To Recline or Not to Recline Seats on Economy Flights. Airlines Call for Revival of Air Travel Etiquette

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Over the past few months, we’ve been frequently hearing about passengers complaining about their ‘never-ending struggles’ of trying to fit inside the itsy-bitsy space in economy seats. Once you heave a sigh of relief after finally attaining a ‘not so comfortable but okayish’ position, the passenger in front of you reclines his seat and there goes your peace of mind, right outside the airplane’s window. Recently, a few incidents related to the reclining of seats causing discomfort to the traveler behind in the economy have become a hot topic for debate.

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A few weeks ago, a Delta Airlines economy cabin passenger took to his Twitter handle and posted a photograph of his damaged MacBook Pro. He stated that the person sitting in front of him reclined his seat, putting ‘too much’ pressure on the MacBook Pro which eventually damaged the screen. When he raised the issue with Delta Airlines, the carrier refused to compensate for the loss but in turn, offered 7500 bonus miles as a goodwill gesture.

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Last month, another incident involving seat recline surfaced when a woman tweeted a video of a male passenger repeatedly pushing and punching her reclined seat, on an American Airlines economy flight from New Orleans to Charlotte. Her tweet read, “Here’s a great jackhole! He was angry that I reclined my seat and punched it about 9 times — HARD, at which point I began videoing him, and he resigned to this behavior”.

In response to the debate on seat recline, Delta Airlines’ CEO Ed Bastian stated that you can recline your seat, but before you do, you should seek permission from the passenger sitting behind. In addition, Ed also stated that while traveling in the economy cabin on Delta Airlines, he never says anything when the person in front of him reclines their seat. Ed said, “I never recline because I don’t think it’s something as CEO I should be doing, and I never say anything if someone reclines into me.”

During an interview with CNBC’s Squawk Box, Ed stated that Delta Airlines has been testing the possibility of reducing seat recline in economy class flights. Last year, Delta reduced the seat recline in economy class flights to 2 inches from the standard 4 inches. Moreover, the seat recline on Delta Airlines’ business-class flights was reduced to 3.5 inches from the usual 5.5 inches. This move is seen as an effort to protect passengers’ personal space and curb the problems that arise due to reclining the seat.

In 2019, United Airlines managed to fit in around 1600 additional premium economy seats on at least 250 aircraft. I.e., the carrier reduced the seat pitch in economy cabins to make way for the additional premium economy seats, which have a bit extra legroom and fetch almost twice the price of the standard economy. Sooner, its rivals, Americal Airlines and Delta Airlines followed suit.

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