Seat wars! The dos and don’ts of airplane travel

[As written for]

Attitude’s Travel Insider: The heated seat debate

Earlier this week, a United Airlines flight from Newark to Denver had to be diverted to Chicago, after two passengers got ranty about seat reclining. The argument began after one discerning traveller began using the Knee Defender lock (a widely available but banned device), which attaches to the tray table and jams the reclining mechanism of the seat in front.

Understandably, the passenger in said seat was not amused. So she threw a cup of water at him. Upon landing in Chicago, the flight was met by police officers and everyone else had to factor a delay of nearly two hours into their day.

Last year, a survey by Skyscanner suggested nine out of 10 travellers wanted reclining seats banned. And says more than 60% of international airline staff have seen passengers argue over rolling back their seats.

Now, although I’ve spent many a flight cursing the person in front for their selfish seat reclining choices, I am fully aware air travel is seldom comfortable, and sometimes that extra bit of room can make a lot of difference. For example, tall passengers. Should they have to spend an entire journey, cramped up so as to not take an extra inch of space from the person behind? And what about those suffering with back ache? Should the same rules apply?

Instead of assuming he had the right to lock her seat, passenger number one on that United flight could just have asked the lady in front to pull her seat forward because he didn’t have enough room. Wouldn’t that have been a more pleasant and less time-consuming experience for everyone?


The fact is planes can be can pain in the ass, lower back and neck – and most of us probably could relate to both of these people’s frustrations. But perhaps if we were more aware and willing to enforce our own flight etiquette, these kinds of incidents just wouldn’t happen.

So here are some ways to make your next trip better. Take heed and go forth on your travels.

1) Reclining your seat isn’t compulsory – so if you don’t need to do it, don’t. Sometimes just a small tilt will do the job of ensuring you’re comfortable. But if you do need to recline your seat, remember to check whether the person behind you needs extra room more. Are they tall? Do they have kids jumping all over them?

2) If you do recline – remember to pull your seat back up when meals and drinks are being served. Having to eat off a tray table, which is nearer your pelvis than your mouth, is no fun for anyone.

3) If you’re lucky enough to bag an aisle seat, for goodness’ sake don’t fall asleep with your tray table down – unless you want to be woken up by your full-bladdered neighbours. And if you are woken up, spare us a roll of the eyes; you have the aisle seat. If it bothers you that much, ask for a window.

4) Window-seat fans: it’s all very well to request the nice view, but if you have bladder that requires emptying every hour, you are probably (unintentionally, of course) disturbing everyone in your row. So spare a thought for your fellow passengers and opt for an aisle.

5) Yes, seats are cramped but when you’re moving in and out of your rows, how about you don’t grab onto the seat in front of you and balance all your weight on it? First up, you’re probably taking a chunk of someone’s hair in your grasp, and secondly, how would you like it if your limited few minutes of sleep was disturbed by someone catapulting your head back and forth. If you need to keep your balance, use the overheard luggage compartments.

6) TV prodding and seat kicking is just as annoying as having your seat catapulted. If you’re with a child and you can see them tap, tap, tapping away at their embedded screen or lost in the rhythm of kicking the seat in front, stop them. If you’re using a touch-screen, don’t tap too hard – the chances are the person in front can feel every last touch at the back of their head.

7) Watch those elbows –whipping a newspaper out and using both armrests as you read is really not acceptable. Make sure you’re not jabbing the person next to you each time you turn the page either.

8) No one wants the hassle of having to rummage through backpacks and wheelies to find a book /jumper/iPad. Think ahead when packing and keep things you will need for the journey near the top. Genius, eh?


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