Passenger Ordered To Pay $475 After Reclining Seat Without Telling Person Behind Them First

A passenger on a train in China reclined their seat without telling the person behind them they were going to do so. The seat reclined into the passenger’s laptop, damaging the screen. That passenger sued – and won $475.

According to the Xiangyin County People’s Court, Liu neglected his obligation to inform Wang that he planned to recline his seat, despite a sign compelling all travelers to “please notify the passengers in the rear row when adjusting your seat angle.”

…Wang demanded Liu pay him 4,788 yuan to compensate for repair costs, taxis to the repair shop, and disruption to his journey. This week, the Xiangyin County People’s Court ordered Liu to pay Wang 3,341 yuan, or about $475.

The plaintiff didn’t get full reimbursement because, according to the court, they were 30% to blame for failing to be “sufficiently ‘alert’ to the potential consequences of any adjustment to the seat in front of him.”

This is actually not all that uncommon, for instance here’s a cracked screen from a reclining seat in Delta Air Lines economy:

If your airline seat reclines (cough, Spirit’s are “pre-reclined”), the reclining choice belongs to the person given the mechanism to do so. I think you shouldn’t recline unless it serves an actual purpose. But with thinner seats in coach, there’s less padding and it can be important to change the angle of your body and to change your weight distribution during the flight.

I was once in coach flying Cleveland – Los Angeles. I paid a young child, with mother’s consent, $5 not to recline her seat. I got four hours of work on my laptop as a result, a great investment of $5. In that case the initial allocation of property rights belonged to the child and we found a Coasian bargain.

I can open my laptop without too much difficulty in Southwest Airlines coach, the extra inch or two of seat pitch matters. But if you’re in coach and it’s a tight fit, it’s your responsibility to be aware of the risks. Situational awareness includes the angle of recline of the seat in front of you.

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 would never happen here. There is no “duty to warn” which the C hinese court apparently inferred.

  2. what if I am eating a birthday cake and seat reclines into my cake? isnt it my duty to guard against that? what rights do I have to not let the seat recline?

  3. WOW! What a story. Amazing.

    During my 2.5 years living in China, I took the train dozens of times. In fact, as I remember, I commented on the incredible space between the seats to my friends. I even took pictures.

    I am 6’5″, weigh 254#s, and need extra space. And, when anyone would want to access their seat, if I was sitting on the aisle, I NEVER had to get up.

    I would like to know, what type of train they were on, and what cities they traveled between?

  4. Wish that would happen here. Would be great to stop the DYKWIA’s from reclining their seat into my nose

  5. There should not be any reclining seats. I paid for m y seat and the passenger in front of me has no right to interfere with my space. I should not have to be inconvenienced/uncomfortable because of some entitled prick in front of me.

  6. Sorry. If the person in front reclines the seats and damanges my laptop. THEY have damaged my laptop and THEY pay for it. No warning needed.

  7. I met my now-wife on a United flight from SFO to EWR by asking her to warn me before reclining her seat in order to protect my laptop. 25 years later it’s worked out ok.

  8. Working on your laptop on a plane? Buy a FC ticket where the tray is attached to your seat instead of being a part of the seat in front of you.

  9. On some flights the FAs will at least tell people to raise their seats for meal service. On recent international flight had person in front of me desire to fully recline, but with aforementioned thin padding I locked my knees so a full recline meant a knee in the back.

  10. Jack the lad.

    At 6’5″ tall, I learned a very long time ago, after one of my knees was hit and actually bled, to take charge of my own destiny.

    Like the guy who told the woman sitting in front of him, about reclining, and ended up marrying her, I always say something to the individual sitting in front of me. It hasn’t resulted in marriage, but my knees are forever grateful.

  11. This is completely ridiculous and utterly unacceptable. I am tall. There is not much space with the seats so close together. It’s not right for a passenger to recline their seats on a flight making the person behind them uncomfortable. STOP the madness and sit up like everyone else. NOBODY wants to be uncomfortable!

  12. @Vivian Cathy: Did you know you were tall before you boarded or do you change size inversely with the price of your ticket? If you knew you should have bought a premium class ticket or travelled Ryanair or one of the other cariuers that uses non-reclining seats (or just don’t fly) because, as things stand, the person reclining has the perfect right to do so. You take the avoiding action. Kapisch?

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