclining, or for kicking the seat or making a fuss.

That's not your space. It's not your right. Air travel is uncomfortable for everyone, but you don't get to stop the person in front of you from getting a few extra degrees of lean. That's just how planes work.

For anyone who doesn't like it, there's only one solution. It's called business class.

Have you had people get upset at you for reclining your seat? Do you think passengers should be allowed to do it? Or not?



See also: Ten rules every traveller should follow

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