There it is, right in front of your face. Sure, it looks innocent enough but any second its controller could decide to hit the lever and WHOMP! the seat in front of you thwacks into reclining position, punishing your knees, spilling your club soda and eliciting a grumpy huff from your lips. What choice do you have but to follow suit and recline your seat as well?
It’s an uncomfortable situation, those reclining airplane seats, and one that’s led to a rumble in the aisles and even the intervention of F-16s after a reclining seat-induced slap fight. For every passenger who wants to be polite to their fellow traveler behind them and resist the pull, someone farther up in the cabin is going to recline that seat, leading to the domino effect of seats thwacking back throughout the plane.
Slate’s Dan Kois takes on this often rude maneuver, which can usually only be avoided by politely asking the person in front of you to put that eat back up just a little bit, maybe? Because I’m trying to eat this sub-par snack plate? He’s of the mind that since nice manners don’t always work, we should just keep those seats right where they are.
Why do we even have reclining seats? It’s not like that tiny degree of recline makes a huge difference, especially since airlines have already cut out as much leg/knee room as possible. Way back in the days of high luxury, it made sense to be able to both luxuriate in wide expanses of leg room and lean back to catch some mid-air Zs.
Now you’re lucky if your knees don’t even graze the seat in front of you and you get an aisle seat free of additional fees, so we can see how that little decadence is the last right to personal comfort left.
Carriers like Spirit Airlines have tried addressing the problem by installing “pre-reclined seats” which is just code for “totally upright seats” that many find uncomfortable and just one more example of airlines moving the flying experience into the realm of sardine can.
But barring that kind of cabin redesign, Kois posits, wouldn’t we all be happier if we had to abide by the “no reclining” rule? Just like you need to leave your seatback in the upright position during takeoff and landing, you’d need to keep it that way so as not to tick off the guy on his laptop behind you. Because it’s not like airlines are going to expand leg room by taking out all those seats they’ve added to jam as many paying customers in as possible, right? Right.
If all else fails, check out our tips for avoiding in-flight fisticuffs. And may the sky gods have mercy on your knees.
The Recline and Fall of Western Civilization [Slate.com]