How to beat seat recliners at their own game

Dec 21, 2021

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information.

It’s Plane Etiquette 101, but too many people don’t bother to glance behind them — let alone give a verbal warning — before slamming their seat back on a plane.

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I’ve lost count of the number of times my reflexes have been tested as I snatch my iPad or glass of red wine out of harm’s way. And I’ve heard sad tales of cracked laptop screens and tablets that were caught between a reclining seat and a hard place.

Some seatback slammers know they’re being inconsiderate and don’t care, but I like to believe most offenders are infrequent flyers who simply haven’t figured out what happens when they press that little button and push back.

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Photo by ArisSu/Getty Images.
(Photo by ArisSu/Getty Images)


This is why I’ve decided to start making the first move.

Now, rather than hope for a considerate person in front of me, I introduce myself before takeoff and ask if they can let me know before they tilt back.

At first, it felt strange. A smile and a nod are usually the most contact you have with anyone sitting around you on a plane, so actually speaking to someone feels like a break in protocol.

Some people look a little confused at first, but they get it when I explain that my device could be damaged or I could end up covered in red wine if I’m not ready for them to recline.

One of the key points to make in this preflight introduction is that you’re not expecting the person to sit upright throughout the flight. As lovely as it is to have the extra space, this isn’t about asking them to give up the right to recline so that I can do some work or watch a movie.

I always explain that I’m more than happy for them to put their seat back and am only asking for a heads-up before they do.

Some firmly believe a person should not recline their seat on a day flight or a short flight. Personally, I’m all for comfort as long as the other person tells me they’re moving back. As the seat domino effect kicks in, I’ll let the person behind me know I’m about to do the same.

As more airlines ditch seatback screens and encourage BYO inflight entertainment, the potential for accidents and arguments increases. By taking the initiative, you can hopefully sidestep some heated moments and make a change one fellow passenger at a time.

Asian man hand holding smart-phone start up working on board of airplane near window seat and wing
(Photo by skaman306/Getty Images)


So far, everyone I’ve asked has either left their seat up throughout the flight or turned around and given me fair warning before reclining.

One day, I may be unlucky enough to sit behind someone who doesn’t appreciate this travel tip and may even delight in causing a little havoc for me.

If that happens, there’s a fair chance I’ll stare daggers at them, then remind myself that most people will do the right thing once they know what it is. Then I’ll go right ahead and introduce myself to the next person I sit behind — and look forward to the day when someone does the same to me.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/ The Points Guy.

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