Here’s An Unethical Hack When Someone Reclines Their Seat Into You

It’s the right of a passenger to recline their seat when they’re sitting in a seat that is designed to recline. Recline can be important for your back, especially with harder, less-padded seats than ever before. But there’s still etiquette here: try to avoid reclining your seat during meal times, only do it when you need it (don’t just recline by default), and consider giving warning to the person behind you if they’re working on a laptop.

There are a lot of things that are unpleasant as an airline passenger. One is how little legroom your ticket buys, though there are options to pay more money to get more space. There is a right way and a wrong way to take matters into your own hands if you’re frustrated by a reclining passenger:

  • Right way: politely negotiate with the reclining passenger. It is their right, so figure out how important it is to you that they keep their seat upright and offer to pay them up to that amount.

  • Wrong way: Vigilantism, like installing a ‘seat defender’ on the seat that blocks the person in front of you from reclining (airlines generally ban this product) or shoving the seat in front of you to torment the person doing the reclining.

Vigilantism is a recipe for conflict and that can lead to a plane diverting. You might get into a fight or even get arrested.

This so-called ‘hack’ is less violent that shoving the seat in front of you, but it’s still an aggression meant to get under the skin of the person reclining and can easily lead to escalation. What do you think you’re accomplishing by “turn[ing] on the air con above you at full blast and point[ing] it at their head”..?

@thelkshow The plane ride is so long when you get one of these people in front of you 🥱 #plane #reclinetheseat #annoyingpassengers ♬ Blicky – Fresh X Reckless

This is exactly what makes air travel so challenging. If you don’t like something, you get under the skin of someone trapped inside a metal tube hurtling 35,000 feet above the earth at speeds in excess of 500 miles. That never ends well.

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. Pro travel tip: Some people strategically position their three-year-old free-range kiddos behind the offending reclining seat passenger and then advise their offspring to use the seat back for their preschool soccer kicking practice until the flight lands. No three-year-old has ever been banned for life by an airline for kicking a seatback; however, an airline may ban a recalcitrant juvenile when they choose to use a knee-defender.

  2. As someone who’s 6’4”, I exert very substantial effort to obtain a seat with additional legroom but sometimes it’s simply not possible. When that happens and the person in front of me reclines, my knees simply have nowhere to go. As a result I get aching knees for up to a couple of days and the person in front of me gets stuck with my knees in their back. Since I’m especially aware of how awful it is to be reclined on I myself almost never recline in coach. I think reclining should be used in a limited fashion.

  3. @ Gary — Pay for F, problem generally solved, although F space has certainly shrunk. One of the great things about flying AS is the F pitch, which they have chosen to maintain even in new cabins. If only they had a bigger route map…

  4. @Ken A – if you do that, I will report to the flight crew you touched your child inappropriately and you will be met by police on arrival.

    Two can play this game, remember that, you little c*nt.

  5. The simple solution to this are the seats where the “recline” is done by sliding the seat bottom forward while the top of the seat remains stationary. This give the reclining passenger the reduced space and the person behind has more space unless they also recline.

  6. Ah yes, another thread full of “as someone who’s 6’ whatever inches” declarations

    Pay up or shut up. The one thing in life where tall folks are disadvantaged for just a few hours and they lose their minds

  7. Per @305, I guess the “height challenged” really do recognize their inferiority.

  8. @Ken A

    Had one of those darlings on a flight. Politely asked theparent twice to stop it.

    The 3rd time I got up, I quietly leaned over and told the parent that I have a back knjury and having it slammed into causes me nausea. The next time her darling slammed my back,I was going to throw up on him.

    Then made vomiting noises

    She moved the little angel away from my seat. Two can play this game.

  9. @Sara Smith: I do not have children. Accordingly, I would never tell a child to kick a passenger’s seatback. However, I shared some of the behavior I have seen while flying over the last 50 years.

    I am distressed to learn that for your amusement, you consider playing a game of reporting random passengers “to the flight crew” that a child was touched inappropriately so you can watch the police respond to your bogus report, meet your aircraft, and interview passengers. Why would you want to deceive your flight crew with a fabricated notification of suspected child abuse to inconvenience passengers that did nothing to you?

    I agree with the excellent advice from Gary Leff. When you want a passenger not to recline their seat, you should “politely negotiate with the reclining passenger.”

  10. The simple solution is to suddenly discover an intense interest in playing a fun and engaging touchscreen game on the seat back entertainment system as soon as someone in front of you reclines and then lose interest when they go back up.

  11. Nothing unethical in that. And right doesn’t mean what you think it does.

  12. “It’s the right of a passenger to recline their seat when they’re sitting in a seat that is designed to recline.”
    I find nothing on the ticket that talks about this. However there is information on the ticket about carry-on luggage which is a “right” that can be take away at the will of the flight attendant or gate attendant or even by ticket class. Reclining the seat is just a made up “right” by those who want to recline their seat. Nothing more, nothing less. The “right” gets commonly discarded for take off, landing and meals proving it isn’t a “right”. Good airlines provide enough pitch for typical human males. Bad airlines do not. The bottom of the seat moving forward to allow the person to recline in their seat is a good one. It should be implemented everywhere.

  13. I am stunned at the aggressive, very confrontational responses on this thread; shocked. I am a “man of a certain age,” well into my Senior years and still flying a lot to visit family and friends. I was taught a LONG time ago, and still adhere to the dictum, that “two wrongs do not make a right.” As this might pertain to a seat recline issue, if I wish to recline a seat (as sometimes on a longer flight my back likes), I simply get up (I always book an aisle seat, so this is easy), and chat for a moment with the passenger behind me, and ask if they would mind if I reclined a bit? I have literally never had a rude or negative response to this approach…and I get my seat reclined, and no one gets upset. On the other side of the issue, if a passenger in front of me reclines and I am, for example, needing the tray table down for eating or serious work, I get up (again) and politely ask the passenger in front of me if they would mind not reclining (so far). And, no that does not always work, but then I will defer to that passenger’s technical right to recline their seat. I will not, however, respond with rudeness to another person’s rude behavior. In the “wideness of life,” a bit of personal discomfort is not “the end of the world” for me, and at least I can sleep peacefully at night, thinking I “preserved the peace” a bit.

  14. @Sara Smith – You’re aware that falsely accusing someone of a crime is itself a crime, right?

  15. If I have to fly economy, I’m not going. Simple as that.
    Thereby avoiding air monsters like @Sara Smith.

  16. @manlets –

    Stop your whining and your passive-aggressive declarations.

    If you’re too deep into out-of-control eating habit to sit in your seat when someone uses their right to recline, then no; I do not want a ‘polite conversation’, your imaginary 3-year-old kicking, or any other of your estrogen-filled ideas of living in this world.

    I will, however, make sure you’re taught a lesson for next time. Time to put down the fork and pick up a gym membership. You too, Gary.

  17. Sara,
    Such nasty vitriol. You should consider trying to act like normal human being.

  18. I think the seat recline option should simply be removed. It creates unnecessary stress for passengers as it’s the airline who is at fault. I like the option of a forward seat movement. Don’t think the airlines will do anything. They want to gouge and not spend a penny on comfort. And all of them received tax payer funds to survive the pandemic. In this case, I’m sorry to say, the government needs to step in and set some standards. Otherwise we are let to fend for ourselves with poorly paid fight attendants and passengers at each other. More divide and rule while the emperor dines on his big bonuses

  19. Greedy airlines will have us sitting on each others laps before long…I hate flying these days and will avoid it if at all possible.

  20. America has transitioned from the land of the free to the land of incivility.

  21. For gods sake people, stop getting so worked up by “Sara Smith”. This is how pizza faced teenage boys have their fun these days. Dude is laughing his butt off at you all while he cracks his sixth Mountain Dew of the day and “owns” you.

  22. I adjust when a person leans their seat back, but seldom lean my seat back unless in first class. Common courtesy goes along way, unfortunately it is lacking in our society.

  23. If I am stuck in economy, I will recline my seat before someone sits down, just so they are aware that I am seat recliner. I don’t see that this is rude, aircraft seats suck, and I want to be as comfortable as I can when flying. I always choose seats to make sure that the people directly behind me can also recline if they want to. If this makes me “rude”, so be it – we all make choices.

  24. When you pay for my airfare, then and only then do you have any voice in whether or not I may recline my seat. End of discussion.

  25. People like Sara are within their ‘rights’ to fully recline. But what people like Sara don’t consider is that with rights come responsibilities.

    We all need to consider the other people around us in that metal tube and act with civility. I consider that the person behind me may have to work on their laptop and need their space. Or maybe they have a child to attend to. Or who knows what. The Saras of this world always know their rights and care little about others. That’s ok. We tolerate the Saras because we know they are basically unhappy and most don’t like them. That’s the payback.

  26. Gary:, your suggestion of “offer to pay them up” is the world’s disliked American way of remedying everything with money.

  27. Look, I’m 6 foot and was closer to 6’1″ when young. The reality is I try and get extra legroom seats. I try and keep the lowest level of elite status with at least one airline to get extra legroom seats for free. I buy up when the extra legroom seats are reasonable. But folks, I’m not paying $200 for a extra legroom seat on a 4 hour flight. So with the 30″ pitch on many legacy carriers (especially AA) there are times my knees are going to be right up against the seatback. It’s not comfortable for me as I can’t stretch out neither is comfortable for the person in front of me if it’s a 30″ pitch plane. Spirit/Allegiant/Frontier have solved this problem by not having recline on their cheap seats.

  28. Reclining seats are relics of the days when there was actually room in Y. They should go the way of free hot meals, free bags, and the other things the airlines have now done away with. Want to sprawl out? Pay for F or Y+.

  29. @Bob Spoons

    I really dobut “pizza faced teenage boys”, spend time trolling travel sites.

  30. Best solution to fastest results:

    Require ALL politicians to fly commercial airlines in economy class with regular passengers.
    No first class, no premium upgrades, just standard cattle class flights like the rest of their constituents.

    Watch the changes happen then.
    Every other seat would be removed, seats would be able to recline comfortably again, etc.

  31. @John H., unfortunately, that wouldn’t work for someone with a bad back like me. With the seat forward, it means that seat becomes too long for a person to have their lower back against the seat back, meaning it puts huge torsion against the lower discs causing immense pain.

    I definitely recline on long flights. I recline slowly and never during meals. I also don’t recline on flights under 2 hours. I can hold up for a couple of hours.

    The answer is not having a seat like you suggest. The answer is for the airlines to have reasonable seat pitch by removing some seats.

  32. @NSL14, You may want to stay off United 737 MAX flights, at least the MAX9 has the seat bottom move forward. The seat back moves with the seat bottom though, so the seat doesn’t get any longer. But, your knee-room is smaller if the person in front of you also doesn’t recline.

  33. I’m a reasonable person, and I have to say, I “dig” Sara’s replies, which I take as exaggerated or humorously hyperbolic responses that reflect a serious point, namely, that we all have a right to recline, and that those who would try to make hell for a recliner are the rude ones, not the recliners. Granted, there’s some nuance in my own take — in keeping with what others have suggested — that it’s nice to give a heads up when reclining, and especially nice to wait until after the meal is served (if there’s a meal at all). On super long flights (8, 10, 13 hours etc), all bets are off: recline to your heart’s desire (again, after the meal service), because lord knows, the person in front of you will do the same. It’s of course deep down the airline’s fault for jamming people together so ruthlessly, knowing that battles for every inch are inevitable. But Sara — you DO sound like fun to me, because your energy and writing style are dark and funny. So, keep it up!

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