The Blog

Is It Time Airlines Ban Reclining Seats Completely?

Reclining seats are my all time, ultimate frustration on any flight. Not just the seats themselves and the function they provide, but the selfish people who think it is their right to lean back into my space as much as they can the second they sit down.

Flying should be enjoyable, that has been the expectation since the glamorous early days of aviation. But no matter how much I love travel, no matter how much I love flying, there are some things about those long flights which still manage to get on my nerves. Some things that despite my love of travel are almost certain to threaten my carefully cultivated British sense of decorum and send my blood pressure rising to the extent that a disapproving sigh or a loud tutting simply won't do.

I am not alone either. Numerous studies, passenger rights groups statistics and surveys have been released over the past year that show airline passengers are becoming increasingly fed up with the experience of flying and the service they are getting from airlines, and this growing and increasingly belligerent number of dissatisfied passengers suggest that maybe it is about time that airlines started to listen.

The one issue that polarises passengers more than any other is the dreaded recliners. A survey conducted by Skyscanner even suggested that the majority of passengers want them banned completely, and I don't disagree.

Reclining seats are my all time, ultimate frustration on any flight. Not just the seats themselves and the function they provide, but the selfish people who think it is their right to lean back into my space as much as they can the second they sit down.

Space on any flight is getting increasingly small as airlines continue to make smaller, narrower seats and add extra rows to maximise the amounts of passengers they can squeeze in, all in the name of trying to get more profit. The pitch (or the space between seats) has been purposely shrunk on most airlines by a good few inches over the last decade alone, and what was once considered 'normal' spacing between seats is now being sold as 'premium' extra leg room seating. This has happened to the extent that modern seating in economy class does not reflect the average height or build of most people today. I am 6"2 tall, about average for my generation, and I can only just squeeze into the space allocated to me by most airlines, but my knees are uncomfortably pressing into the back of the seat in front of me as it is when I do. This is not my fault, no one can help or have any control over how tall they are, this is the fault of the airlines who have absolutely minimised the seat pitch to the point many people physically can't fit in.

The most important issue for me is the fact that actual physical pain and injury are often a result of the reclining seats. I have lost count of the amount of times someone has just slammed their seat back suddenly, causing me intense pain as the seat literally crushes my knees. How would they lie it if I walked up to them in the street and broke a wooden chair over their knees? It is the exact same feeling! I of course would be arrested for assault, so what does that say about what recliners are doing to me?

Quite apart from the fact that it is uncomfortable at best and painful at worst, there is also the issue of personal space, specifically the absolute lack of it when some idiot reclines right into your face and pins you to your seat. I want to watch the in flight film on a flight, not your dandruff riddled head!

The usual argument that the seat has that function and it is your right to use it or that it is your space to use are absolute nonsense. The space directly in front of my face and body as I sit down is mine, not yours, and I have an absolute right to that space, not you. Or would you like me to put my nose directly up against yours and say I have a right to this space? The seat also has a TV screen and a tray which you are preventing me from using by your selfish actions, do I not have a right to use that function? Have I not paid for that function as part of my ticket price? Or does that argument not wash when used against the right to recline?

So really it is not your right to recline at all just because the seat function allows it. It is a principle built into our entire legal and justice system that the rights of the individual cannot impinge or compromise the rights or safety of others or cause them harm, and that is exactly what reclining seats are doing.

It's not as if there aren't common sense solutions to this that stop short of banning them completely, such as having reclining seats at the back and non reclining sections at the front of each section, or even just allowing reclining only between certain times when people could reasonably expect to sleep. But since airlines refuse to have any common sense policy on the matter and since they will never make more space available in economy class because that would involve taking out a couple of rows of seats which they can make revenue from, then maybe it is just time to ban them altogether.

I can guarantee the first airline that does will get a lot of high customer satisfaction ratings and a lot of instant customer loyalty from plenty of fed up and disgruntled - if slightly hobbled and limping - passengers.