- Reduced recline is bad for the passenger who wants to recline, and good for the passenger who doesn’t want to be reclined into.
- When there’s enough distance between seats plenty of recline doesn’t mean reclining into someone behind you, but that’s not the reality of US economy travel today.
- Delta says they are not going to add seats to these planes, so it’s just about how passengers are able to use their existing space. It’s naturally to be skeptical of this, but remember that Delta has already added seats to their Airbus A320 aircraft and has about 5% more seats than American’s (legac US Airways) A320s
When Seating is Tight Reducing Recline Helps Passengers Work
Delta has invested heavily in satellite internet for its fleet, as has American, which is something that differentiates those two airlines from United. Delta has also marketed itself heavily as a carrier of choice for business customers, who pay more and need to work. Reclining into a laptop is a problem, so reducing recline is a way to make passengers better able to work on board.
Recline Matters Most on Long Flights With Tight Seating and Uncomfortable Seats
American Airlines has reduced seat recline in coach from 4 inches to 2 inches with their new ‘Oasis’ retrofit (domestic standard). That’s necessary now that they’ve gone to just 30 inches from seat back to seat back. Tight pitch is untenable when the passenger in front can recline into you.
If you take 30 inches of pitch as given, then reduced recline is a must. The problem with those American seats, though, is that they lack padding as part of the effort to squeeze in more row. Grab half a inch of padding and reduce recline and the ‘personal space’ at each seat may be similar between 31 and 30 inches of pitch. But it’s less comfortable sitting in those seats for any length of time.
- There just isn’t as much cushioning for passengers’ backs and back side
- And they can’t disperse the pressure of their bodies against hard seats by reclining as much
Reduced recline is a problem in combination with (1) slim line seats and (2) long flights. American doesn’t just deploy these aircraft on one and two hour flights, but flights of six hours or longer as well.
Delta was an early adopter of slimline seats. Recline is especially important with these seats. Some of their coach seats on the A320 still have 31 inches of pitch, while other seats have just 30 inches like at American.
However Delta makes the point that most flights on their A320 aircraft which are going to have more limited recline are short, one to two hours.
Why Reduced Recline is a Good Thing?
If you take tighter seating and less comfortable seats as a given, you must reduce recline. Delta already did tighter seating and less comfortable seats. But they didn’t compensate by reducing the ability of passengers to recline into the space of the customers behind them.
And when space is reduced passengers are more likely to try to get back as much space as possible by reclining as much as they can. That’s a recipe not just for less productivity, but also for rising passenger tensions.
We shouldn’t celebrate the need for less recline, because it goes along with less comfortable seating overall. Nonetheless Delta essentially failed to make this change earlier and is coming back and doing something necessary to correct that failure.
Ultimately I do need to distinguish between less comfortable seats with less room on short flights and less comfortable seats with less room on longer flights. Product matters a whole lot more once you get beyond two hours.