Tuesday Travel Tip: How to beat a seat recliner at their own game

Jun 9, 2020

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This article originally appeared on November 17, 2019. It is being republished as part of or Tuesday Travel Tip series.  

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.

I’ve lost count of the number of times my reflexes have been tested as I snatch my iPad or glass of red 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 seat-back slammers actually know they’re being inconsiderate and just 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. Even in an age of socially-distanced travel due to the coronavirus, you may find yourself behind an occupied seat in coach class.

Photo by ArisSu/Getty Images.
Photo by ArisSu/Getty Images


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

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Now, rather than hope for a considerate recliner 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 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, they get it.

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.

There are those who firmly believe a seat shouldn’t recline 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 seat back screens and encourage BYO in-flight entertainment, the potential for accidents and arguments increases. By taking the initiative, we 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 moving back.

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

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. And 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 Katie Genter/The Points Guy

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