"You can't demand the person in front of you doesn't recline on a plane."

I once saw a grown man chuck a tantrum on a plane. We were flying from New York to Seoul (and then on to Sydney), and we had just boarded the plane.

As soon as he realised the economy class cabin was very full, he stood up in his chair and pressed the call button. A flight attendant came down the aisle, dodging passengers trying to get to their seats.

She asked him how she could help and he demanded an upgrade.

“I’m sorry I can’t do that,” she replied politely.

From there, things just escalated as he ranted about how he wanted an upgrade because he couldn’t possibly fit in his seat. She continued to refuse. He eventually began offering to pay and she again had to refuse, explaining other classes were all full.

It was a real spectacle, and it ended with us being delayed an hour while the airline located the man’s luggage so they could take him off the flight (something he had asked for).

I was very glad he left, because I can’t even imagine how he might have behaved if at some point in the 12-plus-hours-long flight the person in front of him had wanted to recline.

I’m not very tall. And what little height I do have is all in my torso, so my legs are pretty short. That makes air travel a lot less of a hassle for me.

I don’t care about being in the exit row (in fact I prefer not to be), I don’t ever obsess about an upgrade, and even on those very long flights to places like London and New York, I am for the most part able to make myself comparatively comfortable.


Flying short distances, like the hour long trip home to Brisbane every now and then, it wouldn’t occur to me to recline my seat.

But I don’t care if the person in front of me does. Sure it can be annoying, but it’s their seat. They paid for it, they can use it.

The airline allows the seats to recline, you don’t get to decide the person in front of you can’t use that function, just because it is a bit crap for you.

It turns out I am apparently in the minority on this.

“Never do it,” came the swift reply from one colleague I asked about it. “On a domestic flight less than an hour, entirely unnecessary,” she added. 

“Just don’t,” said another.

“Only when the lights go out and it’s sleep time,” added a third anti-recline campaigner.

Others had one exception to the anti-recline stance.

“If the person in front of you reclines, you too can recline. It’s the domino effect,” a practical soul offered.

“If everyone reclines there is no problem. Like little sleepy dominoes.”

(I’m seeing a theme here.)

“I understand that if the person in front reclines you kinda have no choice. It immediately cuts down on my precious leg and knee room.”


Which gets to the heart of the issue really.

The person in front of you might not be reclining because they want to, or they’re selfish, it might be because they are responding to the person in front, or they have a bad back, or some other reason that you don’t know about.

“As someone who has a bad knee and bad back, I love the recline,” another colleague told me.

Getting angry about it isn’t going to fix anything.

If anything, it’s going to just make it worse. Just ask Grant Hackett, who is in hot water over his very own “seat rage” incident.

That seat rage is even a thing says a lot about entitlement. Not just Hackett’s sense of entitlement, but that of any person who ever picked a fight on a plane over this issue.

Don’t even get me started on the people who take devices on board to jam a seat and stop it reclining.

Here are the cold hard facts. You bought a seat on a plane. You did not buy the back of the seat in front of you, nor did you buy the right to stop the person in that seat from utilising their own little slice of economy whichever way they see fit.

Suck it up, and if you really need that extra real estate, join the domino stack and recline yourself.

All’s fair in love, war, and air travel.