Is it rude to recline your seat on a plane?
To recline or not to recline? We weigh in on the age-old debate.
With dwindling legroom and seemingly smaller seats, flying comfortably in economy is such an anomaly that protecting your space has never been so important. But how can you protect your minimal space and respect your fellow passengers at the same time?
It’s a conversation that has long divided travellers, with some saying of course you should be able to recline your seat as the option exists for a reason, while others call it an affront to flying etiquette.
We don’t think it’s a simple answer, so we got the whole International Traveller team to weigh in.
Don’t recline on a domestic flight
From the mouth of our co-founder and managing director Quentin Long, “Reclining a seat is only okay on a long-haul flight that is more than five hours”.
This automatically rules out all domestic flights in Australia, and given domestic aircrafts have less legroom than international it just makes sense.
Not only that, but daytime domestic flights are also often populated with people travelling for business, and a rogue recliner could impact their ability to work.
“I had someone fling their seat back when I was working on my laptop on a domestic flight and it got jammed between my tray table and his chair. It was so abrupt! At the very least, you should look behind you before reclining your seat and check what the person is doing,” head of content Katie Carlin says.
You can recline on a long-haul flight, but be considerate
This is the boat most of us sit in, myself included. I will never recline on a domestic flight and I only recline on a long-haul flight when the lights are dimmed and it’s time to nap. The only exception is if somebody reclines into my space and I can’t use my seat or tray table as required, unless I, too, recline. And so begins the domino effect.
Sub-editor and journalist Carla Grossetti says she doesn’t think it’s rude per se.
“They are designed to go back. But common sense dictates that you wouldn’t do that on a flight from Sydney to Brisbane in the day. Or while someone is still eating and has their tray table out,” she says.
“I usually edge it back on a long-haul flight to give the person time to adjust. I also check if their seat is back so it will be less in their face.”
Quentin Long says you need to check on the passenger behind you first.
“Make sure the person behind you doesn’t have a glass of red wine on their tray table. Don’t slam it back – be gentle. Just let them know and be courteous,” he says.
“Also, if the person in front or behind you has empty seats, recline the seat that is not in front of the person.”
Don’t recline at mealtimes
A pretty universal viewpoint at International Traveller is that it’s never okay to recline during mealtimes. I feel like airlines have gotten better at enforcing this, but there have been times before when I’ve been minding my own business, enjoying my in-flight meal, when suddenly there’s a chair shoved in my face.
“It’s always rude during mealtimes and on domestic flights. But on international flights, people can absolutely recline if they want to,” native content editor Kassia Byrnes says.
“I’m a very tall woman, I need leg room – so if I can handle it on long-haul flights, so can everyone.”
It’s never okay to recline
Some travellers are vehemently against reclining on a plane and some can understand why travellers recline, but just don’t do it themselves.
“On longer international flights I can understand why people do it, but I never do myself and I can’t help feeling slightly annoyed if the person in front of me does so, especially if it’s not nighttime and it’s done without warning/abruptly,” editorial assistant Taylah Darnell says.
“I also think that during mealtimes it should be required for seats to be in the upright position.”
What to do if someone asks you to put your seat up
If you’re on a long-haul flight and it’s not mealtime, you are allowed to recline your seat. But what if the passenger behind you asks you to put your seat up? Unfortunately for them, unless a flight attendant has asked you, you are well within your right to say no.
Digital campaigns producer Irish Villacorta had an experience where the passenger seated behind asked her to put her seat upright because his space was too small.
“It wasn’t even mealtime, but I straightened my seat for him, but after a few minutes I just had to recline back because I was too sleepy,” she says.
As for those who get angry at seat recliners on long-haul flights, Quentin Long has no sympathy.
“It is the passenger’s right. The solution that I have been suggesting for ages is that to make it not a passenger-to-passenger conflict, the airlines introduce a third light – the buckle seat, the bathroom light and then the recline seats. Therefore, the passengers can only recline seats when the light is on,” he says.