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      Airplane Seat Reclining Etiquette & Survey Data – Is it Rude or is it Your Right? (2024)

      Phil Dengler
      Airplane Seat Recline Etiquette

      Reclining your seat on an airplane is a hot and controversial topic. While many people believe it is a right, others think it is rude. That has led to numerous TikTok videos going viral, with arguments and even fights started over the issue. Our recent survey shows 38.25% of Americans are annoyed when someone fully reclines their seat into them.

      So, what is the proper etiquette?

      Why is This Such a Hot Topic?

      Airlines continue to decrease legroom and pitch (the measurement between a point on one seat and the same point on the seat in front of it) in economy. While someone reclining their seat in front of you technically does not decrease your available legroom, it gives you less overall space around your upper body. To regain that space, you are now forced to recline your seat, which you may or may not want to do. Here are situations where someone reclining in front of you can be extra frustrating.

      • When it happens without warning
      • When it’s done fast
      • If you have your tray table out (eating, working, or reading)

      Even if the person reclining politely asks and does it slowly, you are still losing personal space.

      Recent Survey Results on Airplane Seat Reclining

      Do you think it is rude to fully recline your airplane seat?

      Photo: Eric Jones screenshot via SurveyMonkey

      The Vacationer’s Eric Jones recently conducted a survey regarding reclining seats on a plane. Here is the question:

      Do you think it is rude to fully recline your airplane seat?

      Here are the results:

      • Yes, that is why I do not do it. — 45.99%
      • Yes, but I politely ask if it is okay before doing so. — 27.87%
      • Yes, but I do it anyway without warning. — 3.46%
      • No. — 22.68%

      Bottomline: More than 77% of people think it is rude to fully recline your airplane seat.

      Reclining Your Airplane Seat is a Right

      I believe it is your right to recline your plane seat if it includes the option. You paid for the ticket, so you are doing nothing wrong by reclining. At the same time, I think it is often rude to do so in economy.

      Unfortunately, there is just not enough pitch between each seat on most planes. Everyone sitting in economy has to deal with it, and reclining only compounds it. While it is more comfortable to recline your seat, it can significantly worsen the experience of the passenger sitting behind you. It just feels selfish to me.

      Here are situations where I do not think it is rude to recline your seat.

      • When are you seated in first or business class
      • If you’re are sitting in premium economy or a seat with extra legroom and pitch
      • Redeye flights (even in economy since most passengers will recline)

      First class, business class, and premium economy seats usually have enough pitch and legroom where reclining does not significantly affect the experience of the person behind you. Even so, it is still polite to do it slowly. Additionally, I think it is always acceptable to recline your seat on redeye flights. Most of the plane will be sleeping, so no one will be forced to recline their seat to regain the personal space they lost.

      How to Politely Recline Your Plane Seat

      Never recline your seat without notice. The person behind you could have their tray table down. Abruptly reclining could cause them to spill their food or beverage. It can also lead to a broken laptop or other electronics. If you must recline your seat, here is how to do it.

      • Ask or make eye contact with the person behind you (ensure they know your intention)
      • Do not even consider reclining if the person behind you has their tray table down
      • Recline as slowly as possible
      • Recline back as far as necessary (a comfortable level may not be a full recline)

      Be polite when asking. While it is your right to recline, it affects the person behind you.

      What to Do if Someone Reclines Their Plane Seat Into You?

      Remember, everyone on the plane has the right to recline their seat, and that includes the person in front of you. If you’ve flown enough, it has happened to you. Here are your options.

      • Deal with it and say nothing. For short flights, this is usually the best option.
      • Politely ask the recliner if they can fully or partially move their seat into the upright position. Asking them to only partially recline is a compromise most reasonable people should accept.

      Here are things you should not do.

      • Demand them to put their seat upright.
      • Ask a flight attendant to make them put their seat upright.
      • Fully blast your air conditioner on their head (or some other rude TikTok “hack”.

      How to Avoid Being Reclined Into

      Here are seats you can purchase where getting reclined into is less of an issue.

      • First-class or business-class seats have enough pitch where you still have a ton of space even if the person in front of you reclines.
      • While premium economy seats do not have the same pitch as first class or business class, they usually still have enough to neutralize a full recline.
      • Not only do exit row seats have a ton of pitch space, but seats in front of them are unable to recline
      • Bulkhead seats are directly behind the bulkhead, which is a wall.

      Additionally, some airlines have planes with pre-reclined seats. Before booking your next flight, see if the plane is equipped with these seats. While these seats are pre-reclined, there is usually more personal space available for each passenger compared to non-pre-reclined seats that are fully reclined.

      The Vacationer’s Final Thoughts

      It is annoying when the person in front of you reclines their seat. Unfortunately, they have every right to do it, even if it feels rude. Pay to upgrade to a first or business-class seat or purchase a bulkhead or exit row seat to avoid it. If you’re in economy and someone reclines into you, politely ask them to partially or fully move their seat in the upright position if it’s really bothering you.

      Further Reading:

      Phil Dengler The Vacationer Bio

      By Phil Dengler

      In addition to being a co-founder of The Vacationer, Phil Dengler is also the head of editorial and marketing. Previously, he ran a popular holiday deals website where he was a trusted source for all things Black Friday. With The Vacationer, Phil combines his knowledge of deals with his love of travel to help you plan the perfect vacation.