Airplane Seats – Do You Decline To Recline?

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Today I was reading an article from Smarter Travel on To Recline or Not to Recline: That is the Question. I have always been a bit surprised by the controversy over the issue of reclining your airplane seat. I understand that airplane seats are not very spacious and that we all live in a shared space in the airplane fuselage. But, I must admit that I am someone who reclines my seat and I do so with no guilt at all.

In my defense, I should point out that I am 6′ 3″ tall and airplane seats are not created for someone my height. What for you is a headrest is usually for me an upper backrest… and an uncomfortable one at that. When you recline your seat in front of me I acknowledge that as your right as well. I do prefer when you recline your seat slowly so as not to accidentally amputate any of my appendages that may be impeding the momentum of your seat. I also to provide the same consideration for the person who is seated behind me.

Do that many people really hate it when people recline the seat in front of them? If that is the case is Spirit Air on the right track with their announcement that they will be taking away that freedom of choice. They plan on introducing pre-reclined seats. It sounds a bit like the kind of solution my father might have reached on a long road trip. “If you two can’t decide how far those seats should recline I will fix them so they don’t recline at all”. That at least will answer the question in a more definitive fashion.

I personally wish that airlines would add another 6 inches in between seats but even though I am 6 foot 3 inches tall I think you have the right to recline your seat in front of me. I was surprised at the discussion this started among my friends. Some people who I think of as mild-mannered are really offended when the person in front of them reclines. They take it as a personal affront.

Knee Defender

One friend, who shall remain nameless, even recommended a very passive-aggressive product called “Knee Defender“. This device allows you to decide how much the person in front of you is allowed to recline their seat.

Knee Defender is adjustable. In general, the closer the two Knee Defenders are to the seatback, the less the seat back will be able to recline. If you need to prevent as much reclining as possible, then you would slide them fully up against the seat back. On the other hand, if there is enough room for the person in front of you to recline partially – safely, without threatening injury to you – the Knee Defenders can often be set slightly away from the seat back to allow some reclining.

So this product basically is a way of saying “I don’t care what you think the airline allows you to do because I am the king of this little space and I will defend it”.

What could possibly go wrong with people using this? Is this even legal? It certainly is against airline policy and can get you kicked off a flight.

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Chris Christensen

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast. He has been a travel creator since 2005 and has won awards including being named the "Best Independent Travel Journalist" by Travel+Leisure Magazine.

5 Responses to “Airplane Seats – Do You Decline To Recline?”

Robin Maiden


At 6’4” I’m right there with you. I recline, but do it slowly like you.

tailwinds, Robin



I recline on longer flights, but if it is a short flight I don’t bother. Not for any particular reason, I just don’t bother. I agree, do recline slowly, and chances are the person behind and in front of you are going to recline on those overnight trips.



I believe the post title should read “Decline to Recline”



Ugh, if I could type I would be dangerous

Steph Peters


Any airline that has only reclined seats will lose passengers. At the opposite end of the size range being just 5′ I find reclined position horribly uncomfortable as my feet dangle in mid-air. I need to sit up to be able to work on my laptop.

And what happens on takeoff and landing, do the staff announce please sit bolt upright not leaning against your seat?

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