Passenger’s MacBook Screen Got Crushed By A Reclining Seat And He Wants Compensation

Seat reclining became part of the national conversation when a woman on social media claimed she was injured by a passenger sitting behind her punching her seat when she would recline.

As airlines have crammed more seats into planes there’s less room from seat back to seat back. That’s true not just in economy but even domestic first class on many American Airlines and Delta planes.

I don’t see recline as especially important on short daytime flights. And indeed tighter seating and less comfortable slimline seats pretty much require reducing or eliminating recline to protect what little space is left. As a passenger I rarely recline, except to change position when seated in hard slimline seats for over two hours. I wouldn’t want to recline if the person sitting behind me is eating or working.

I can open a laptop in Southwest Airlines economy. Southwest generally has a couple more inches of space at their seats than competitors. On Delta, United, or American I need extra legroom coach seats if I’m going to open my laptop. The problem on American is that their new standard domestic interior has fewer ‘Main Cabin Extra’ seats and I can rarely find an extra legroom aisle seat if I’m booking within two weeks of travel. (I’ve had trouble finding first class seats too, like when American inexplicably schedules an Airbus A319 with 8 seats up front hub-to-hub on a Thursday afternoon.)

It’s a fool who tries to work on their laptop in regular coach, let alone who tries to do this without coming to some sort of an arrangement with the passenger in front of them. Once on Cleveland – Los Angeles flight I paid a child $5 not to recline so I could work throughout the trip.

On Wednesday a Delta passenger’s laptop screen was cracked by the person in front of them reclining. (HT: Reid F.)

He’s then stuck reading for the rest of the flight.

The tenor of Pat Cassidy’s twitter account seems like that of a frequent flyer, and he reports having Delta elite status, so I’m not sure that it’s on the airline in this case for ‘failure to warn’. Nonetheless he asked for compensation and was offered 7500 miles.

He doesn’t think Delta’s response is good enough and plays the ‘DYKWIA’ card.

I’ve destroyed a laptop inflight before. I fell asleep on an ANA flight from Tokyo to Chicago with my laptop beside me. The computer slid into the side of the seat. When I woke up I adjusted myself back towards an upright position using the seat’s controls and… crunch, crack, crackle.

That was my fault and I side with Delta here that it was a passenger’s fault as well (you decide whether it was the recliner’s or the reclinee’s) – any compensation was purely as a goodwill gesture. Delta seats don’t have tons of room in coach, but it’s more than you’d get on Spirit. My beef in my own travels, outside of Southwest, is that there aren’t enough seats with more room so that I can reliably secure one.

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. If you’re a so called “Elite” Frequent Flyer, you should expect the person in front of you to recline. If you don’t want the person in front of you to recline, get a bulkhead or exit row seat.

  2. Wow. That’s my worst nightmare. I don’t know why you think it’s so awful to use a laptop in coach. I always make sure that the screen has room to bend forward if the seat suddenly reclines. Same principle as not putting your feet on the dashboard of a car should you get in an accident. Common sense, no?

  3. Hilarious that the email from Delta is in 2 different text colors so you can see exactly where the customer support agent started typing after the canned response

    Laptops crushed by reclining pax have to be rare enough that the VP of customer inflight experience or whatever should be able to afford personally reimbursing every passenger who suffers this fate

  4. Guy is a “frequent flyer” yet had his screen “tucked in” under the IFE/where the tray table extends from. Talk about just asking for a broken screen. What a moron.

  5. Definitely not Delta’s fault.

    I am up in the air a bit for work. Generally, I try to avoid laptop use in coach entirely. Its not comfortable and were I to be truly effective, I’d have to elbow my seat opponents too much. And I really resent the buttholes who think their work is so important that I have to accommodate their elbows.

    Serioulsy, that time in Y might be better suited for catching up on sleep pr working the low tech way.

  6. From the looks of the picture, it appears that Pat had his laptop screen more or less wedged underneath part of the seat in front of him. As a frequent flyer, he should know better.

  7. I feel bad for the guy that this happened, but if you take a large laptop (this looks to be the 15.4-inch MacBook Pro) into coach you’re kinda asking for this to happen, unless perhaps you are very careful to work things out with the person in front of you. I’d never even try this in coach with anything larger than a 11- or 12-inch laptop, and probably not even then unless I were in a seat with extra legroom, where the tray table can be extended toward me, reducing the likelihood of this kind of accident.

  8. This is why I always ask the person in front of me to give warning before they recline. Well, also because I met my wife on a flight by asking her politely to warn me before reclining. Turned out to be a good conversation opener and 23 years later we’re still together.

  9. What if Delta has all kinds of splashy advertising that it’s possible to work/be productive on my flight in coach? I would assume (as would the average person) that I should be able to use my laptop without it being crushed like a beer can. #blamethevictim

  10. The problem with the “don’t position your screen under the IFE” advice is that it’s near impossible to see the screen otherwise.

  11. Horsesh** … and a few thoughts on this:

    1-Airlines work with manufacturers to design seats….stop with the pinch points in the seat, or better yet, stop building seats that recline. We’d all be happier that way. Economy is economy…if you want recline, buy business or extra legroom. I enjoy the 12″ of space between me and seat in front. I enjoy it less when it’s 6″ and I can get out of my seat…let alone eat a meal, read a book or view my laptop. wtf. Economy seats should not recline

    2-I’ve opened my laptop many a time to have the knucklehead in front of me recline into my PC. Fortunately, it has never snapped like in this example, but I’ve seen it happen multiple times. Simple solution: stop making seats that recline. Yeah, I know better to put my screen in the pinchpoint….but hey…how about we eliminate the pinchpoint!?!?

    3-I don’t understand the folks who say that the person working on their laptop, in their own #(*$& seat is responsible for the damage. This is why air travel ranks slightly above a root canal. They didn’t recline the seat…they were the effect of the root cause.

    I’ve lost a few laptops in my day, mostly because the seatmate or the flight attendant spilled drinks over the keyboard/motherboard, but I didn’t take precautions. Now, I always close the lid during the meal service and kindly request my seatmate to put their drink on their own traytable. Over 4M miles, this approach has saved me 10s of thousands of dollars. It’s been more than a few times that I’ve worn that fellow travelers drink, but the latop has been spared.

    Very unfortunate….but this is on the airline…they designed the seats.

  12. While it didn’t break my laptop, this happened to me once and I was none too happy with the guy who slammed his seat back. When he went to the bathroom I raised his seat up and used my long legs to ensure his reclining was over for the rest of the trip. He was so confused on why he could no longer recline. Lol.

  13. I dont get it. I purchased a ticket and I dont get to be comfortable in my own seat because some guy behind me wants to work on his laptop? Stupid people like FF78 are suggesting that airlines make coach even more uncomfortable by installing seats that dont recline? … even going so far as to suggest people should pay extra for a business class seat of they want to recline? Why not just pay extra for a business class seat if you want to do business (work) on your flight? Its my seat; I’ll recline when every I feel inclined to! (as long as its not during take off/landing) … and I dare any punk to punch the back of my seat (technically thats assault)! They either be getting punched back or arrested! #Seriously!

  14. Even if the seat didn’t recline there’s just not enough room to use a laptop in coach. It’s uncomfortable and you still can’t see the screen.

    Ah for the business travel days of the late ’90s… We’d string an Ethernet cable between us and play a game of StarCraft. We had plenty of room in coach… But then those were the days you could actually get out of your seat without everyone in the row getting up…

  15. I didn’t look at this guy’s Twitter, was the screen broken in flight or is he trying to get paid for a pre flight laptop drop?

  16. I think it’s very unfortunate that his screen got busted.

    But I don’t think the airline is liable for the damage. That tray is meant for eating, many people use it for laptops, but it was not explicitly designed for laptop usage. Similarly, if I put a scalding hot mug of coffee in my 14 in tall heavy gauge stainless steel tumbler on that, and the seat in front of me reclines and that hot water dumps all over myself and my heavy tumbler hits my foot and breaks my toe, I wouldn’t the airline to owe me anything, either. As a non frequent flyer but somebody with common sense, I know that seats recline, and I know to keep my stuff a fair distance away from the seat in front in case of sudden reclines, and come on, aren’t most reclines pretty sudden? The fact that this guy played the DYKWIA card makes me feel even less bad for him.

  17. Wow, I know exactly how this happened because it almost happened to me before. The entertainment console basically has a small gap behind it that isn’t a problem unless you have out a computer on the tray table. If you have a computer out and the person in front of you reclines, the screen can get trapped back there and snap like a twig. Would be nice if delta changed the setup so it would push the laptop screen forward instead of trapping it in place.

  18. Ideally, everyone would take an empathetic view of how their actions might impact those around them. Seat recline is always a hot spot, and damage could have been mitigated by giving a look behind before reclining. This allows the opportunity if needed to say, “oh, please watch you laptop, I’m going to recline my seat.” Of course, a frequent flier should also anticipate that a seat might suddenly recline, and avoid tucking the laptop screen up under the IFE.

  19. SunCountry Airlines seats recline bottom of the seat moves forward. You loose legroom but you don’t bother the person behind you.

  20. using a 15″ or 16″ laptop in coach and wedging it under seat in front of you is a very poor decision and any frequent traveler should know better. That is not Delta the airline’s or the reclining passenger’s fault.

  21. It’s a basic seat functionality to recline. Nothing wrong with using that functionality.

    It’s also a basic seat functionality to have a tray table and it’s generally accepted that this tray is to be used not only for meals but for personal items as well, including open laptops.

    So both passengers used basic seat functionality in normal manner and yet one passenger’s property was destroyed. Who is at fault? I agree it is the airline. They designed the seat installation spec in a way that two basic functions became mutually exclusive.

    A suggestion to not work on a laptop given by many is not realistic. Flights are long, people have a lot of things to do, internet is widely available. Why waste the time on the plane if you can be productive?

  22. I had my laptop come out of my especially designed, padded and reinforced back-pack from the overhead compartment with a cracked screen. Someone had jammed a hard case onto it. I did of course not notice the cracked screen until the next day, as I arrived home from the airport late and had no reason to take out my laptop. The next day, when I noticed, AA said they could not issue a damage note as I should have reported it on board the aircraft. My travel insurance refused payment of damages because I did not have said airline statement that my laptop was damaged on board. And so I bought a new one, on my own dime, with a FU very much to AA’s careless passenger, AA itself, Allianz travel insurance and the world in general.

  23. Two comments:

    1. The airlines definitely isn’t liable for this and any compensation is going above and beyond. Some of you feel since the airline provided the seat they are liable but from a legal standpoint that simply isn’t the case and no lawsuit against them would be successful. The vast majority of people work on planes without a problem and it is the responsibility of the person using the device to protect their property.

    2. That being said I side with the “no recline” side of things. I love Darius above talking about his rights to recline and that he will do it whenever he wants (including threatening anyone that may interfere with his actions). First of all, just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you should. People are WAY too selfish and don’t consider others. I have flown extensively for 35 years (around 8 million FF miles from butt in seat). I can count the times I’ve reclined my seat in coach, even on the many trans con flights I’ve taken, that aren’t overnight flights on one hand. You just don’t do it! I like the fact Frontier and Spirit have seats that don’t recline and expect within 5 years that will be the standard in coach for all US airlines to avoid this type of situation and the inevitable conflict between those that feel they can slam their seat back regardless of the impact and the people trying to work, eat or just enjoy the limited space they have without someone banging back into them.

  24. the airline cites one passenger’s behavior as affecting another? Wow. The passenger didn’t design the seats, and the airline gave the passenger in front a recline button.

  25. @AC I couldn’t agree more. I never recline my seat, and I make it a point to buy the extra legroom or first tickets, so that I don’t have to deal with it. At the same time, most of my travel is SWA, and even without a laptop, when the person in front of me reclines all the way, I can measure the distance to the seat in front of me with my palm. The amount of space that disappears with the recline, let alone the ability to stand up, is astounding. Looking forward to the ‘enhancement’ of no recline. It’s coming.

  26. The liability is that of the airline.

    If they want to cram in so many seats that passengers can’t have their laptop open that is their problem, not the passenger’s.

    The airlines’ policies of “shove in as many seats as possible” will come back to bite them

  27. “I have a podcast.”

    And it goes nicely with your inflated ego. If you’re so damned important, you’d have paid or ponied up miles to be in Row 1 with no seats in front of you. Grow up, person the world has never heard of.

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