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Empty plane seats with sun shining through the emergency exit door
安琦 王 | Adobe Stock

Should You Recline Your Seat on an Airplane?

There’s no question that’s more divisive among flyers than whether or not to recline your seat on a plane. Either you feel like you should be able to fully recline and everyone else should follow suit to gain space (except the poor person in the last row) or you’re firmly of the opinion that airplane seats are small enough already and no one should recline and take away the limited space of the person behind them. 

Some flyers believe in a middle ground, feeling that reclining should be done only in certain situations—like on a long-haul flight when everyone is sleeping, and not on a short flight immediately after takeoff. 

We posed the question to our SmarterTravel readers, and the results are in: The majority of people think that reclining on an airplane is okay.

The poll was close, with 54 percent of readers voting for the right to recline.

Reader Kelly G. argues, “I need a slight recline to sleep so if the seat reclines, I’ll use it to get some shut-eye.”

Shannon J. disagrees, saying “In regular coach, no. If I’ve upgraded, I might recline a bit. Coach is just too cramped to infringe on anyone else and I hope the person in front of me follows the same logic.” 

Other passengers feel that the airlines should just eliminate the option to recline to stop the debate. “If the airlines keep reducing legroom, they should also stop with reclining seats. There is literally no room for the passenger behind if someone reclines in front of them, ” says Dori T.

If you do choose to recline, there are a few etiquette tips you should follow.

  1. Look behind you before reclining, and be mindful of open laptops you could crush or drinks you might spill.
  2. Recline slowly to give the person behind you some warning, rather than slamming your seat back. Better yet, politely give a verbal notification that you’re about to recline.
  3. Don’t recline during meal service.

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