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Should you recline your seat? Flight etiquette 101

Can you recline your seat during a flight? Skyscanner has the answer to this much debated flight etiquette question.

It has caused brawls on planes, shouting matches between passengers, unscheduled landings and spawned a controversial travel accessory called the Knee Defender. Yes, we’re talking about reclining your seat in during a flight. Here’s the Skyscanner guide to flight etiquette.

To recline or not recline

Should you recline or stay upright? Well, that depends. On short journeys there seems to be no real reason to fully recline your seat, though a subtle shift backwards should cause little grief to the person behind you. On long haul flights, and especially when you are travelling overnight, it isn’t unreasonable to assume that the person behind you may be reclining their seat as well, so go right ahead.

Don’t recline during meals

Mealtimes are an exception though. It’s hard enough trying to eat your dinner on a plane in a cramped economy cabin as it is, without a seat back in your lap. So choose to be considerate for the person behind you and don’t recline your seat when meals are served (this might not apply very late at night when people may have planned to miss a meal in return for getting some sleep).

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What should you do if the person in front reclines?

If the person in front of you doesn’t put their seat up, then politely ask the steward to tap the offender on the shoulder. If you can’t get the steward’s attention, then ask the person in front of you to move their seat forward, as politely as you can. People generally respond well to a courteous approach while an angry voice could well work against you.

lady in reclined airplane seat

As for using one of those reclining seat blockers… well, they’ve certainly caused some trouble. Last year a fight erupted on a United Airlines flight when a businessman used the device and the disgruntled woman in front of him threw a soft drink in his face. The flight was diverted and police escorted the feuding passengers off the plane.

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So should you be able to use a reclining seat blocker despite the risk of a flare up? Well, in our opinion, no. Reason dictates that a passenger should be able to use their seat in the way that it is designed. Besides, most airlines have banned devices that stop a seat reclining.

The theory is that you don’t own the space in front of you, just the same as how the person behind you doesn’t own the space in front of them. If you really want more space choose your seat wisely, buy a premium economy or business class seat, or fly with the airline offering the best economy seats.

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Fun facts about reclining on planes

Interestingly, a Skyscanner survey of 1,000 flyers in 2013 revealed that 91% of respondents felt airlines should either ban or set fixed times for seat-reclining on short-haul flights. 43% of respondents even felt that long-haul flights should implement fixed times when passengers are allowed to recline their seat. Almost a third of those surveyed stated that a reclined seat had caused them discomfort, and 3% revealed they’d suffered an injury as a result.

In a separate survey, CabinCrew.com found that more than 60% of international cabin crew had witnessed an argument between passengers over reclining seats. European carriers Monarch Airlines, Ryanair and easyJet have all ditched reclining seats as well.

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How to get that bit more comfortable

If you do decide to recline your seat during the flight, then what’s the best way to do it? The short answer is ‘with respect’.

Firstly, look behind you. The passenger might have a child on their lap, might be working on a computer or might have their tray table open with drinks or food on it. They might even be elderly or tall. Try to put yourself in their shoes, though we have the right to recline our seat, it may not be the best to do so.

Passenger with child on plane

If you want to be really polite, you could try asking the person behind you if they would mind if you reclined your seat. You always run the risk of them refusing of course, though the odds are most likely low.

If you do decide to go ahead and recline your seat, only recline as much as you need to. And recline slowly. No one appreciates a sudden backwards lurch of a seat back and tray table that spills drinks and crushes knees.

In the end, it’s all about everyone working together to make an uncomfortable experience in economy class as bearable as possible.

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Now that you’re well-equipped with flight etiquette 101, it’s time to start flying. Get the best deals for flights, hotels and car hire with Skyscanner. For on the go convenience, download our mobile apps today.

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