Monday, September 8, 2014

Reclining Rights

There's been a lot of news about poor airplane behavior lately. Within the past two weeks alone there have been at least three highly publicized incidents of fights between passengers over the right to recline one's seat. One passenger wants to recline their seat, the passenger behind them doesn't like the idea and an argument ensues. Sometimes they simply can't because the seat is blocked by a rather ingenious (?) hideous (?) completely self serving knee saving device; other times the seat does recline but verbal or even physical assaults result. So who is in the right and who is in the wrong? I guess it depends upon where you are sitting (literally).

I'll be the first to agree that the customer service standards of American airlines leave a lot to be desired. There really isn't any comparison between a European or Asian flagged carrier and an American one. The ticket prices might be higher on the former flights but you get what you pay for; free checked luggage, complementary food and drinks and larger seats while the American airlines are increasingly nickel and diming their passengers by charging for everything. I do find it ironic that a country with one of the the largest obesity problems has airlines that are increasingly pinching their customers into smaller seats. Is this a hint......

I should preface all of this by stating that although I am a frequent traveler, I am fortunate that I don't have long legs so leg room is never really an issue for me. That said, I am still not a fan of the person in front of my reclining their seat into what I consider to be my space. But, and this is a big but, if their seat reclines I believe they should have the right to recline it. They paid for it so they can do what they like with it. The same goes for arm rests; if I want mine down I don't think it should be raised simply because the person next to me needs more space. If you know you need more space, pay for it.

The airline industry is a for-profit business. If they choose to have narrow seats, seats that don't recline, or charge for each bag you carry onto the plane, those are business decisions. As customers we can choose to accept their terms or not. The last time I checked no one has ever been forced to get on an airplane; rather they choose to because it is convenient, they feel as though they have to get from point A to point B or they want to go someplace as cheaply as they can. As a paying customer if I don't like what the airline is offering I will choose another one. You get what you pay for so if I want a larger seat with more room I will pay for an upgrade. If I chose to buy the cheapest ticket possible I will carry on my size and weight restricted bag, sit in my narrow seat and make the best of the flight. After all, the flight won't last forever. Maybe going the way of Sprint Airlines, who has disabled the reclining mechanism in all of their seats, is the way to go. Their flights are still full and no planes are being diverted over arguments over the seats.

But at the end of the day it comes down to common courtesy. Follow the rules set out by the airline. If something is forbidden on the flight (I'm talking about those knee saving devices) then don't think you are so special that the ban doesn't apply to you. Treat others as you want them to treat you. Even on long haul flights, I personally choose not to recline my seat so I can be considerate of the person behind me. (The one time I did recline was on an Alitalia flight from Boston to Rome. I was holding my son, who had just fallen asleep on my shoulder. The minute I reclined my seat the man behind me slammed my seat back so hard that it jolted my baby awake. He proceeded to cry for the remaining flight which I considered to be enough sweet justice to the man seated behind us). If the flight is diverted because of unruly passengers, don't get angry at the airline because you think their seats are too small; blame the passengers. If you don't like it, don't fly. No one is forcing you to board that plane.

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