Reclining Your Airplane Seat During Mealtime Could Ruin The Flight For Everyone

You’re several thousand feet above the ground, squeezed into an uncomfortable seat and sitting between people who reek of cheap aftershave and airport concession nachos. And though everyone else on the plane is now enjoying — or at least eating — their in-flight meals, you just want to relax, so you hit the button on the armrest and recline your seat back a bit. Little do you know that these actions are about to ruin everyone’s day.

Just ask the 200 passengers on board a Swiss Airlines flight from Zurich to Beijing, who could do nothing as their plane turned around mid-flight and returned to Switzerland, all because one passenger needed to stretch out a bit — and picked the wrong time to do so.

According to reports, the man in the seat behind the reclining passenger was in the middle of eating his meal and was none-too-happy about having his dining disturbed by the suddenly shifting seat.

The eater allegedly slapped the head of the recliner and this quickly blew up into a fight that had both men rolling around in the aisles and needing to be physically separated.

The Daily Mail quotes a witness as saying, “The older of the two felt disturbed during his dinner. When the younger did not respond to his protests, he hit him on the head with the flat of his hand. It was a real slap.”

The older man was restrained using plastic straps while the pilot decided he was just going to turn this whole thing around and return to Zurich.

Back in Switzerland, the two brawlers were detained, but only the older man was ultimately arrested. He was ultimately released and fined for his bad behavior. Both men were reportedly ordered to pay legal fees.

Meanwhile, the other 198 passengers on board the plane did not get to go to Beijing, but did enjoy another night in Zurich on the airline’s dime. They were put on flights to Beijing the next day.

The Daily Mail says the two men could still be liable to repay the airline for some of the extra costs incurred by their in-flight fisticuffs.

Pilot turns back plane when two men start fighting midair over a reclining chair [Daily Mail]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Mr_Magoo says:

    “Reclining Your Airplane Seat During Mealtime Could Ruin The Flight For Everyone”

    No, slapping a fellow passenger could ruin the flight for everyone.

    • Peggee has pearls and will clutch them when cashiers ask "YOU GOT A WIC CHECK MA'AM?" says:

      Exactly. If I leave for work one day, text someone at a busy intersection, and cause a five-car accident which kills one and injures two others, the headline wouldn’t read “Leaving for Work in the Morning Causes Death, Injury.”

    • Oh_No84 says:

      If the jerk in front did not recline then this would not happen.
      I have been flying forever, I never will recline my seat. There is absolutely no reason to recline.
      The people behind you need the space to eat and use their laptops or even play cards.

  2. Marlin says:

    Why did the younger guy have the pay legal fees? Also why would he have to repay the airline?

    If reclining the seat is against the rules and he was told not to do so by the airline staff maybe, but last I checked it was not and nothing in the story said the airline staff talked to him at all.

    • HalOfBorg says:

      Probably for the fighting part.

    • JollySith says:

      Because the appropriate response to being slapped upside the head is not to get into a knock down fight in the aisle endangering your fellow passengers.

      The appropriate response is to follow the jerk outside the airport and beat him down there.

  3. Costner says:

    I’ve always been tempted to buy one of those devices that prevents the seat in front of me from reclining. Even on a short flight it is uncomfortable when the seat comes back – I’ve had them hit my knee a few times and it can be painful if you aren’t expecting it and don’t have time to move.

    I can see getting mad at the person and perhaps even asking them to adjust the seat back up, but slapping them on the head or starting a fight? That is taking it too far. If someone did that to me, I’d contact the flight attendant and have them moved and then I’d contemplate pressing charges for the assault – or is it battery… either way.

    • MaxH42 needs an edit button says:

      I’m tempted, too:

      • njack says:

        Using one would make you an asshole

      • Difdi says:

        Doing so is tampering with aircraft equipment. It’s very minor tampering, but it is tampering with how the plane and the equipment aboard it functions.

        Enjoy being removed from the plane in handcuffs. Any asshole who uses such a device deserves it. If you can’t handle the provided seat space, you are perfectly free to buy a better seat.

        • Oh_No84 says:

          The device is not against FAA, sorry dont post lies.
          The FAA already looked into the devices and it is not tampering.

      • msbaskx2 says:

        What would prevent the person whose seat you are jamming from simply reaching back and removing this device?

    • hoi-polloi says:

      I’ve experienced the same. The additional comfort is negligible, especially when weighed against the fact that you’re cramming the person behind you. I won’t put my seat back unless there’s no one behind me. If others are going to do so, they should give fair warning or at least ease back gradually.

      For those who don’t want to buy a special product to block reclining seats, apparently the same can be achieved with your water bottle:

      • njack says:

        A guy used the water bottle trick on me once. I got up and went to the restroom and accidentally spilled the contents of my water bottle on him. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have done that, but he was still a douchenozzle

        • hoi-polloi says:

          As much as I dislike it when people fully recline, I’ve not resorted to this. I’m 5’10” and most of my flights have been between 1 and 4 hours. While I feel slightly crowded and may need to adjust how I’m sitting, it’s never for an exceedingly long time. I might change my tune on an international flight.

          • dangermike says:

            I’m 6’5 and can’t sit in most airliners without constant contact with the seat in front of me. Of the 4-5 airlines I’ve flown on, the only one that didn’t leave my legs bruised was JetBlue. As much as people like to claim they have every right to recline their seats based on the fact that the seat is able to recline, good manners dictate that since the space is limited and reclining likely subtracts from the personable bubble of anyone in the row behind, it would be appropriate to check before reclining. I will also point out that while many are saying locking the seat in front of them, transgressing my personal space with your seatback such that I receive injury does meet the definition of the crime of battery.

            • Difdi says:

              If you’re not capable of fitting into the airline seat, you need to either pay more for a seat you fit into, or find another means of travel. The fact your problems are length rather than width changes little.

        • Oh_No84 says:

          You are an a-hole to do something like that.
          1. trying to recline makes you an a-hole
          2. spilling water on someone makes you deserve to get your ass kicked.

          People like you are a-holes should never fly.
          There is absolutely no reason to recline on a plane all it does is prevent the person behind you from using their laptop.

    • Sorta Kinda Lucky Soul says:

      A hardback book also works quite well; just wedge it between the tray and the seat in front of you and voila, no crushed knees.

    • AustinTXProgrammer says:

      I just looked up those devices. The tray has to be down, so your knees are under the tray. Does the seat really impinge that space by more than half an inch? Seems more like a way to save the personal space over one’s tray, and that seems more than a bit selfish. On the other hand I almost lost a laptop as the seat came back, caught the screen and nearly crushed it (I yanked the laptop back really quickly).

    • MutantMonkey says:

      Just buy a large bottle of water past security and then put it in the back seat pocket with the cap or bottom underneath the tray. I’ve been doing this for years and have not had any issues.

      • hoi-polloi says:

        If you’re cheap like me, you can bring your empty water bottle through security and then fill it up from one of the many water fountains. It saves money and reduces waste.

        • Sorta Kinda Lucky Soul says:

          I do that too.

          • njack says:

            You’re all assholes for doing so

            • JollySith says:

              how does protecting my knees make me an asshole. I think it far more fair to say the person using the reclining mechanism (a holdover from when there was more than 17″ between seats) is the asshole.
              Though I personally never used a device. If you recline your seat back into me I just constantly fidget and knee/kick the back of your seat, use your seat to pull myself up for an emergency restroom trip once every 10 minutes, etc.

            • hoi-polloi says:

              As I said upthread, I’ve never used a water bottle to prevent someone from reclining. I linked to a cheaper alternative for those who would consider dropping nearly 20 for Knee Defenders, and I suggested bringing your own bottle through security and filling it rather than paying a premium in the airport. On a consumer site, pointing out cost-effective alternatives seems reasonable to me. We can argue about who has the bigger right to comfort in this case, but the name-calling is unwarranted.

            • dangermike says:

              Like others replying to this obvious trolling, I will say that I have never intentionally blocked the seat in front of me from reclining. However, at 6’5″, the physical reality of the situation is that there is just no room for the seats in front of me to recline. However, that has seldom stopped their occupants from trying. Repeatedly. Even after seeing that it was my knees they bashing against. And then sheepishly making apologetic eye contact. And then trying again. And again. And again. Every 20 fucking minutes from somewhere over the Mojave all the way to the descent to Atlanta. Yeah, fuck you.

        • tsume says:

          How have I not thought of this before? Thanks!

    • Wheels17 says:

      I have one of those built in. I’m 6′ 5″ and on several airlines, my knees are into the seatback of the seat in front of me when the seat is straight up. Eventually the person ahead comes to the conclusion that the seat is broken and quits trying to recline the seat.

    • Santas Little Helper says:

      I would gladly report you to the FAA for performing undocumented maintenance without an Airframe certificate and without Engineering Authorization approval. Enjoy the fines!

    • pamelad says:

      Maybe one airline could distinguish itself by offering reclining and non-reclining seat rows. This hypothetical airline could use quick keys to lock the non-reclining seats and an algorithm for selling the seats. Those who would prefer not to recline will also be spared from the recliners in front of them. Fair enough. And no added fees for the choice please!

  4. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    It’s a brawl between two people. Does this REALLY constitute turning the plane around?

    • spartan says:

      There is a precedent for that. My Dad once drove our family almost two hours towards the beach, and when my brother and I began fighting in the back seat (he started it) my father made an illegal u-turn on the Garden State Parkway and dropped us both off at the house before taking my Mom to a nearby lake for the rest of the day.

  5. Peggee has pearls and will clutch them when cashiers ask "YOU GOT A WIC CHECK MA'AM?" says:

    Why do seats even recline anymore in coach? There’s no room for it now that everyone’s crammed in like sardines to squeeze every dollar out of a flight, so having the feature only causes problems among passengers.

    • SavijMuhdrox says:

      this would be my thought. especially on buses too. I would think a non-reclining seat would be cheaper anyway.

  6. your dad was right says:

    You kids behave, or i’ll turn this plane around and we will just go back home!
    Do you want that? Is that what you want? . I will do that.

  7. HenryES says:

    Beijing? Maybe it was this guy.

  8. Zhapekanovich says:

    Yes, coach is cramped. But being forced to sit upright is much less comfortable to me than being cramped (and I am not small).

    I paid for a reclining seat. If this is unacceptable to the passenger behind me, then his/her beef is with the airline, not me.

  9. HogwartsProfessor says:

    I recline, but only about an inch. The upright level of the seat is pitched too far forward and hurts my back if I sit for any length of time. If someone complained, of course, I would put it back up, but so far no one has.

  10. topcad says:

    Just last week, the guy in front of me reclined his seat all the way back DURING TAKEOFF! I was so shocked that I immediately did a benchpress maneuver and pushed his seat back to the upright position until we leveled out and then I slowly released it.
    I admit it was childish on my part and I was a bit embarrassed about it (hence the slow release) but really? During takeoff? At least wait until we get to our cruising altitude…

    • eturowski says:

      The FAA agrees with you, and if you would have said something to a flight attendant, they probably would’ve helped you out.

  11. Sizzlean says:

    You’d think a plane large enough for two grown men to roll in the aisle (the ones I have been on won’t give you enough room to pass the food cart) would provide ample room for eating regardless of the position of the seat in front of you.

  12. Torgonius wants an edit button says:

    If someone in front of me reclines, they usually do so that my knees are directly pressing into their seat back. Only one time did someone ask me to move my knees. I politely said no, thank you. They put their seat back to normal. No one was beaten in the aisle.

  13. Geekybiker says:

    I wish they’d install the shell seats that slide forward when you recline in more planes. At least then if you want to recline, the only person you are inconveniencing is yourself.

    • Oh_No84 says:

      They would have to make the trays longer or have them come out of the armrests instead.
      When you recline you make it impossible for someone to open their laptop as the angle of the seat blocks the tray.

  14. PragmaticGuy says:

    Geez, that must have been really good airline food. Guess it didn’t come with pins in it.

  15. BorkBorkBork says:

    Sounds like a Consumerist commenter rode Swiss Airlines recently.

  16. donovanr says:

    When I put my seat back I look first. If it a person who seems nice I probably won’t. Type-A business guy on his laptop… waaaay back and with a little bounce; ideally with a friend filming. I love people who think it is their right to dictate my seat position. If they wanted the extra room then they could pay the big bucks for first class.

    If you don’t want my seat back what are you offering in compensation? Nothing but less anger, well then the negotiation is over.

  17. Caddyshack says:

    Good grief oh immature. It’s only a reclining seat folks. Get over yourself. Why do some folks get so uptight and snobby merely because they are on a flight? Let the guy recline and the other person can adjust to the slight inconvenience by “dealing with it”. Reclining a seat is a function of the seat itself, nothing more. When did adults quit being mature and act with self-control.

    • Oh_No84 says:

      When you recline the angle of the seat limits the height above the tray which means you cannot open your laptop screen.
      It is not right to prevent someone from using their tray for their laptop or whatever else they need.
      Many people do work on the plane to pass time or just watch movies on their laptop. Your reclining prevents them from doing this which is why those that recline are a-holes.

  18. BadIdeaSociety says:

    I am 6’4″ and while I don’t love when the person in front of me reclines, I respect that the person sitting in that seat paid for a ticket and reclining is included in that price. Keep the seat upright or reclined, I’ll find a way to get comfortable.

  19. Bor&Mitch says:

    Love all the “I’m over 6ft and my knees hurt”. If you’re fat, buy an extra seat. If you’re tall, spring for a seat with extra legroom.

  20. MarkFL says:

    I’m reading all these comments about the blocker, the water bottle, kneeing the back of the seat, etc. I’m sure this will get me branded as some sort of socialist, but has anyone considered just politely asking the person in front of you to put the seat upright because (insert rational reason here, such as it’s preventing me from using the tray, it’s jamming against my knees, etc.)?

    If the person in front of you happens to be me, I will readily accomodate such a request. If you act like a dick…not so much.