Reclined seat viral video: There is no 'debate' about this - he is in the wrong

It is never OK to punch a woman in the back of the head.

That's a simple truism of life that I feel has been lost in the current seat-reclining debate. It doesn't matter who has done what. It doesn't matter who is right or who is wrong, who's been rude or who's been hard done by. It is never OK to punch a woman in the back of the head.

This isn't a debate about seat reclining. It's a debate about entitlement. It's a debate about rage.

I'm referring to the video that went viral last week, the footage of a male passenger on an American Airlines flight hitting the back of a woman's seat, at head level, because she had reclined and was refusing to shift back upright.

The woman, Wendi Williams, claims he punched her seat with much more force prior to her filming him.

You probably saw the video, because everyone was talking about it. And everyone was talking about it because they're obsessed with the etiquette of seat reclining. Obsessed.

The video quickly sparked a debate about who was right and who was wrong. Should the woman have reclined on a short flight, or been more considerate? Is the man allowed to be upset because he's in the back row, or should he chill out? Is the airline at fault for not allowing that last row to recline?

But hang on a second. What was actually happening here? It seems incredible that in this post #metoo era, where pundits ponder whether the anti-sexism movement has "gone too far", we can be presented with footage of a man physically intimidating a woman in a public place and the question that people ask is "who is in the wrong here?"

Who is in the wrong? Ah, the guy punching the back of a woman's head. That's who. Always.


Yes, I get that there's a seatback in between her head and his fist. But this is still a highly aggressive action, and one you just couldn't picture in a situation of two men, or of a woman sitting behind a man. It just doesn't happen like that.

Besides, there are plenty of ways to make your annoyance about seat-reclining known that are less aggressive than this. You could call a flight attendant and complain. You could speak politely to the person in front of you. You could even bang their seat with your knees if you really were obnoxious. But using your fist to punch the back of the headrest? That's something else.

This isn't a debate about seat reclining. It's a debate about entitlement. It's a debate about rage. You can call it air rage if you want, but it's mostly male rage. It's men who think they're entitled to certain things and become aggressive when they don't get them.

It's difficult to find gender-specific statistics on air rage incidents, but let's roughly equate it to road rage, which studies have found are perpetrated by men up to 97 per cent of the time (there will always be anecdotal exceptions, of course, like that girl who flipped me the bird in the Gold Coast. But the stats skew far towards men, particularly for serious incidents).

Men get angry. Men feel entitled.

Here's some more anecdotal evidence, this time from the air. I recline my seat on long flights all the time. Anything over four hours, I'll be reclining. And I've never had a problem on a flight, never had anyone say anything to me or express any annoyance.

The only time I've ever seen any seat-reclining anger has been when I've been travelling with women. Several times, women I've been flying with have reclined their seat and had the man behind them knee them in the back or repeatedly hit their chair to make their point. We've had to call cabin crew each time to settle things down.

Men get angry on planes to get what they want. That's what happens. And it works. American Airlines even sided with the man in that video, handing Wendi Williams, the woman doing the reclining, a "passenger disturbance notice" because she refused to stop filming the guy who was repeatedly punching her seat where the back of her head was after she had done something she was perfectly entitled to do.

Let that sink in. The only person to receive any sort of punishment in this incident was the woman whose seat was being punched and who decided to use the only weapon available to her: public shaming. And you tell me #metoo has gone too far?

Then over the weekend Ed Bastian, the CEO of Delta Air Lines, a rival company, was asked to weigh in, and his response was that if people are going to recline, they should ask first. So, essentially, siding with the man. Shocking development.

Travellers need to be better than this. Men need to be better than this. The travel experience is an inherently frustrating one, where things don't go your way, where you're forced into contact with strangers who have different ideas to you, different standards of hygiene to you, different ways of being to you.

That sucks. But it sucks for everyone. And whatever happens, you have no right to become violent or aggressive.

That's what we should be talking about. Not a reclined seat.

What do you think about this incident? Have people missed the point? Is this about seat reclining or unreasonable rage? What would you do in this situation?



See also: The 16 rules of air travel every passenger should know

See also: The reason why your emotions and senses go crazy on planes

LISTEN: Flight of Fancy - the podcast

To subscribe to the podcast Flight of Fancy on iTunes, click here.