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You Should Not Be Able To Recline Your Seat On A Plane

When I first saw the viral video of an airline passenger having her reclined seat repeatedly punched by the man sitting behind her, I was shocked -- shocked that anyone could take the woman’s side.

A survey taken after the video became a worldwide discussion point showed the majority of respondents (44 percent) blamed both parties for over-reacting.

I’ll admit that punching a seat in retaliation is a little excessive. Okay, it’s definitely way over the top. But 22 percent thought it was the man’s fault. I’m sorry, but how can anyone think it’s okay to put their seat back onto someone who can’t get away?

The argument in these cases goes that reclining your seat is fine, because all the person behind you has to do is recline their seat too, and so it goes -- until you get to the back of the plane, which is where this video took place.

Once you realise that putting your seat back is going to trap someone, the whole idea of reclining your seat is revealed for what it really is: yet another example of the kind of 'I got mine' mentality that turns seemingly decent members of the public into selfish, self-centered pains. Because if putting your seat back means someone is going to suffer -- even if that person is a few seats away from you -- how can it be okay?

It’s tempting to say there are no hard and fast rules here. What about long haul flights? If you want to get some sleep surely then it’s okay to push your seat into someone’s face. And what if you’re tall? Obviously then you’re going to need all the space you can get. What if the seat behind you is empty? Hey, no harm there.

Enjoy that bottle, small child. You're about to be crushed by the seat in front of you. (Image: Getty)

But speaking as someone who’s both tall and constantly falling asleep on public transport, I can tell you that putting your seat back is not going to make that much difference when it comes to dropping off. Sleeping sitting up is awful, and angling your seat back a few degrees isn’t going to help you sleep any better.

You know what will help you sleep better? The knowledge that you’ve shown some thoughtfulness and consideration to your fellow passengers, who aren’t so enraged by your reclining seat that they’re going to tip a drink over you the second you start to snooze.

With sky rage a constant concern, it’s surprising that airlines even bother to still offer seats that recline, especially in such increasingly cramped quarters. Some airlines don’t: Ryanair and Monarch Airlines no longer offer reclining seats. Even British Airways has removed the reclining option on their short haul flights.

What these airlines might lose in passenger comfort they undoubtedly gain in peaceful flying. This video is far from the first-time conflict has broken out in the air over a laid-back seating arrangement. In 2014, a US flight was diverted when a fight broke out over a passenger using a device designed to prevent the person in front from putting their seat back. Does anyone really think things have gotten better since then?

Plane travel is getting more stressful and uncomfortable. Common courtesy has failed. We need rules. (Image: Getty)

It’d be nice to believe common courtesy is the answer. There’s plenty of online flight etiquette guides handing out useful advice like 'make eye contact with the person behind you before putting your seat back' and 'no reclining seats during meals' and 'watch out you don’t crush any small children that might be sitting in the lap of the person behind you', which on its own should be enough reason to ban reclining.

Unfortunately, planes are full of annoyed, stressed, tired people, and good luck gambling on everyone to do the right thing when it only takes one inconsiderate person to force an entire row to put their seats back. With airlines constantly cutting corners when it comes to seat space (the space between seats has shrunk by four inches in the last 20 years as airlines look to cram in more seats) it’s no wonder the friendly skies have increasingly been replaced by the angry ones.

The solution? Don’t recline your seat. Ever. Whatever you might gain from it is more than outweighed by the inconvenience you’re putting everyone else through. And if you don’t care what the people around you think -- if making sure you’re getting all you can get is your only consideration -- then go right ahead and enjoy putting your seat back. Hopefully the person behind you won’t start using it as a punching bag.