The key, often-overlooked argument against reclining your seat on a plane

The key, often-overlooked argument against reclining your seat on a plane
Should you recline your seat on a plane? The debate appears to be as old as the Internet, and it rages on with the same intensity today. And a recent, much-shared article on Thought Catalog added a lot of fuel to the fire by claiming that reclining is such a d-bag move, it warrants a slap on the face.
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Should you recline your seat on a plane? The debate appears to be as old as the Internet, and it rages on with the same intensity today. And a recent, much-shared article on Thought Catalog added a lot of fuel to the fire by claiming that reclining is such a d-bag move, it warrants a slap on the face.

I have a very strong opinion on the subject, but let me start by saying that I don't agree with many of the points made in the article, which is available here. Slapping someone is never OK; especially on a plane. No airline forbids using the recliner button, and you're not the worst person in the world if you're trying to make that flight just a little bit more comfortable by leaning back. It's not akin to smoking heroin in the airplane's toilet, as the article suggests.

But the article's main point, hidden behind all the super-strong opinions, is that the question of reclining or not reclining is not one of comfort. It's a question of empathy. And ultimately, that's what should really settle this debate.

I'm a 6'2'', 240-pound guy with long legs. In most economy-class, short-haul flights (and some longer, international flights), there is not enough space for my legs even when the seat in front of me is fully upwards. My knees are firmly pushing into the seat in front when I'm sitting upright (check out the tweet below for an illustration of how this looks).

When the person in front of me reclines their seat, it pushes further into my knees, and it hurts. In fact, most of the time, the person in front of me will not be able to recline - it just won't work, as my knees are blocking it. I've gotten my fair share of angry looks for this, and I've responded with smiles and shrugs.

on Twitter

If the seat in front of me is reclined, I can't sit normally. The only way for me to sit is to push one knee in between the two seats in the front (and thus stealing valuable leg space from the person sitting next to me), and the other out to the aisle (I always, always choose the aisle seat if possible, for precisely this reason). But when that snack-carrying cart comes through the aisle, I have to retract my knee, and there's nowhere to go. It's hell.

The argument that's absolutely, totally wrong

You've probably heard this before. And I've seen a lot of arguments for and against over the last couple of days. I've been called a "snowflake" and "buttercup" by folks who obviously don't have legs long enough to experience this problem. But the argument everyone in the pro-reclining camp seems to reach for when nothing else works, is (roughly) this:

"If the person in front reclines, you can get the same deal by reclining yourself".

And this is the thing - a small, simple thing that a lot of people don't realise - this doesn't work. If I recline, my knees go forward, not backward. It's making me even more uncomfortable. For this reason, I rarely recline, even when there's no one behind me - it's just making my life even more miserable. If the person in front of me reclines, the only thing I can do is sit even more upright - unnaturally so - to alleviate the pressure on my knees.

If you're in the pro-reclining camp, this is the one thing that I'd like you to take away from this article. In some cases, reclining is literally hurting the person behind you. You're causing them pain, and them reclining won't help. Trust me: this is exactly how it is for me, and many, many other people.

I know not everyone will believe me. I've seen folks who are taller and heavier than me say "this doesn't happen to me." That's great: I guess these people have shorter femurs. But those with long legs will definitely, absolutely, 100 per cent tell you the same thing as me.

So what's my stance on reclining? I'm not absolutely against it. My wife, who's 5'4'', doesn't even notice if someone reclines. Most kids probably don't mind, either.

What I'm saying is this: Ask if it's OK before you do it. Most folks will nod, but sometimes, a big person like me will say "Sorry, it really hurts my knees if you do it." And in that case, you should not do it.

What I'm referring to has to do with empathy. Do you really not care if the person behind you is in pain? Do you really think that the fact that you've paid your ticket, and the recliner button is there, that you should do it even if the person behind you yelps in pain?

If the answer is still yes, I can't help you. But I can say that you're not exactly helping our society become a better place.

Read the full article here.


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