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News tips Your verdict: Is it rude to recline your seat on a plane?

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Your verdict: Is it rude to recline your seat on a plane?

Is reclining your seat on a flight inconsiderate, or simply a way to get some sleep? We asked you what you thought was good air travel etiquette when it comes to reclining seats and here's what you said...

The case against reclining:

This turned out to be a hot topic in our forum, and some of you have pretty strong views against reclining:

"They should completely remove that function from all chairs. I never ever recline. It is extremely inconsiderate and I don’t care if it’s a long flight or not." – Barlan

Woman on airplane

It seems there are some unwritten rules about the length of the flight, if it’s long or short haul, and whether it’s an overnight journey. Mary Porter says:

"I am happy that people recline their seats if they need to sleep (on a night flight) but otherwise I think they should keep them upright as a courtesy to fellow passengers. I would like to see airlines introduce a recommendation that seats are only reclined when the lights are dimmed for sleeping."

According to iain_pritchard, reclining on a shorter flight is a big no-no:

"Personal pet peeve is people reclining as soon as they sit down. Please, we haven’t taken off yet, this is like a 1 hour flight, I don’t think you need to be horizontal for this."

The case for reclining:

On the flipside, many of you championed your right to recline, as Imgobaira says:

"Recline all the way. If I am encroaching on your space then recline your chair too! If you have an issue with me reclining then feel free to pay the extra $$ for a "premium seat". I will always be courteous and give fair warning to the person behind me though."

Many people agreed that a little courtesy goes a long way and that you should always "check with the person behind first". ajrcrawford adds:

"If someone behind me asked me nicely not to recline, and seemed to have a good reason, then I wouldn’t."

What about during in-flight meals?

Some of you pointed out that it’s only polite to wait until after food service is over before you start going into sleep mode.

"One should definitely put the seat back up during meal service. I have no qualms telling the person in front to sit up when we get food/drinks served, but am okay for them to recline again once that wraps up." – lier_wong

Reader Lauraob1 finds good meal-time etiquette is hard to come by on a lot of plane journeys, though…

"My other issue is (and you’d be surprised how often this happens) the person in front of me will always wait until the trolley has just passed and I have put a drink down for them to throw their seat back and send my drink flying all over me."

Does reclining give you extra legroom?

Few were of the opinion that reclining your seat boosts your legroom, as former airline employee sophialee states:

"I know a reclining seat doesn’t work at all for tall people so it is really best to pay slightly extra for more legroom."

Many airlines offer the option to choose premium seats with extra space such as those in the front row and at the dividing wall between cabins (known as a ‘bulkhead’ seat). So if you’re long-legged, should you book special seats to avoid potential leg cramps?

troubleonline suggests that the problem could be solved with a little consideration from the passenger in front:

"Be considerate and recline slowly and carefully not fast and abrupt like some people, before they proceed to keep bouncing the seat backwards several times, crushing my knees in the process."

On the other hand, if you want to recline without bothering anyone else, kelly_li has a compromise: sit at the back.

"Though some flights have limited recline room for last rows, usually they are enough for me."

Those in favour of reclining should take note though: some air carriers, like Ryanair, have eliminated the arguments by getting rid of reclining seats in standard class completely!

First class or economy?

The debate became about whether you should simply upgrade your ticket. Airline seats in economy class, particularly those on budget airlines, can be much closer together than in years gone by, leaving little room for reclining, whether you’re for or against it.

An easyJet flight has a seat pitch of 28" (the distance between the back of a seat and the back of the seat in front or behind), as do some British Airways flights, while at the other end of the scale, a standard class ticket on Singapore Airlines will get you a more generous 32".

On board flight

Should you be able to recline your seat in economy at all?

FerHai says:

"The seats shouldn’t recline in economy any more. It might have been fine when the seats were first fitted with more space between them. Now it’s just dangerous, you can permanently damage the person behind you’s knees. We all paid for our seat, true, but the fact that it reclines is an oversight and we should take on the responsibility not to do it."

For a lucky few readers like Mark_Morgan_Clelland, this is a quandary you never have to deal with:

"I only ever travel first class so I am not sure but I don’t think the economy class passengers should have the ability to recline".

alexpopov makes the point that this isn’t an option for many travellers:

"I’m 195cm tall. The only flights I have no problem with my knees (/space) are long-haul Business and above. 90% of my flights are business trips. Even if it would solve the problem I am unable to pay the extra $$. Even if it was a private trip, 99% of all people can’t pay GBP 5,000 per seat (I certainly can’t)."

So does the responsibility for the recline function lie with the airline?

Traveller lier_wong says:

"I recently flew Lufthansa/A380 economy class and realized how spacious their seats are. I’m 5’7" and had loads of legroom to stretch even with the seat in front fully reclined. That said, some airlines are designed very poorly, especially the budget carriers. They need to maximize seat capacity and that’s really put the squeeze on travelers."

Why does reclining cause such problems?

Of course, whether you’re a supporter of spreading out on a flight or not, many of you agreed that reclining your seat doesn’t come without its hazards.

"I was once on a long-haul flight, and reclined my chair just like the person in front of me. However, the man behind me was really overweight so he couldn’t sit properly. His wife had to tap me on my shoulder and tell me to de-recline my seat." – Dylan Tan

Reader Karen summed up the problem with sitting behind a wilfull recliner:

"If the person in front reclines, I then have the top of their seat almost in my lap. If I’m trying to watch a film I then find the screen is at the wrong angle/too close. If I’m trying to read/do puzzles I have limited room. If I need to get out of my seat I need to be a contortionist. Perhaps airlines could designate part of the plane as a "non-reclining" zone, then I could select a seat there."

What’s the verdict?

Though most of our readers seemed to be fairly flexible about reclining, providing you exercise a little consideration, it does come down to personal preference.

As zia3000 states, for some, it’s simply a life choice:

"I stopped reclining over 10 years ago and haven’t looked back…18 hours, 5 hours don’t matter. It’s just better for you physically."

For more tips, advice and discussion from frequent travellers, check out these articles:

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