You’ve probably heard about the recent spate of airline seat reclining wars.
One passenger wants to recline his or her seat. The passenger sitting behind the first passenger doesn’t like the intrusion into his or her space — or possibly getting hit in the knees, head, or having a beverage spilled all over him or herself, or being unable to comfortably work on a laptop.
Tempers flare, and heated words are exchanged. Various rights are invoked — “my right” to recline versus (in the case of the other passenger) “my right” to have what little space the airline allots me to myself, without having your head practically lying in my lap.
Sometimes gadgets are employed. In one recent case, a “knee defender” — which prevents the person in front from being able to recline — led to a ruckus that caused the front passenger to douse the knee defending passenger with water (and it had nothing to do with the Ice Bucket Challenge).
Flight attendants are summoned. If peace can’t be kept, air marshals may appear from their seats. Arrests have been made.
And — the main reason these events have made the news — three flights have been diverted in the past week alone to make unscheduled stops at other airports, enabling flight attendants or air marshals to escort the offenders off the planes ASAP.
Meanwhile, all the other passengers are inconvenienced or worse, and the diversions (which are the pilots’ decisions) cost the airlines lots of money.
You probably have your own feelings one way or another about whether to recline or not.
My own philosophy can pretty much be summed up as: when I need to recline (usually when trying to sleep), I’m for it; when the dolt in front of me wants to recline (usually for no good reason), I’m against it.
As you can see, I’m part of the problem, not the solution. (Though I would never use a knee defender or throw water at someone; in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever even said a word to any reclining offender about it, choosing instead to seethe quietly.)
Actually, my beef isn’t with people who recline slowly, even if they recline quite far back; what I really dislike is someone who reclines with a jolt, which as often as not does whack my knees or threaten to spill my tomato juice. Simple common sense and politeness can go a long way to keeping everyone at least moderately happy.
So when I do recline, I try to do it as little as possible and as gradually as possible, assuming there’s someone sitting behind me. But as long as seats do have the capacity to recline, I will take the opportunity to do so, especially if the person in front of me has already reclined — in which case, I have little choice.
I believe this is an unwinnable debate, as long as the airlines continue to squeeze more and more passengers into their planes by cutting legroom and arm room and even building smaller lavatories, which are already difficult to maneuver in. All to add as many seats as possible.
It’s a shame that the victims in this situation — that is, the poor passengers jammed into the cattle cars in the skies — have to take it out on each other, possibly facing arrest and causing perhaps hundreds of fellow fliers to miss their connections, be late for appointments or inconvenience their families or friends waiting for them to arrive.
The airlines are the real villains here, but until passengers start to revolt, nothing is likely to be done about the lack of space in cattle, er, economy class.
Or maybe what we’re witnessing now is the start of such a revolt. Only time will tell.
The much-maligned Spirit Airlines, meanwhile, has instituted its own simple solution to the problem: don’t have any reclining seats at all.
That way, everyone can be equally miserable — but at least the planes won’t be diverted and no one will get arrested.
Unless, of course, someone starts to complain loudly about the fees that Spirit tacks on to just about everything. But that’s a whole ‘nother story.
I’d be interested to hear from readers about their views on this debate: to recline or not to recline? And who’s more to blame: the airlines or rude passengers? Let me know your thoughts.