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Friday, July 19, 2024
HomeAboutThe Etiquette of Things: Reclining Your Seat Is a Right

The Etiquette of Things: Reclining Your Seat Is a Right

The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book, The Etiquette of Things: Things You Didn’t Know Were Things. It is based on my annoyance with society as a whole and my Angry Professor persona (catch up on all Angry Professor posts here).

Here are other excerpts:

You’ve all seen it by now. A woman is sitting on an airplane with her seat reclined and the person behind her is not very happy about it. Being the gentlemen that he is, he decides to incessantly punch on her seat. The question that everyone has, including those in the XFL, is who is right?

First, Anthony is wrong. Second, if Anthony had more skills (I’m not talking people skills), he would be in the NFL and this issue would be inapplicable.

Each time I get on a plane and fly peasant, there’s a brief moment of anxiousness as I slowly recline my seat. This anxiety comes from an incident when I was a child. On a flight to Hawaii, I had found an empty row to lie across. I raised the armrest and right before I could get comfortable, a British old man yelled, “Ow! You hurt my bloody knee!” I ended up sleeping with the armrest halfway down for the duration of the flight. I still can’t understand how I hurt his knee.

Childhood trauma aside, I have yet to be told by anyone that I should not recline. It is my right to recline as much as it is the person in front of me and the person behind me. In fact, even when I’m seated in the last row and I can’t recline my seat, I do not begrudge the person in front of me who reclines. The only person I have to blame for being in the last row is myself.

In the present case, the man has no case. On the contrary, he is actually guilty of having no etiquette. He has no right to punch her chair one time let alone repeatedly. He is also a coward for doing so knowing that she could do nothing to him. If she confronted him by getting out of her seat and berating him, she would probably be blamed. The only thing she could do was stand her ground i.e., recline her chair. Likewise, I doubt he would’ve acted so tough if it was someone besides a school teacher.

The other culpable party is the flight attendant. Surely, the flight attendant must have seen the incessant punching. Why didn’t she say anything?

What would TPOL do? Anywhere but an airplane, there would be a confrontation. It’s not because I want drama, it’s because people have to learn the Etiquette of Things.

And here’s the speech I would give:

a man lying on a couch
Anthony and seat jerk, if you want to avoid reclining seats, read the blog. #pointssohard


  1. There’s two separate issues here: fault in this case and reclining in general.

    In this particular case, while we only have one side of things (which means we’re making assumptions), the guy comes across as a gigantic tool. Further, he’s keeping his face down, which means that he probably didn’t want it plastered all over the internet. The woman comes across as the victim of annoyance by this apparent jerk. End of case. Not so fast… whatever may or may not have happened to cause this apparent waste of life to push the woman’s seat repeatedly, her videoing the incident had about a zero percent chance of calming the situation. Then there’s the question of why the FA would offer the guy a drink if he was in the wrong. Finally, the woman contacted not only the airline, which seems pretty justifiable, but the FBI, which is somewhere between insane overreach and just plain insane. I wasn’t there, but her actions made it so that a seemingly clear cut case of male douchebaggery becomes one where both parties are in the wrong. She had me until the FBI was brought up.

    On the recline as a whole debate, I believe reclining into someone’s knees (I’m 6’4″) shows a lack of etiquette. It’s a polarizing subject, and one that the airlines could solve by undoing the Torqemada series of densifications they’ve undergone for the past couple of decades.

  2. @christian the densification of seats has been driven by consumers themselves who refuse to pay anything beyond the bottom dollar for flights. American Airlines had a “more space” or something marketing tag line, and did offer more space in cattle class. Sadly, it did not help their bottom line, leading to the situation we find ourselves in today.
    Having said that, if the seat is designed / equipped to recline, I am well within my rights to recline the seat. I empathise with you if youre a tall person, then make arrangements to fly at the bulkhead.

    • A sensible reply. I’m willing to pay extra for bulkhead or exit row seats but they’re not always available. Also, I’m not going to ditch my wife to sit somewhere with more leg room separate from her if there’s only one seat available. In cases like these, what happens when someone reclines is that I get bruised knees because there’s literally no place else to put them and the poor sap in front of me gets my knees in their back. Very much a no-win scenario.

        • How are my hurting knees and your hurting back not your problem? You seem awfully confrontational about this. You keep saying how your not angry, then say things like how you wish someone would punch your seat, obviously so you could confront them. That comes across as pretty angry.

        • Under the law punching a seat can be construed as assault (differentiate that from battery). I already said I wouldn’t do it on a plane because I’m not going to jail because a jackass doesn’t behave. You want more legroom, pay for it.

      • Yeah, I get that there are situations which are out of ones control. You could always ask the person in front of you not recline, and they could choose or not to take you up on your request.
        What really gets me is the sense of entitlement(?) people have, where they say “Do not recline at all”, or “Damn it im reclining whether you like it or not”.
        I didnt recline my seat on a flight because the person sitting behind me had her leg in a cast
        On the other hand, I did have one obnoxious family tell me not to recline, “Because our baby doesnt like it”. Sorry, I had nothing to do with bringing your crotch goblin into the world, and if baby doesnt like it, please put the little crotch goblin back where it came from.
        PS. Lawyers can very normally be quite abrasive. My families all lawyers 🙂

    • Exactly. There’s no debate. If you’re tall, pay for an upgrade. I wish someone would punch my seat. Her reaction is irrelevant. There’s no two sides to this.

  3. You seem a good guy and I’ve told anyone who’ll listen about how you helped me out legally, but you seem to take a lack of agreement by people as some sort of hostility. Please, look at your comments above. “How’s that my problem?”, “I wish someone would punch my seat.”, “There’s no two sides to this.” At best, you’re saying that your opinion is right and anyone who disagrees is flat out wrong. Outside of mathematics, life just isn’t that precise. I’ve enjoyed your blog greatly over the years, but if you find my comments that don’t agree with you to be a real problem, let me know and I’ll reluctantly leave you alone.

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