Airline Recliners: Cease and Desist

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The Reclining Airplane Seat Should Be Eliminated.

Here’s some examples of why…

On one flight, two guys got in a fistfight because one had reclined his seat back unexpectedly. The guy in the back jumped on the other and they beat the daylights out of each other before they were separated. They were both arrested when the plane landed.

On another flight, one of my colleagues was working diligently on his laptop when the seat in front of him flew back. The seat back hit so hard it shattered his laptop computer screen. The glass actually broke. He had to buy a new computer. The woman who was the recliner never even noticed.

On a flight from San Francisco to New York City, I said to the man sitting in front of me with a smile, “I will give you twenty bucks if you don’t put your seat back”. I thought he would say, “Don’t worry, I understand, keep the twenty.” Instead he said, “OK”. I gave him the twenty dollars and he remained upright. It was worth it. The airline should pay me back.

Everyone knows it is not possible to use a laptop computer when flying in economy when the seat in front of you is reclined. It is time for a business traveler revolt. Those variable few inches at your knees dictate the difference between being productive or entertained versus sitting idly cursing the guy in front of you.

On most flights, even in first class, (except for those seats that turn into beds that the airlines advertise on TV) when the seat is slammed back, you are screwed. So called “Economy Plus” is a little better as it can provide an extra two inches. With appropriate gymnastics a laptop can work.

When I buy an airline ticket it is like buying real estate. According to the Wall Street Journal, an airline seat is 17 inches across into which I squeeze my butt. I buy one half of the armrest although I often cede it to the big guy sitting next to me. And I buy 7 inches between my knees and the “seat pocket in front of me”. But after takeoff the person in front of me steals half of the space in front of me. Those seven inches were mine a minute ago, now it’s down to three. Now I can’t use my laptop. Now I can’t move. I am a prisoner in a space the size of a small dog crate.

Maybe the airlines should provide a standard note for those of us now crammed in. It should go something like:

Dear Person in Front of Me,

I don’t know you but the back of your head is now four inches away from my face. I can smell your Head and Shoulders shampoo (it’s not working). This might all be a little too intimate for strangers. When this airplane lands I have to give a PowerPoint presentation. I have not done it yet. I was planning to do it on this flight but because you are now almost in my lap, my laptop doesn’t open and I cannot work. This is going to create problems for my career. Would you mind scooting forward? Thanks so much.


The Panicked Business Traveler Sitting Behind You

On any airplane at least half of the travelers are moving around for business. These people are also the ones who are probably paying a lot more than those flying for leisure since they booked the flight the day before and are now stuck in a middle seat. As the note points out, the chances are good that work needs to be done before arrival or they wouldn’t be on the plane in the first place.

The recliner is a problem for everyone. Ever sat next to a person holding a lap baby when the seat in front comes hurtling back? Ever watch a really large person try to get up to use the lavatory when all the recliners are blocking the exit? Ever see all the hot coffee spill off the tray when the seat in front reclines?

You really cannot ask the person in front of you to go upright. The airline encourages people after takeoff when they broadcast, “Sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight.” The operative word that everyone hears is “sit back”.

Here is one solution. Remember when smoking became prohibited on airplanes? (Hard to believe it was ever allowed.) Even though no one could smoke, every armrest on the plane had a little ashtray. When the no smoking rule kicked in the little ashtrays became the repositories for gum and gum wrappers. The cleaners didn’t like that. So the airlines removed the little ashtrays and welded a little piece of metal over the hole. They could apply the same logic and technology to the little button that allows the person in front of you to ruin a trip.That person in front of you feels entitled to push their seat back by virtue of that little button. Let’s remove that option.

Another option is to make people pay extra for the freedom to recline their seat. We pay for every other teeny tiny benefit. Instead of keeping the money, the airline should give the money to the person who “lost” the space.

Yet a third solution might involve flight attendants. Reclining seats give the flight attendants more work to do and we know their job is hard enough already. On takeoff and landing they roam around asking people to put the chair in an upright position. How menial! What a waste of talent! The flight attendants must get weary of it too. Let’s ask the Flight Attendant Union to get involved and eliminate the reclining seat.

Or, if the fistfights continue, maybe the FAA will get involved. All ideas are welcome.

Getting rid of the reclining airline seat is a takeaway, no doubt about it. By now the airlines are good at it. And, if you really, really require a Barcalounger in the air, get ready to pay for it.

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