When is it acceptable to recline your airplane seat?

When is it acceptable to recline your airplane seat?

TALKING POINT | To recline, or not to recline… that’s a question faced by many modern-day business travellers and holidaymakers, whether on the shortest of hops between Sydney and Melbourne or a far longer trek to London or New York.

It’s not only a concern of economy flyers, either: many business class seats tilt rearward rather than extending fully-flat – including those on most Australian domestic flights, across the Tasman and up-front on lower-cost airlines such as Jetstar and Scoot – plus, of course, in premium economy.

So what’s the ‘rule’, then?

Well, it’s often expected that your seat be upright during meal times whenever someone is behind you, particularly in economy where space can be limited even at the best of times.

In business class and premium economy, you may be able to keep your seat reclined if there’s ample room for all: but down the very back, it’s common for the crew to ask passengers to bring their seat forward as their meal arrives.

During the rest of the flight, however, it’s anyone’s game.

Some travellers would defend to the death their right to recline – retorting that they’re using the functions of the seat in the way they were designed – while others, rightly or wrongly, consider the entire area in front of them to be their own space.

My personal view sits somewhere in the middle: I certainly enjoy the comfort of reclining, but not when that comfort significantly impacts another passenger.

That’s why I’ll generally keep my seat upright on shorter flights and recline it only slightly on longer daytime routes, as I find I can still get comfortable without cranking the seat all the way back.

But in my book, overnight flights are fair game: once the evening meal has been taken away, the seat goes far back until breakfast, and the passengers around me normally follow suit.

What’s your view? Should reclining be restricted on shorter flights, banned altogether or left to the decision of each passenger? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Chris Chamberlin
Chris Chamberlin is a senior journalist with Australian Business Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!
 

48 comments

  • Patricka340

    Patricka340

    25 Nov, 2016 07:38 am

    In my opinion, if I've paid for the seat then I should be allowed to use any of its functions (such as recline) whenever I like, no matter the duration of the flight. The only time I'm more than happy not to recline is during meal times but surely that is just etiquette. 
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  • Dave

    Grannular

    25 Nov, 2016 09:24 am

    I feel that is a very selfish attitude and lacks any consideration for others.
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  • Patricka340

    Patricka340

    25 Nov, 2016 01:52 pm

    How is it selfish? You can go onto just about any airlines website and they will state how many inches of recline you are entitled to, heck many even use it as selling point. Am I being selfless if I don't recline?

    Does it really lack consideration for others? If it was such a big deal, airlines wouldn't let us recline. When I book a seat, I book all of its features, and am therefore entitled to use them.

    Like it or not, unless I am told otherwise by the crew, I can recline. Like I said I'll put my seatback up when it's meal time (whether I'm eating or not) but as soon as that seatbelt sign is off I am entitled to recline, whether it be a SYD-LAX flight or a SYD-CBR flight. 

    (Not trying to be aggressive, just pleading my case :) )
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  • Mal

    Mal

    25 Nov, 2016 09:46 am

    As long as you agree that the passenger in front of you has the exact same right, meaning you won't complain if they recline their seat into 'your' space.
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  • Patricka340

    Patricka340

    25 Nov, 2016 01:54 pm

    They have every single right to recline their seat no matter the duration of the flight. 
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  • riley

    riley

    25 Nov, 2016 10:31 am

    I wouldn't play golf with you! #leatherwedge
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  • Jeffrey FRANCIS

    jeff.francis

    25 Nov, 2016 10:48 pm

    People also have the right to smoke in certain places, they paid for their cigarette smoke they can blow it wherever they like!   They can use the same logic! 
    It's about common consideration for other! 
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  • Patricka340

    Patricka340

    26 Nov, 2016 07:16 am

    Well no, there is legislation which bans people from smoking from certain in places not just "wherever they like".

    You say that it is about "common consideration for other[s]" but don't explain how or why. I ask you, if the recline function of your seat did not work or a meal was not loaded for you, more likely than not you would want some form of compensation from the airline. Why? Because they did not give you the product that you paid for when you bought that ticket. It's not about getting value for money, but when I buy a seat I am entitled to use all of its features, everyone in the cabin is. When I've come off a long haul flight and connected onto a regional flight and the person in front of me reclines, I couldn't care less, just change the angle of my laptop screen and move on. It is their right to recline their seat as it is mine.

    When people/businesses book seats in Y they should expect the other passengers to recline their seat no matter the duration of the flight, because expecting/hoping that someone won't is poor planning. In fact, the whole "consideration for others" argument can be used on itself. Are you being very considerate of others if you ask the person in front of you to bring their seatback up so you can work on your laptop at the exact angle that suits you? What if they have come off a long haul flight, or had no sleep the night before? I mean, as someone once said "it's about common consideration for other[s]!"
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  • Jeffrey FRANCIS

    jeff.francis

    27 Nov, 2016 09:18 pm

    I think you are missing the point!

    There are places where people can, and do smoke! They have the rights to blow smoke wherever they like! However, most show a common curtesy so they don't encroaches on peoples personal space or enjoyment!

    It is exactly the same when people recline their seats way back! They encroach on peoples personal space, and yes, they are capable of doing it because the seat reclines, however, most show a common curtesy to their fellow travellers, it's just an ignorant few who just don't care about anybody but themselves!

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  • Serg

    Serg

    27 Nov, 2016 10:47 pm

    Rubbish - I am with Patricka340 - blame yourself as part of herd that you rather save a dollar then pay for proper seat. Leave with it and use it - it is part of the deal.
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  • Patricka340

    Patricka340

    28 Nov, 2016 06:47 am

    I think I understand what you are trying to say but still, smokers just cannot smoke anywhere. They cannot smoke inside public places, inside a car with a child or in an aircraft just to name a few.

    When people book an economy flight, they should expect to the person in front of them to recline. If they are so worried about their personal space, book an exit row. IMHO the people who expect others will not recline their seat are less considerate then everyone else, as they expect that someone else will give up something they are entitled to do for a little bit of their comfort.
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  • AB__CD

    AB__CD

    27 Nov, 2016 11:36 pm

    Doesn't work that way. If I've bought a gun, does that mean I have the right to shoot whoever I want to?

    It works for seats because the recline is advertised. Cigarette companies don't advertise your right to smoke wherever you want. If they do, then they'll be sued.
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  • Ross

    Ross Tas

    25 Nov, 2016 08:16 am

    Basic good manners apply so never during meal service or flights less than 90 minutes, other than that passengers should be able to recline as they choose.

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  • DB

    aussieboyaussie

    25 Nov, 2016 08:24 am

    Frankly I think people in Economy that recline for the entire journey and right through the meal service highlight what's wrong with society these days.  One would think manners should prevail and at least let the poor person behind you eat a meal without having it 3 inches from their nose like an animal.
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  • Serg

    Serg

    27 Nov, 2016 10:52 pm

    All experience in economy class as an animal in cage, so why meal time should be different? Just because eating is one of the prime instints?
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  • Dean

    deany83

    25 Nov, 2016 08:35 am

    Recently on a flight to London I had to kindly ask the man in front to bring his seat forward during the meal. He was in an exit row and chose not to eat. I am always a firm believer that at meal times your seat goes up and whenever I recline it's always a slow gradual recline not all in one motion.
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  • David Edwards

    David Edwards

    25 Nov, 2016 08:54 am

    I'm with Deany83 here. I'm also with others who believe that seats should be returned to the upright position at meal times. This is just plain common courtesy, but sadly, it (common courtesy) is lacking a lot of the time. If I'm in pleb Y and the person in front has their seat reclined during a meal, I ask or motion to one of the crew to have the person in front return their seat to upright. I have no issue with anyone reclining their seat as far as they want, at any time, except meal times.

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  • russell

    russell

    25 Nov, 2016 09:13 am

    I don't like it when others recline their seats during meal time so in turn I wont do it to others. On overnight flights I will fully recline once meals are over but keep it upright for all other flights.
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  • Mal

    Mal

    25 Nov, 2016 09:49 am

    Here's a thought, before and after the safety video and also at the front of any inflight movie, airlines should screen a little video about inflight etiquette and seat reclining. This wouldn't need to be very long, maybe just 30 seconds, but it would help 'educate' travellers on the do's and don'ts.
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  • jianga

    jianga

    25 Nov, 2016 09:54 am

    I think airlines should make it a rule that all economy seats be return to upright during meal time. In fact many Asian airlines (e.g. CX) do ask passengers to do so when they serve meals. Also seats shouldn't be reclined out of courtesy on any flights less than 2 hours (e.g. flights between SYD-MEL-BNE). Other than that, recline as you wish but in a slow motion. At the end of the day, it shouldn't be passengers who fight among each other for the extra space, it should be airlines who need to pay more attention to customer comforts and less on their balance sheet, although I doubt this will ever happen given the industry trend (all my hopes died when then introduced 10-abreast on 777).
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  • aircommute777

    aircommute777

    25 Nov, 2016 10:15 am

    when politely asking the person in front to upright their seat, (say for a meal service) and you get no joy and/or rude response, feel free to help them by simply pushing their seat upright - recline actuators on most economy class/main cabin seats allows seat to be moved upright without pressing recline button  ;-P
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  • Lake Pacific Airways

    lakepacificair

    25 Nov, 2016 10:20 am

    Reclining is a right, not a privilege, except during take-off, landing, meal times and when asked by crew not to (including emergency). That said, I've encountered many who don't recline in front of me, usually I'll talk to them discreetly that "it's ok to recline and I don't mind". Sometimes there were rude passengers behind me, swearing or kicking the seat-back, under such circumstance I'd ring the bell and avoid arguing. Other times, person seated at the back would ask me politely not to recline too much, happy to comply. People who think the person in front is an idiot because of reclining, he himself is even a bigger idiot. Reclining is a right, not a privilege, please try not to morally hijack the issue - important point needs to be stressed twice.
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  • riley

    riley

    25 Nov, 2016 10:34 am

    In my head I run a 2hr rule for no reclining. If it's longer and it's night time, I'm most likely reclining from the moment the seat belt sign goes off. If it's a day time flight and I'm not sleeping, I wouldn't recline.

    At the same time, I try not to get in a negative head space if someone reclines on me between say SYD > MEL. I just tell myself they probably charge onto trains when the doors open, push in front of ladies to get into the lift and run a very bad life etiquette. 

    That said, I generally find in the gold and plat zone on VA, reclining isn't an issue.
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  • Jay G

    jginpil

    25 Nov, 2016 11:32 am

    Just be a decent person and consider thoes around you. You don't have to have some flight time rule just be aware of the oither passengers that may be impacted. 
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  • Joe

    Joe

    25 Nov, 2016 11:41 am

    Seriously, you're in economy class, that's what it signifies, an economy class of service and standards. You've paid for your seat and chosen that class of travel which is the lowest in the pecking order so don't expect very much. I think you're as entitled to recline as you please when you please.  Sure consideration at meal times is appreciated but in life one gets what they pay for. You chose the cheapest class expect those standards and levels of comfort.
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  • percysmith

    percysmith

    25 Nov, 2016 03:19 pm

    When everyone else does it. My last two trips with flights in the back:

    NRT-HKG, JL, early evening flight: The passenger in front of me reclined as soon as the seat belt sign came off. To her credit she did return to upright for mealtime, but the recline came back down as soon as her tray was cleared. It wasn't too much of a bother for me, but it did irk me that when I left my seat for the toilet break I saw she was using a laptop to complete a medical paper while her seat was reclined. The passenger in front of her was not reclined. I don't know why she needed the recline and I expected her to behave better (she is Hong Kong Chinese as am I, we do not expect doctors or researchers to be social louts).

    YVR-YYC in WS and YYC-YVR in AC: no-one reclined so neither did I. Well, I reclined just about a centimeter or two cos I wanted to nap.
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  • grov

    grov

    25 Nov, 2016 03:28 pm

    I think that it's a sad reflection on our current PC society when folks seek to inflict their values and beliefs on others. If the seat reclines and the airline staff are OK with passengers reclining, then what rights have other passengers have in changing airline policy? While I attempt to respect fellow passengers by not reclining until after meal service or on short flights, I also fully respect other's rights to recline when they want to. I may not like it but I'm certainly never going to object to it.
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  • Noel Stone

    silverme

    25 Nov, 2016 04:15 pm

    On a recent Tigerair PPN to SYD the passenger in front suddenly reclined his seat into my knees just missing my face with no warning. The hostie defended his right to do this. No more Tigerair for me!
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  • FrequentFlyer

    FrequentFlyer

    25 Nov, 2016 06:54 pm

    I don't see how it's Tiger's fault. The passenger sounds rude to have done so abruptly but they are indeed perfectly entitled to recline
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  • AlexT

    AlexT

    25 Nov, 2016 04:17 pm

    I always ask the people behind me if it's alright with them. Never received a no.
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  • Les Szancer

    les48

    25 Nov, 2016 04:35 pm

    NEVER would be best !!!
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  • Alex_upgrade

    alex_upgrade77

    25 Nov, 2016 04:46 pm

    Luckily I'm 6'5 - which means that if someone in front reclines during meal time they get to enjoy a [not so] soothing massage courtesy of my knees. The jolting can be quite relaxing for some.

    I don't charge for this service. Try me ;-)  
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  • stredinnick

    stredinnick

    25 Nov, 2016 05:08 pm

    Just flew Premium with Virgin Australia (new fitout).  Person in front reclined entire trip including meals and it was ...no problem at all.  In fact - it allowed me to view the AVOD in the seatback without glasses so it actually helps.  The new VA PE definitely has more pitch.  No extra width though.  As far as Economy goes, well.  I decline to recline.
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  • CQ

    MEL Traveller

    25 Nov, 2016 09:14 pm

    The seats are made to recline, and people should be allowed to if they want. I agree that during meal times all seats should be upright, but I don't buy into the comments that flights under two hours shouldn't have reclining seats - it can be a great chance to get a rest. If I want to recline, I do it slowly so I don't hurt anyone - but I don't ask first as I don't accept that the person in the seat behind me has a choice about what I do with my seat. 
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  • Steve987

    Steve987

    25 Nov, 2016 09:42 pm

     When people start talking about "its my right to do x and therefore I will do it without caring about the impact on others" or "I do things to stop others doing something because I can" I think it is an indictment on our modern society. 

    Let's work together people!
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  • Looking

    Looking

    26 Nov, 2016 01:00 am

    This is a sad string of comments. The hypocrisy in using the phrase "common decency" followed shortly by "plebs in Y", the racist statement that "Asians have better manners" (yet the Star Ferry still requests no spitting and of course implying other races as less well behaved) buried within an elitist statement  a doctor should know better - sorry Chelmsford springs to mind and the it carries the inference that an unemployed person would not be so aware? Incredible.
    As for the  subject  I've never had an issue, and yes having the seat back does allow one to view the TV without my specs.
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  • Petri Ojala

    petri.ojala

    26 Nov, 2016 04:05 am

    As a tall person I don't mind if a person front of me reclines -- as long as he doesn't mind my legs hitting the seat more frequently.

    Personally I never recline during the day and otherwise I'll always look behind me first before reclining more than halfway.  But that's just me being courteous..
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  • Flane

    Flane

    26 Nov, 2016 02:44 pm

    Had just this experience a couple of weeks back.  Tripping to NZ to celebrate 3 score years and 10 to have by head jammed between the window and the suddenly reclined seat (I had dropped my pen) of the female in front.  Not impressed I looked up to find her with her feet on the bulkhead pushing the seat back as far as she possibly could.  When I asked her to move her seat up a bit so that I could use the bathroom, she said that she had paid extra so she could do what she liked.  I hope I don't find her again in a couple of weeks when I repeat the process.  I did not recline as I had a young woman with Down Syndrome sitting behind me.  No such consideration shown by my fellow passenger.  ???  If she wanted to lay down - book J class.
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  • BB09

    BB09

    26 Nov, 2016 03:00 pm

    Interesting to read everyone's view however I do choose to fly certain airlines because of the legroom offered sorry SQ, QF. One thing I do want top say is in this day & age I am surprised airlines and airline seat manufacturers have not found a seat that works or solution for Y class passengers or a better version of the old shell seat. Personally I would rather be uncomfortable in a shell seat than have my personal space invaded.

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  • Serg

    Serg

    27 Nov, 2016 10:40 pm

    Holy crap! Those seats made to recline, so they can be recline anytime. If pax behind believe that it is uncomfortable for him(her) then he (she) should buy other ticket. Period. Do not blame airlines or pax in front, but rather blame your greediness and fact that you wanna save a dollar with herd.
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  • A Lian

    anurax

    28 Nov, 2016 06:36 am

    In my opinion it's the airlines fault in all this

    In the gun case you buy you shoot you kill it's all your fault

    In the smoking case you light up you puff and your smoke goes to others, you need to manage that and not let your second hand smoke hurt others as you have control on where to puff

    In the airplane seat you buy the seat but it's the airline who stinge on the space. They say you can recline x inches but then makes its a society and etiquette issues when you recline too much or cause others inconvenience what a double headed snake. This is literally taking the icing and the cake. They promise you something, take your money and make everyone else solve their problem on the space issue and call it that you must be polite courteous considerate etc. 

    So my take is it isTHE AIRLINES fault and if people should not recline then don't give seats that recline. If you give me a seat to recline then I'm going to recline why give me something that I can't use ? The idea of the hard shell seat is great and clearly defines the limits of ones space. This reclining issue is the industry problem that no one wants to solve as the answer is too costly and no one wants to pay for it so the industry takes a back seat and let's society go mad and stupid and only intervenes when violence happens. But didn't they create the violence in the first place? Or at least to be blamed? Shouldn't they be arrested too for creating an environment of hostility?

    So ya it's nobody but the airlines fault 
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  • Trogdor

    Trogdor

    28 Nov, 2016 12:27 pm

    Actually, I think passengers share some of the blame. People constantly demand cheaper fares, the airlines respond by squeezing down the elbow and legroom. 

    If the majority of people refused to fly with airlines who had miserable seat pitch, you'd quickly find the market for more generous layouts opening up. To a certain extent that's what we're seeing with PE, but the vast majority will still prefer to save 25% and then grumble about seat pitch on their flight.
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  • HK Flyer

    HK Flyer

    28 Nov, 2016 08:54 pm

    seriously? Fares are lower than at any time since commercial flying started in any form of scale, and I doubt very much that the airlines are happy about this. We as passengers benefit from this and in order for them to make any money, airlines need to squeeze more people in. That is why, as you put it, 'airlines stinge on the space'. I am 6'2' and have flown 16 hours in economy from HKG to NYC and I tell you that I would never choose an airline that didn't have reclining seats (and were happy to let me use them - except in meal times as posted above).

    Common courtesy is all that is needed. Don't recline during meals, cast a quick look behind before reclining, and do so SLOWLY. That way everyone can get a bit more comfort and a slightly better sleep.
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  • A Lian

    anurax

    28 Nov, 2016 02:49 pm

    It's kind of hard in this situation. People build a competitive environment and people get sucked into it. Once one party starts price drop it's all hell break loose. While it's easy to say consumer choice people  make choice but $$$ and not sanity and when one party start to drop price all or most start to follow suit and that's how lcc thrive. it's really useless unless someone makes it regulation. 

    Like I said earlier the industry built a hostile environment based on $$$ and so they choose $$$ over humanity and the people have no choice. 

    Like drugs. It's easy to say it's the abusers fault because they are the market but I reckon it's the dealers fault for creating the market. 
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  • HK Flyer

    HK Flyer

    28 Nov, 2016 08:57 pm

    The 'dealers' didn't create the market ...! People want to fly and most want to pay as little as possible. Airlines respond, give them what they want in terms of prices and compensate by squeezing more in (or charging for bags, food etc etc).
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  • ny152

    ny152

    28 Nov, 2016 07:48 pm

    Please just do a courtesy glance backwards before you twat your seat back to full recline!  I get a veg meal and on a large aircraft I am often dining at least half an hour before other passenger, who don't realise I am eating.  I often have to grab my meal tray to stop in ending up on my lap when someone enthusiastically throws their seat back!
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  • Simulate Aero

    simulate

    28 Nov, 2016 08:03 pm

    Can't wait to see the debate over noise cancelling headphones and the "right" to yell at the FA's because they cannot hear themselves,  or the "right" to snort their snot so loudly they can be heard in row 52 or their "right" to wake the whole cabin with their laughter as they have absolutely NO situational awareness :-)
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  • Tracie

    Tracie

    8 Jan, 2017 02:58 pm

    So here's my recent experience.

    Overnight flight with Singapore in economy.
    Person in front had reclined fully leaving around 1.5 inches between me and the TV screen so I decided to recline - but I couldn't. The person behind was preventing my seat reclining. Their reason - they were over 6 feet tall and were cramped.  Of course their seats were fully reclined. I attempted to explain everyone should be able to recline on a night flight was told no their comfort was more important.
    After being verbally abused I called the crew to advise them of the situation. After the people behind started to heckle the crew, me and the terrified teenage girl next to me were moved to business class for the remainder of the flight.
    For me, if you are over 6 feet tall investigate buying an exit row.
    I have sent a thank you to the airline for their assistance as it certainly was not an experience I have ever had on a flight before. 
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