I first noticed I might be a bit claustrophobic at about eight years old. Whenever I was especially obnoxious or irritating to my siblings, I’d get locked in a coat closet for a few minutes. In that tiny, dark space stuffed full of wool coats and mothballs, a sort of panic would set in. After a few minutes of almost ripping the door off its hinges, they’d let me escape.
These days, that same feeling returns when I don’t get the upgrade I was hoping for and end up wedged into a window seat in row 40 on a 757. Only there’s no escape on a five or six hour transcon flight.
And it’s not just the cramped seats….
What really sets me off in this situation is when the person in the seat in front of me reclines his or her seat all the way back. What are these people thinking? Probably something like, “It’s my seat, I paid for it, and I’m going to get every inch out of it.” Apparently, consideration for others in this new age of ever-tightening seat space never enters the equation.
As sort of a karmic protection, I’ve stopped reclining my own seat when flying economy, hoping the person in front of me won’t do it either. But sometimes it doesn’t work, and I find myself much closer to a stranger’s scalp than I really want to be.
Sometimes I have no choice but to just recline as well, risking similarly offending the person in the seat behind me, and perhaps setting off a domino effect all the way to the back of the plane.
Man across aisle reclined his seat in AAs MCE and passenger behind him said easy you just spilled my coffee. Man said not my fault jackass.
— JohnnyJet (@JohnnyJet) May 9, 2017
I have a 6-foot-2 friend who’s a militant anti-recliner. He recalls a recent flight to Seattle in which the guy in front of him immediately reclined his seat after takeoff — then spent most of the flight leaning forward to work. Arrgh! When the guy finally did sit back, my friend positioned his knees squarely in the offending passenger’s kidneys (easy to do with the newer, thinner “slimline” seats).
The average distance between seats is once again on the decline- last week American Airlines said it would reduce pitch in some economy class seats to a severe 29 inches. And as we all know planes are flying fuller than ever. Personal space is at a premium, creating tiny little wars throughout the coach cabin.
Why can’t airlines impose a partial truce by locking seats upright, at least for short flights?
I asked a handful of TravelSkills readers what they think about this. Many — especially taller ones — think it’s high time for a seat-back lockup. “It is already cramped enough at the ‘back of the bus, but to have your space encroached by the person in front of you for that extra two inches of non-space is terrible,” said reader A.E.
Reclining seats can also be a threat to laptop computers. P.B. from Atlanta said his laptop case was cracked “by some yahoo who thrust her seat back full force. … I had the screen resting against that dangerous well that houses the tray table.” Brown now asks for a “recline alert” from the person in front of him when working on his laptop.
Some business travelers think a middle road would be best. P.V. suggests airlines adjust the seats so that they recline only half way. Many others suggested locking seats upright for short flights only. T.T. hates government intervention, but he thinks the solution is “a federal regulation providing a minimum amount of space between seats to permit comfortable reclining.”
Despite the recent outcry, complaints and congressional hearing, I doubt we’ll see much action on this issue. The airlines seem much more interested in revenue than comfort in economy class. None of the majors is likely to step out front with a seat lockup that would be criticized by some as another service reduction even though a it could be considered an enhancement. (Only the Ultra-Low-Cost carriers like Spirit and Allegiant have non-reclining seats.)
Maybe the best we can hope for is a little better application of the Golden Rule.
If you don’t like the idea of someone planting their scalp a few inches from your face, don’t do it to the person behind you. Think before you recline. Recline slowly or only halfway.
In the meantime, I’ll be reminded of that coat closet every time I squeeze into my economy seat and have the misfortune of sitting behind a recliner. Unless, of course, I snag a roomy exit row, bulkhead seat or, better yet, luck into an upgrade premium economy or first/business class.
What do you think….Should airlines lock economy seats in the upright position? Halfway? Not at all? Should the feds set seat space standards? Please leave your comments below.