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Seat reclining space invaders

By Tuesday, September 09, 2014 ,

In the past couple of weeks, there have been two insidences where planes were diverged and had to make emergency landings over reclining seats.

In the first incident, a man used a Knee Defender device to stop the woman in front of him from reclining while he was using his laptop. A row followed, in which she threw a cup of water at him.

In the second, a person refused to put her seat back into an upright position, and the man behind her grabbed the arm of a member of the crew who tried to reason with him when he got upset.

Both instances are summarized by the BBC in Legroom row diverts second US flight .

Airplanes are tricky because any disturbance can lead to a catastrophe, so flight crews will choose to land over incidences we see may see as trivial. On the other hand, can't someone just be placed in another seat? Hasn't anyone in the crew ever been in a long car ride with kids (cue the "but he's on my side!" complaint)? or remember having to be separated from their siblings? how about a time out?

But back to the quarrel over the reclining seat:

Just don't do it. The seats don't recline enough to make them much for comfortable for you, and yet it makes it significantly more uncomfortable for who ever is behind you.

No doubt you've heard the phrase "My right to swing my arm ends where your nose begins" or one similar. In this case it's "my right to recline my seat ends where your knees begin." Maybe if there's a small child behind you it won't make much of a difference, but I already have trouble reaching my bag under the seat in front of me when the seat in front isn't reclined. There isn't enough room to bend down, so instead I'm having to bend way over to the side, in some bizarre seated yogi pose. Reclining the seat in front of me makes it more or less impossible for me to reach anything on the floor, or to let someone by.

Now I may have a bit more of a stake in the argument than most, since  I've found the only way I can sleep on an airplane is like this:

Image by Dimitri Martin, you can see more on Tastefully Offensive 

A sleep position which is impossible to do when the person in front of you reclines their seat. Suddenly, you're jarred awake by seat slamming into your head, you sit up, tired and confused. You blink a bit, then glare angrily into the seat that has just woken you, and you know it doesn't care.

Airline seats have become smaller and smaller, narrower both in terms of leg room and shoulder room. Suddenly, you're a lot closer with your neighbor, and it's only a matter of time before diplomatic relations break down, the armrest becomes disputed territory and you swear, if he does that weird "hrrumph" breathing thing one more time there's going to be an international incident.


I'm not particularly tall, about 5ft 6, (1.66cm), so I can only imagine what it's like to have long legs, to have to wedge yourself into your seat, and then have the seat in front of you move even closer! Soon "flyer's knee" is going to join "tennis elbow" and "runner's knee" as a lay term for a common ailment. Bruised knees will become the mark of someone well traveled, and we'll all have to start wearing those knee pads bricklayers use.

Does the person reclining their seat in front of you drive you crazy? Do you find reclining your seat makes the journey significantly more enjoyable? Is it totally gross that I put my face so close to the tray table (my husband tells me yes)? 

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  1. Oh dear, you've touched on a hot spot for me. I do not recline my seat. I can't sleep anyway, even in business class - and I've tried the position you mentioned in economy, which resulted in the closest I ever got to sleep on a plane - there is absolutely no difference in comfort level between upright and not entirely upright. I have asked the person in front of me on several flights to put his/her seat up during meals WHEN THEY ARE LEANING FORWARD ANYWAY to shovel the grub into their faces - and am usually met with annoyed huffs but compliance. If the huff makes them feel better, that's fine with me. For a person who makes a point not to lower his seat back, I will do my best to avoid disturbing him when I have to get up. Recline your seat, and I'm going to use your hair as a thing to prop myself up and squeeze out of my seat while I bang my hip, shoulder, and any other handy body part against the back of your comfortably reclined lounge chair. I am 5ft 5in (1,65cm) tall.

    1. Oh yes! And to get by behind a reclined chair means I'm even closer to other passengers in my row I'm shimmying past. A little turbulence and suddenly I'm in a strangers lap.

  2. Oh, very well put here. I think the ability to recline chairs never should have been added to planes in the first place. Does the 1 - 2 inches of reclinability really help people at all? I never recline my chair because not only do I think it's rude, I just wouldn't be able to relax if I knew that I had just intentionally removed some space from someone else in an already cramped way of traveling.

    1. I never recline my chair either, it feels even less comfortable to me than the upright chair! maybe it's a back support thing? I've heard some airlines are doing away with it completely, and some others are thinking about implementing reclining and non-reclining sections. That seems a bit silly, thought