Reclining Airplane Seats: It’s Time For The System To Change

Three times in the past two weeks passengers have had altercations over reclining airplane seats. It’s going to happen again. In fact, the attention now being brought to the subject is likely to encourage more problems in the future.

In a Boston.com article Scott Mayerowitz, an AP Airlines Writer, quotes Sara Nelson, who is president of the Association of Flight Attendants: “Seats are getting closer together. We have to de-escalate conflict all the time.’’ Then she concludes, “The conditions continue to march in a direction that will lead to more and more conflict.”

In a quest for more seats per plane, airlines have shrunk the space between seats from 33-35 inches to 30-32 inches. At 30-32 inches of legroom, when a seat back is fully reclined, it invades the space of the person behind it. I’ve experienced this repeatedly. It becomes difficult to use the tray table for working on a laptop or eating a snack you’ve brought onboard. Any person with long legs will have the seatback knocking their knees, adding to their discomfort. Even worse is the passenger who slams the seatback down.

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According to Mayerowitz the airlines explain away the reduced space by saying that less space is really not less space: “Airlines say passengers won’t notice because the seats are being redesigned to create a sense of more space. Southwest’s seats have thinner seatback magazine pockets, Alaska Airlines shrank the size of tray tables, and United moved the magazine pocket, getting it away from passengers’ knees.”

Illusory justifications won’t change the increasing frustration passengers are feeling. It is translating into overt actions, which are no good for anyone.

Once airlines offer a feature, it’s reasonable to assume people will use the feature. Comments on social media seem to be equally divided between people who don’t recline and people who do. No amount of discussion is going to change the reality that as long as seats can recline, people will use the feature, and people will be frustrated

Ultimately, the airlines are responsible for the problem and the solution.

Airlines need to take action because the problem is only going to get worse. Eliminate the recline feature or, at the very least, limit the amount of recline to half or less than what is currently allowed. In fact, two airlines have already removed the recline feature: Spirit and Allegiant Air. It’s time for the other airlines to follow suit. Only the airlines themselves can limit the function of the seat. To allow a situation to continue that so easily causes conflict between passengers is jeopardizing the safety of passengers and crew alike. Not to take action is going to lead to more altercations in the air, more disruptions to the air traffic system, and more delays and frustration for all the passengers on board, not just the few involved in altercations.

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It’s time for the system to change.

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