Delta Passenger Unleashes On Seat Recline Critic Behind Her

A Delta Air Lines passenger reclined her seat, and the woman behind her – she says – began pushing her seat back throughout the rest of the flight. In response, she didn’t ask for help from a flight attendant. Instead she began yelling at the woman behind her. And another passenger caught it on video.

The passengers behind the woman denied pushing her seat and that just drove the her to the brink, unleashing a tirade defending her right to recline. The battle had gone on silently until she just couldn’t take it anymore at the end of the flight.

This incident took place six months ago but is going viral now all across social media.

Seat recline is important for passengers on long flights with poorly-padded seats. Recline works to distribute passenger weight and reduce back stress. Reclining is also a basic right when it’s a feature of your seat (certain airlines like Spirit and Frontier feature seats they call “pre-reclined” i.e. that do not recline).

  • A passenger controls their own seat
  • Airlines ban the Knee Defender device, which prevents recline – a device was designed to stop reclining. While their interest is prevent damage to the seat, they do not allow the passenger seated behind to interfere with the recline function

There is an etiquette to exercising your right to recline, though. Don’t recline during mealtime. Try not to recline unless it serves a real purpose (if it doesn’t actually benefit your comfort, don’t recline).

If you don’t want the passenger in front of you to recline, politely ask them not to. And if they want to recline and you don’t want them to, consider whether it’s worth your while to make not reclining worth their while. Many years ago all it took was $5 (offered with a parent’s permission) for me to convince a child seated in front of me not to recline so that I could work effectively on my laptop.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. This happened to me for the first time only a few months ago. Flight took off after a very lengthy delay and I finally put my seat back to relax, when the woman in back of me tapped me on the shoulder and told me “don’t recline your seat.” I asked her “do you mean at this moment, or for the entirety of the [10 hour] flight, and she repeated “don’t recline your seat.”

    ‘I told her that I had every right to recline my seat and that if she disagreed we should discuss it with a flight attendant and she could move to an empty seat. She harumphed, I reclined my seat, and she gave me dirty looks for the rest of the flight and on de-boarding (which is her right and which I can live with).

    The solution to these anti-recline people and their strange sense of entitlement is simply to get cabin crew involved immediately. Don’t bother to argue with them, because what they think is of no relevance as compared to what Cabin Crew think – and they are all but certain to back you up.

  2. They should just sit in, or directly behind, the exit rows since the seats in the rows in front of them aren’t able to recline.

  3. Biggest surprise of this article is Gary not calling his $5 payment a Coasean bargain.

    Remember Gary has only an undergrad Econ degree. For the uninitiated, undergrad Econ degrees are jokes. PhD economists usually get their undergrad diplomas in math because the proof- and theorem-based way of thinking, not to mention the advanced mathematics taught in upper level courses, are needed to earn a PhD in most Econ subfields. Saying everything is a Coasean bargain makes one look haughty and ignorant to an educated person.

  4. @HVC you seem not to know much about the entirety of the field of economics, much of which is premised on the study of human action and which rejects the conceit that economics can be measured due to imperfect data and imperfect calculation, and therefore has little to do with math.

  5. @HVC –

    Pointing out how often Gary mentions “Coasean bargan” and then being snooty about what sort of degree he has makes you look like a petty and narrow-minded ass sitting in the peanut gallery.

    If you don’t like what he has to say, why are you even here?

  6. Lol, this is the most haughty and ridiculous comment I’ve seen in a long time, and that’s saying something! Particularly over something the author didn’t even do!

  7. As someone who’s tall enough that if someone reclines my knees go into their back, my sympathies are with the woman being reclined on. Before the cavalcade of whining begins I’ll say that the unfortunate part for me is aching knees for a couple of days. Sometimes there simply aren’t bulkhead or exit row seats available and your knees gotta go somewhere.

  8. I think it’s funny that @HVC complains that I do *not* use the phrase he objects to in this post, and shows his ignorance of my professional experience which has little to do with my *undergraduate* degree. Seems like someone is having a bad day, week, or month for reasons wholly unrelated to me, but I’m still living rent free in his head.

  9. I also think that people should check behind them before reclining their seat. I’ve seen people push it back hard enough to knock things off the tray or hit the head of the passenger who just so happened to be bending down to get something under the seat at that moment.

  10. Since the safety officers don’t get involved, the woman in front could recline her seat in the face of and possibly the knees of the person behind her and the lady behind her could accidentally bump into the seat back multiple times during the flight. People love to create conflict and drama but the airlines are also at fault with Spirit and Frontier having a good solution. An airplane should be fitted with some reclining seats and some pr-reclined seats to see which are more sought after. I would choose the later if I had a choice.

  11. 31″ pitch seats , or less, and seat recline do not work. Either remove the recline feature, or increase the seat pitch. By the way, for those who say if I don’t want to have the seat in front of me recline I should by first class, the reverse also holds-if you want a reclining seat , YOU buy first class.

  12. After having a few irritation-filled flights in a row, I’ve finally figured out why my flights felt more like a drum solo at the back of my seat than a peaceful journey through the clouds. You see, I initially thought the person behind me was either practicing their kickboxing moves or sending me secret messages in morse code. But as it turns out, they were just wrestling with the in-flight entertainment system’s touchscreen, which has the sensitivity of a brick wall.

    I mean, really, to get that thing to respond, you’ve got to poke it like you’re trying to get a reaction from a sleeping bear. Once this lightbulb moment hit me, my flights became a whole lot less stressful. It’s like I reached a state of airplane-seat nirvana.

    But let’s not discount the power of my pre-takeoff ritual: popping 4mg of Xanax and sipping a couple of liquid relaxers (read: beers). With my nerves as soothed as a cat in a sunbeam, I could probably sit through an interpretative dance performance happening on my seatback and not bat an eyelid.

  13. United DC8s tricked out with lounges had an economy seat pitch of 38″. The DC8, and the 707/727/737 (with identical fuselage cross sections) all had a seat pitch of a minimum of 34″ until the race to the bottom began in the early 90s. Two rows at a time, the amount of personal space has plummeted to claustrophobic dimensions such that a reclining seat is now no more than 3″ from the face of the passenger behind.

    The panic from being trapped in this situation is the direct result of airline management captured by their pornographic wages grafted from wall street by doing it’s bidding, and an incompetent impotent Congress unwilling to represent it’s constituents.

    For the average pax off the street, it’s impossible to game around the problem without extreme status, and the only solution is to pay for First Class domestically or Economy Plus internationally.

  14. Your right to recline your seat ends where my knees begin.
    There is no right to commit assault.

  15. Hey Jcil… If your seat reclines, you have every right to recline it, regardless of seat class. Just be respectful of fellow passengers and RECLINE SLOWLY… And never attempt to recline during the main meal service.

  16. Hey Jcil… If your seat reclines, you have every right to recline it, regardless of seat class. Just be respectful of fellow passengers and RECLINE SLOWLY… And never attempt to recline during the main meal service…

  17. If your seat reclines, you have every right to recline it, regardless of seat class. Just be respectful of fellow passengers and RECLINE SLOWLY…

    And never attempt to recline during the main meal service…

  18. @HVC the funny thing is those advanced econ degrees seem to get the economic data wrong every reporting period.

  19. Gary,

    I tend to agree with your analysis. But to add a wrinkle, where would you come out on a scenario where it’s a passenger of height in the hind seat, whose knees physically won’t allow recline as they are already in full contact with the seat in front (with tall passenger being properly seated/not slouching). Basically making it a physical impossibility to recline).

  20. @lars: the airlines refuse to acknowledge the collision (literally) of their fictional economics and their fictional product specifications.

  21. My way: I am 76, and my lower back is not perfect. Sometimes (on flights 2+ hours, for example), I might wish to recline a bit to easy my back. Now, I always book an aisle seat for a number of reasons, but that also allows me to very easily “check in” politely with my fellow passenger seated behind me that I wish to recline my seat. I’ve never had a problem with this “method,” which I call “win-win.”

  22. You need to remember that ownership of the space behind a reclinable seat is ambiguous by design for the benefit of the airline. All stakeholders need to remember to bring cash to resolve this ambiguity in their favor. Obviously payment is resolved at the end of the flight.

  23. It’s fairly simple. If you are in control of an object and use that to touch someone without their consent it’s assault. You can feign ignorance but after the passenger tells you move your seat you hit me amd you ignore them. You are at fault. No different than a car. You bought a car that can back up amd hit someone behind you. You both own the space between you and need to share it without hitting or it becomes assault. This is well settled law and I laugh at idiots claiming they have the right to recline into other people.

  24. @jill disagree with ambiguous

    AC 121-24D most recently updated 20190305


    Beginning on page 5 of 50:

    “… prior to movement on the surface, takeoff, or landing … ”
    “Tray tables must be secured in their stowed position.”
    “Seat backs must be in a fully upright position.”

    Thanks to the Erika Hamilton from Portland we now have case law which establishes airline Contracts of Carriage imply the sale of a SEAT and not simply teleportation/transportation to a destination.

    Thank you GSW! You’ve just eliminated the legal existence of the recline feature and opened a pandora’s box of small claims litigation.

    You can’t sell the same thing twice, at the same time, to 2 different people. That’s called fraud. The owner of the space occupied by a reclined seat is no longer ambiguous. Per the FAA, it belongs to the owner of the passenger in to whose face the reclined seat is placed.

    Way to go AAmericAAn.

  25. Please don’t, without warning, slam your seat backwards with maximum force. I’ve had discourteous people do this frequently (in coach AND more frequently in first). In one instance cracking the frame on my laptop screen and another time knocking a beverage off a tray table. At least look behind you first or recline slowly. Also, there is no rule saying that you need to utilize the maximum recline. I’m 6″3″ and my knees are already pressed into the back of your seat if I’m seated in coach.

  26. To the numb nuts who say seat recliners are committing assault, am I committing assault if I bump someone’s knee while moving across them to a window seat?

    If the airline provides the ability for my seat to recline, the space that it can recline to is mine. Not the persons’ sitting in the seat behind me.

  27. @wileydog: please re-read what @jsmith posted: “If you are in control of an object and use that to touch someone without their consent it’s assault.” Your knee is not an object you are controlling. If you deliberately knee someone then yes they can file assault charges against you.

    The recent incident I refer to (the lawyer from PDX traveling with her 2 children) is now case law. FAA regulations require seatbacks and tray tables upright and locked. That is the configuration of commercial airplane seats which is legally sold by Part 121 airlines. Reclining your seat is now legal only when there is no one sitting in the seat behind you.

    You can STEAL the space your seat reclines in to but you can not OWN or RENT that space because that is not the configuration of your seat which the airline can legally sell to you under Federal Law.

  28. I travel often. I purchase seats with extra leg room and fully expect to use all the features of my seat. This shouldn’t even be a discussion. It just caught my eye. Get a life people.

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