The Great Airline Seat Debate

I just read an article entitled, “Is it wrong to recline your airline seat? Debate rages again after American Airline incident”. I then went over to the twitter post to see the video clip that sparked this debate in the first place. Stunning.

In a nutshell, this lady reclined her seat. The man behind her asked her to put it upright again, because he was eating and the tray was crushing into his lap. She did so. That interaction seems reasonable to me.

But then, when he finished eating, she reclined it again and he starts punching the back of her seat so hard that her head is jerking forward. He does it so much that she starts videoing him and posts it on twitter. Apparently, when the lady asked the flight attendant for help, she stuck up for the man and gave him some rum. (Yeah, because adding alcohol to a dispute is always an excellent idea.)

Twitter, being Twitter, quickly blew up with a lot of people posting their opinions on the matter. People stood firmly on one side of the debate or the other. It got rather heated.

This is where I part company with the Twittersphere. I can’t set up camp on either side of this one. As far as I can tell, both were in the right and both were in the wrong.

First of all, I know what it’s like to feel claustrophobic. And if you’re a very tall or large person, you already feel confined without someone reclining their seat in what already feels like limited airspace. It’s miserable.

On the other hand, if you’ve been traveling for many many hours, and you’re already uncomfortable, and you add exhaustion into the mix, sometimes you desperately need to recline and get some rest.

Lest we forget, most of these seats only recline about 2 inches anyway. Are we really going to fight over two inches? Can’t there be reasoned discourse?

She did raise her seat up during his meal. Why must he have the tray down during the entire flight? Why can’t she have a period of recline?

Who has the rights here? The seat is made to recline, so shouldn’t she be able to recline it? But then it’s not his fault he’s a big guy, either. Does he have to be punished for his size?

I do have a problem with the way the guy dealt with it. He’s pushing the seat so hard it’s making her jerk forward, and he’s doing it over and over again. That’s aggressive. That’s simple assault right there. She could have a neck injury already for all he knew. No one gets to push another person around, for any reason. No one gets to pull the “I’m bigger than you, so I can threaten to hurt you to get anything I want” tool out of his tool kit. And no airline employee should be reinforcing that. And yet a bunch of people on twitter were calling this guy a hero. That triggers me.

Bottom line, she’s rude for taking his space, he’s rude in the way he’s dealing with it, and the flight attendant handled the whole situation in an unprofessional manner.

I think the debate needs a different focus entirely. I think airlines should have their greed restricted. There should be regulated limits as to how tightly they pack us in like sardines for profit, and a wide variety of body shapes should be taken into account when determining this limit. I think they shouldn’t be allowed to act like they care about our comfort by maintaining a recline option that clearly doesn’t fit with the current lack of available space. And if they’re not willing to do that, then they need to train their staff to adequately deal with the clashes that will arise, all while maintaining a zero tolerance policy for simple assault.

If you’re on a long flight in particular, you really should be allowed to recline part of the time. This isn’t the wild wild West. These are paying customers who both deserve a civilized, comfortable flight.

Maybe I’m overthinking this, but this spring I’ll be on a 15 hour flight to Europe, and I’d kind of like to feel more solid about what’s acceptable to do thereon. I’m currently considering turning around and introducing myself to the person behind me and saying, “I know it’s crowded in here. I’m not going to recline my seat the whole time out of courtesy to you. But I will need to sleep at some point, and I do have back issues, so I will need some periods of recline. Can we work this out now?”

I think that’s a much better option than indulging in my desire to haul off and punch someone in the throat while soaring over the Atlantic Ocean. What do you think?

Cramped plane

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2 thoughts on “The Great Airline Seat Debate

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