Rage Over Reclining Seat

February 1, 2010

in Seat Stories

In January 2008, I was flying in Coach on Lufthansa from JFK to FRA. As the flight was expected to be shorter than usual, I decided to try to get as much sleep as possible, so immediately after takeoff I reclined my seat and began to doze off. However, as a Greek woman immediately behind me was constantly kicking and pushing my seat, it was difficult to do so. At first, I wrote it off to her trying to find the “correct” position that we all try to do on overnight flights in coach.

Dinner came and I put my seat up, both as a courtesy to the person behind me and in order to be closer to the fold down tray. Upon completion of the meal service, the passenger in front of me reclined his seat, and I attempted to do the same. At first, I thought perhaps my seat was jammed but then realized that the woman behind me, with all her force, was pushing against my seat in order to prevent me from reclining. At this point I forced the seat to recline, and she started getting into a heated rage with me saying that I cannot recline because she doesn’t have enough space (let me clarify that the woman was of average size and in no way large or overweight). She proceeded to kick and hit my seat back, and I turned around and told her that if she needs more space, next time she should buy a business or first class ticket. The passenger next to me, an elderly German man, turned around and scolded her, telling her to allow everyone to get some sleep, that she’s acting like a five year old, and that this was an airplane and not a kindergarten. At this point, she violently kicked my seat with all her force to the point that it bent over way past the fully-upright position and to the point that my back hurt.

A flight attendant at saw what was happening and approached the woman behind me. She started going off on how she has “rights” and that reclining my seat infringed on those. She also began to claim that I was moving my seat up and back every couple minutes making it difficult for her to position herself. I explained that that was not the case and had moved my seat up for the meal service. The flight attendant, however, stopped my explanation and told her flatly that whether or not I was moving my seat every couple of minutes was irrelevant, as I was certainly in my right to do so if I chose to. Furthermore, the flight attendant pointed out that the seat in front of me was also reclined as were many others on the plane. The flight attendant also echoed my comment that perhaps she would be more comfortable in business or first class on a future flight. However, for this flight, the flight attendant summoned the purser, who asked me to get out of my seat and reseated me in Business Class (as all Coach seats were taken), while the purser apologized and commented to me that some people are just unbelievably impossible to deal with. Obviously, I told the purser it wasn’t her fault, and we ended up having a good laugh about it later in the flight.

As I returned shortly prior to landing to retrieve the bag that I had left by my original seat, I noticed that I had left the seat in the reclined position for the whole flight. Oops, sorry.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Kad February 1, 2010 at 10:15 pm

Was the lady (Greek, although that seems to be an irrelevant detail) new to flying, or perhaps angling for her own upgrade to Business?

I would guess the latter, and that her game was a familiar one (not by her personally, just one FA's have watched before).

As to the seat remaining reclined, don't put it past some pleasant FA's to have claimed the seat was broken because of some mysterious punishment inflicted upon it.


madachode February 2, 2010 at 4:57 am

This is how a roll with inconsiderate morons who love to recline their seats:

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was asked about the use of Knee Defenders.

As reported in the October 28, 2003 edition of The Washington Post:

"FAA spokesman Paul Takemoto said the clips were not against federal aviation rules as long as they weren't used during taxiing, takeoffs or landings."

Knee Defenders™ are specifically designed to be used with your tray table lowered, while your tray table must be up and locked "during taxiing, takeoffs or landings."

So, as long as Knee Defenders™ are being used as they are designed to be used in flight, their use does not violate any US aviation law, rule, or regulation.


Hates being squished February 2, 2010 at 7:40 am

I agree with the Greek woman. It is RUDE to recline your seat when you know damn well that airlines give people in coach minimal room in the first place. I can not afford business class when I fly and I require a lot of room to stretch my legs as I have restless leg syndrome and I do not care to get up and walk around the plan every 20 minutes to stretch them. If the airlines want people to recline their seats they should had made more space between seats. If there is so much room, as you say, then why are knee defenders such a common occurrence? Maybe you should get business class if you are so inclined to recline.


Jane February 2, 2010 at 7:49 am

Maybe you should stop enforcing other people to accommodate your RLS and spring for bulkhead or emergency exit row seats. Or–here's a thought–adjust to the situation as needed? I'm sorry, but I don't care if you've got RLS; if I want to recline my seat, I'm going to recline my seat.


Coastergeekperson04 August 1, 2010 at 6:40 am

Is it rude? No.

Is it annoying? Hell yeah.

But remember that the person in front of you deserves a little comfort too, and if you have to complain about that, then they surely deserve comfort more than you do. Plus, you can always get that space back by reclining your own seat, and let others follow suit.


Demotage February 2, 2010 at 8:35 am

Try Miripex for your RLS. Works wonders.


Poco February 2, 2010 at 10:10 am

It IS everyone's right to recline their seat. That said, the rage so many people seem to feel over reclining is largly due to airlines cramming us in so tightly.


Glenn R February 2, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Knee defenders while approved for use by the FAA are prohibited on most airlines. Passengers have the right to utilize that additional 1 1/2 inches of recline, whether you like it or not.


Jim February 2, 2010 at 1:18 pm

I wish that the airlines would make the seats stay in one position, and not recline.

There is way too little space for a normal sized, 6' person like myself anyway…and, when someone reclines their seat those 3 inches really takes away needed leg space….however, are those 3 inches in recline really important to the person reclining? Does it truly make that much difference if you are straight up, or just a little tilt? Probably not. But to the person behind, it can mean the difference between your legs just being cramped, or having the seat in front of you resting on your legs.

However, I would never ask the person in front of me to not recline. I would hope they would be polite enough to stay erect…as a common courtesy.

This lady was rude, and yes you have the right to recline if the airline allows it…and, if everyone else is reclining it makes it more necessary for you to recline too…so, it is a terrible ripple effect.

And I would pay to upgrade for myself…but, when travellling on business, I am at the mercy of what my company will pay…which, in these economic times, is only coach.

Bottom line, why can't we all get along? Realize reclining takes up needed leg space for most people…and, if everyone would leave their seat up straight, it would be a more pleasant flight for all.


deld February 2, 2010 at 2:04 pm

Wow. It's a bit on an inconvienence when person in front of you reclines but c'mon?!?! I never understand why people get so upset by it. I'm 6'3 and yea, it's uncomfortable but not that much.


Darryl February 2, 2010 at 2:56 pm

The Airlines are causing these problems cramming more seats into coach. I agree with previous posters that Yes everyone has the right to recline their seat but everyone should try and be considerate. At night yes a full recline is acceptable, during the day maybe just a half recline. At meal times of course seats should be in the fully upright position. Recently on Hawaiian Airlines I had a styrofoam cup of coffe on my tray left after finishing my meal, the passenger in front went into a full recline and it was good-bye cup of coffee time, luckily the cup was only a quarter full.


Kad February 2, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Good point Darryl. I try to only partially recline because I know – as in appreciate and empathize with my fellow humans – how irritating a full recline is when the seat in front is 2 inches from your face.

Consideration for others goes a long way. Having the ability or the 'right' to do something doesn't mean we should do it, always, without thinking about it.


david February 2, 2010 at 3:40 pm

what about on long haul flights, since i frequently travel 20hrs (NYC to Singapore) would that be acceptable to have a full recline? as sitting upright all that time is a back killer


ps February 2, 2010 at 3:56 pm

Well, we're in the 21st century. Airfare today is the quivalent of busfare pre deregulation. If you want lounge space, buy a business class ticket, which is still cheaper than coach pre deregulation. If you want to gamble, buy coach and hope you sit next to a petite person and the person behind you has short legs.


shocked February 2, 2010 at 6:59 pm

How many of you guys that are complaining about people reclining there seats actually recline your own seat on your flights……..pretty much all of you I imagine. Thats why the flight attendants go through just before landing and tells each and every row to raise their seats for landing. The seats recline and most people recline them during the flight


Demotage February 3, 2010 at 9:16 pm

Remember a few years ago when AA had that big campaign about removing seats from coach to give everyone more room? They even put a brass plaque at the front of every plane saying when that plane had been converted to a kore legroom configuration. They advertised the he'll out of it.

They were consideraby quieter about it when they put all the seats back in.


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