To recline or not to recline? Who needs personal space…

When you’re travelling in the not-so-salubrious conditions of economy, or cattle class, space is an absolute premium. How we envy those in business and first class, with their wide aisles and the ability to stretch their legs! Instead, in economy class, we are packed in tight like a Japanese subway carriage in peak hour.

The seats are narrow, with subtle jostling (or overt, depending on your style) for the elbow space on the arm rests. If you’re any taller than a 12 year old child, then your knees will undoubtedly be bashing against the seat in front (thankfully, I don’t have this problem). Eating your meals is an exercise in contortionism.

But the cause of greatest frustration and silent daggers in economy class (yes, possibly even more so than screaming babies) is the Aggressive Seat Recliner, known as the ASR.

You know the type. As soon as the plane has taken off and the fasten seatbelt sign has turned off, you suddenly find the back of the forward seat banging you in the forehead. If only the ASR had looked behind them to see that you had the tray table down, your head also down, furiously tackling the sudoku in the inflight magazine. Yes, if only they could have been a bit more considerate, they could have prevented a near concussion.

Things become a bit more awkward when the meals are served. The ASR is completely oblivious to the fact that their actions have impacted anyone at all, and has left their seat reclined back, rendering the already difficult, contortionist task of eating even more challenging. You lean over and tap them on the shoulder. They turn around, taken aback, shoving their headphones down off their ears while mid-chew through their chicken dish. You muster the most sincerity that you can through gritted teeth, and politely ask whether they can get their bloody seat out of your freaking face.

seat recline

But what if you are the one that is the ASR? Or just a Normal Seat Recliner? You’ve paid good money for this damn flight, so you are well entitled to explore the full range of your seat’s reclining capabilities.

I’m not suggesting that you should suffer in straight-backed discomfort for the whole flight. This would be inhumane on a 2 hour flight from Sydney to Adelaide, let alone a 14 hour flight to Los Angeles. And you can forget about getting any sleep at all.

I propose that there should be some guidelines around seat reclining etiquette. This should set out clear and reasonable expectations for the recliner and the reclinee.

  • It’s polite to at least look over one’s shoulder before attempting to recline to ensure that the passenger behind is not about to be knocked out cold
  • One should refrain from a full recline when a half-recline would suffice
  • When it’s lights out and the cabin lights are dimmed for sleep, a full recline is to be reasonably expected from all passengers
  • Seats should be fully upright during meal times, and not reclined again until everything is cleared away
  • Anyone that does not abide by these guidelines deserves to have their seat back kicked a few times.

Or, as always, treat others how you would like to be treated, OK?

* Image courtesy of


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