The Reclining Controversy

When I first heard about the “Knee Defender,” I was really outraged.  The idea that a person could prevent you from reclining your airline seat with a device seemed ridiculous.  It was a clearly a part of the design of the seat to recline.  I had always assumed you have both a right to recline and that no one should be able to do anything about.  I should add that I find it extremely uncomfortable to sit on a plane without reclining.  In fact, I have hard time not reclining when you are forbidden to do so during take off and landing.

If everyone just reclines, what is the problem?  Nobody’s knees will be hurt because everyone will have the same amount of room.  What don’t these people get?

Yet, it appears that a sizeable number of people do not see it my way.  They think it is rude to recline your seat.  In fact, this survey indicates that 41 percent of people believe this.  I found this hard to believe, but there it is.

These numbers have forced me to come up with an explanation.  I now believe I understand what is going on.  Yes, if everyone reclines, then everyone will have “adequate” space.  But apparently not everyone reclines.  In fact, the number of people who don’t recline appears to be similar to the number who regard it as rude to recline.  According to the survey, twenty percent of people do not ever recline and 30 percent only do so once in a while.  If one takes two thirds of the people who only recline once in a while, on the ground that not all people who occasionally recline will regard it as rude to recline, and add it to the 20 percent who never recline, we are pretty much at the 41 percent figure of those who believe it is rude.

This also explains why I don’t regard it as rude and why a majority do not.  If you recline, you don’t see the problem with reclining, since the people behind you can just recline.

In the end, this appears to be a coordination game.  The problem is that some people recline and others do not.  Perhaps the airlines could divide the plane into sections with some sections having seats that allow reclining and others sections with seats that do not.  But don’t bet on it.  I would love for there to be a quiet section on the plane – where people are not permitted to talk.  I don’t like it – I am not sure I regard it as “rude” – when the two people behind me to talk in my ear, while I try to sleep.  But no quiet section emerges.

I suppose the question is why people do not recline.  If they have no good reason, we could solve the problem simply by having everyone recline.  But I assume they have some good reason.  Maybe they find it uncomfortable.

Who knows where this controversy will end?  Perhaps it will die out.  Perhaps the airlines will prevent seats from reclining (but if so, I will fly much less).  Or perhaps those who don’t recline will start to recline more, if they have less reason to not recline.  Or perhaps the airlines will use this as a profit opportunity, charging not only for the leg room but also for a reclining seat (or for non reclining seats in front of you).