In bad news for seat recliners and good news for people with arms and legs and knees that need room to operate, British Airways just became the latest airline to announce it’s doing away with seats that slip back into other people’s suppers.
The airline just revealed that 35 of its new short-haul aircraft introduced over the next five years will have seats pre-set to “gentle recline to ensure everyone in the cabin enjoys a comfortable journey.”
The company joins the likes of Allegiant Air, Ryanair, and Norwegian in phasing out the seats and, for someone who’s suffered enough hunched, cramped miles with a stranger’s scalp inches from his face, this is the best news of the year so far.
As you may have guessed, I’m ardently anti-recline.
Why? I suppose it’s not so much the fact that at 6’2”(ish), I have to slump down in my own seat to see what’s on the TV screen, or how I have to angle my knees into the aisle only to be periodically bashed by passing trolleys, or when people slam their body into my personal space. It’s not that I have to eat like a velociraptor from a tray hanging under someone’s supine body, or contort into k-shapes to get out and off to the toilet, or read a newspaper folded into squares.
It’s that the people who recline, who often push that dreaded button minutes after takeoff and stay that way until the attendants force them to return upright, exude an intensely irritating “f*ck you” insouciance that’s only barely tempered with the odd shake of their seat when it looks like they’re drifting off. (Sweet revenge helps the miles go quicker.)
Whichever side of the slipped back seat you’re on, to recline or not to recline is one of the fiercest debates of modern times, and there have been casualties on both sides. Witness the embarrassing brawl on a Southwest flight in Burbank recently that saw chipped teeth, swollen eyes, and one man pinned against an overhead bin:
Or that infamous New Jersey to Denver flight that was diverted after two grown adults got into a fight over the use of the Knee Defender, a cheap gadget that blocks the person in front from reclining. When a 48-year-old man tried to attach the wedge-shaped thing to the seat in front, a woman threw water in his face and it just got more dignified from there. The pair were eventually left in Chicago while the rest of the plane went on with their journeys and lives.
People who recline argue that they’ve paid for their ticket and should utilize everything they can to make their journey more comfortable, particularly in an era where legroom is shrinking and airlines conceive new ways to narrow seats, restrict baggage, and generally make life miserable for customers. But should this be at the expense of a similarly suffering stranger behind them? Maybe they should pay for business class instead.
Some saw British Airways’ new move as a mere cost-cutting extension — the airline recently removed free food and drink from economy for short-haul trips too. And non-reclining aircraft seats are apparently lighter and thus more fuel efficient, saving airlines extra cash. But seats with a lower carbon emission count are fine by me.
The Economist recently reported on a study that tried to monetize the value of those inches of airspace that cause so much grief. Two law professors, Christopher Buccafusco and Christopher Jon Sprigman, attempted to quantify the value of the disputed territory by asking people on a six hour flight what they would have to be paid to not recline their seat and what they would pay to have the person in front not recline.
Recliners asked for $41 to stay upright while those behind would only pay $18 to prevent it happening. However, if perceived ownership of the space reverted to the person behind, recliners would only pay $12 to recline, and people behind wouldn’t sell their space for less than $39.
So really, the value of the space depended on who ‘owned’ it in the first place. And that is something that will be disputed until the end of time. So maybe we should just get rid of all reclining seats and be done with it.