Is Reclining Your Seat on an Airplane Okay?

An interesting thread on Reddit’s /r/travel board came up recently which divided users. In the thread the creator asked if reclining your seat on an airplane is considered taboo between passengers and rude. It is an interesting question. Considering the space offered to economy travellers seems to be getting smaller and smaller. Join me on this episode of travel etiquette!

Is reclining your seat on an airplane okay?

Reclining your seat on an airplane is fine, that’s what it is there for. However, it is important to remember to keep the person behind you in mind. If they are very tall, eating or watching a movie it is best to recline to a minimum or not at all. At the very least, ask them if it is okay to do so. They will appreciate the gesture.

So, let’s deep dive into the different schools of thought around this topic as it really does split people down the middle. There are some great tips for how you can use the seat recline without peeving off your air neighbours so make sure you read on.

Flight into Tokyo, Japan
A recent flight into Tokyo, Japan with a gorgeous sunset and Mt. Fuji popping its head out of the clouds.

Personal Space

Every year they are finding ways to put more seats inside aircrafts and take personal space away from you. However, some would argue that results in cheaper airfares so it is worth it. That topic is its own whole article. I’ll get to that one day.

Personal space is not something you get to enjoy on an airplane, unless you have plenty of money. You have limited space from the start. You squeeze into your seat and have no wiggle room. Then, some inconsiderate jerk in front of you reclines his seat all the way back.

It can be easy to get upset at the person in front but the recline function is there on the seat and they paid for that seat. So they have every right to recline. However, it does encroach your personal space and take away what little room you have.

The best solution to this is to recline yourself. This will give you back a bit of the room you lost. In reality, a standard economy seat does not recline a lot anyway. If you want someone to be upset at, airlines should face your wrath.

Consideration for Others

So, you have just reclined and you are now the person in front of you that you were just upset at. My basic philosophy on this is to be a decent human being and have considerations for others.

On the Reddit thread users reported behaviour including fully reclining then having their arms over the back of the seat covering the screen and swinging their seat back like it is a fold out chair.

This sort of behaviour is not considerate for others and is just downright rude. Being considerate for others is your best way to not tick other passengers off. If you don’t need to recline the whole way back, don’t go all the way back. Go back slowly also, as the person behind you may have the tray table down or be watching a movie.

On shorter flights, consider not reclining. The reclining is useful for sleeping and a little bit of extra comfort. However, on a short flight you shouldn’t need to recline unless you have some sort of back issue.

When to Recline

I generally follow a few rules when it comes to reclining. This helps me keep others in mind as well as being able to get a bit of extra comfort on those long-haul flights in economy.

  1. Only recline as much as you need. If I am on a long-haul flight, I will not recline fully unless I am trying to sleep. If I am watching a movie or doing some work, I will only recline a small amount or not at all.
  2. Recline slowly to avoid disturbing the passenger behind you. Too often I am watching a movie or leaning forward to get something from under the seat and the seat comes flying back faster than a melting snow cone in hell. This is just rude and inconsiderate.
  3. Return to the upright position when the airline comes to serve food. If you have tried eating on a plane with the seat in front all the way down, you know what I mean. The tray table room is significantly hampered when the seat in front is reclined. Also, you are leaning forward to eat anyway, so why would you need to have the seat all the way back?
Shibuya Crossing Tokyo
Shibuya in Tokyo is one of my favourite spots in Japan

Final Thoughts

Reclining your seat on an airplane is not a bad thing. It is there for a reason. You paid for the seat; you should be able to utilise it. We are all packed like sardines in a can anyway so we might as well try and get whatever comfort we can, especially on those really long flights. Just keep in mind others, particularly the passenger behind you.

Reclining seats has always been this taboo and grey area. However, take a look around on your next flight when the cabin lights are dimmed. Most will be reclined. The ones who aren’t will be awake watching movies or working. This makes me think that it is just a small vocal minority who are anti recline making the noise around the subject.

Some budget airlines are now installing seats that don’t recline. On shorter flights I think this is a good thing. But I would not like to go on a long flight without some sort of recline.

At the end of the day, we are all human, the least we can do it be good and considerate of each other.

You might also be interested in these posts:

Is Tigerair Really That Bad?
The Best Cameras Under $400 for Travel

I’ve put a lot of love into this article to get this as accurate and as much content as possible for you. If you enjoyed it and it has helped you on your journey, please consider sharing the article and following me on the social medias (Facebook/Instagram). Read my about page for my story on why I started this website. Shoot me an email or a comment if I can assist in any other way, I’m always more than happy to help!