The Great Reclining Seat Debate Still as Entertaining as Ever

Some problems are exceptionally difficult to solve – take for examples the Millennium Prize Problems; solving any one of which will earn you a $1 million prize from The Clay Mathematics Institute of Cambridge, Massachusetts (CMI).

And then there are problems that seem like they should be relatively easy to address, but never actually do get solved.

Like, for example, the problem of airline seat recline and how it should be handled by passengers.

Over on View from the Wing, Gary wrote recently about the latest seat recline incident in which an in-flight fight broke out due to the use of the “Knee Defender”, the flight was diverted, and both passengers involved in the altercations were thrown off.

Despite travelers engaging in essentially this same conversation for what seems like decades now – and according to dhammer53 it has been going on for at least one decade “We had this ‘discussion’ on Flyertalk over 10 years ago, or thereabouts.” – a few intriguing solutions were proposed:

I was once in coach flying Cleveland – Los Angeles. I paid a young child, with mother’s consent, $5 not to recline her seat. I got four hours of work on my laptop as a result, a great investment of $5. In that case the initial allocation of property rights belonged to the child and we found a Coasian bargain. ~Gary

I’d much rather see reclining seats pivot from the bottom instead of the top, such that a recline comes to the trade-off of having less legroom, affecting no one else except yourself. No external costs. …

Barring bottom-pivoting seats, I’d love to see a market emerge where customers could easily and without stigma pay other passengers for a seat recline. If I’m in Economy and poised to get hundreds of dollars of work done so long as I can use my laptop, I’d gladly pay the person in front of me $20 to *not* recline the whole flight. And he very well may be far better off for accepting that payment. There is no market right now to adjudicate the highly different values various people place on reclining their seat vs. having a seat reclined into them. ~Ben Hughes

I think Spirit is on to something with “pre-reclined) (aka non-reclining) seats. ~iahphx

And several commenters offered some exceptionally strong opinions on whether reclining a seat is a passengers right, that question being the slant Gary’s post took:

The seat reclines for a reason, it’s a fu**in right. … If it ‘s available it’s meant to be used. ~Geoff

The argument that the seat is made to recline, so it is OK is absurd. My car is made to maybe 130 mph, but I don’t assume that gives me the right to go 130 mph in a school zone. ~VG

If you want to PAY for my seat, then you can tell me how to use it. Don’t like it? Don’t fly. Or buck up and PAY for first class, which I do, when the length of the flight matters to me. Can’t afford it? Go Greyhound. ~Jim A

No matter what you love about online travel discussions, this one has it. Thoughtful solutions? Check. Humorous anecdotal stories? Check. Over-the-top anger? Check. Spelling and grammar criticisms? Check.

And if you enjoy all of the above like I do – minus the spelling and grammar criticisms – then you will love this discussion.

Maybe it is because the subject provides such good fodder that it remains unsolved. If someone actually solves the problem, what fun would that be?

Read the post and discussion in its entirety: Does a Passenger Have a Right to Recline Their Seat in Coach?

Image: “Self-Portrait, Row 58” by brownpau. CC BY 2.0.


  1. Do “defenders” still reclin they’re seat? What happens to blocked passenger when person in front reclines? Stuck in middle! Ban them! Selfish. Me culture. You get what you pay for .your at the back of the bus Eat it up Had clowns kicking , banging seat ect. Pos blocking will check from now on. Will always offer to swap seats with blocker ,pusher,banger,dickH can move on up n Not recline! Winning

  2. @Brian – that is true, which is why I appreciate brownpau allowing his photo to be shared via a Creative Commons license.

  3. I think they should have reclining sections in coach similar to the old smoking sections. If all the recliners are in one section, they won’t bother each other.

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