I’d Love Airlines To Limit/Eliminate Seat Recline On All Short Flights

a plane on the runway

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I don’t do very much flying with Delta but it’s an airline I respect. I don’t like its loyalty program and I detest the hypocritical way its management encourages protectionism under the guise of patriotism but there’s no doubt that this is an airline which is run pretty well.

Out of the three big US legacy carriers Delta is the clear leader with American and United following sheep-like in its wake so it’s always worth watching closely when Delta makes any kind of significant change.

a plane on the runway

Right now Delta is in the process of reducing the amount of recline on offer to First and Economy Class passengers in over 60 of its Airbus A320 aircraft and it’s a move I cheered enthusiastically when I first heard about it.

In Economy Class passengers will find their recline reduced from 4″ to 2″, in First Class the recline will go from 5″ to just 3.5″ and, on an aircraft which primarily operates short routes, I don’t see this as an issue at all.

Seat recline seems to be an emotive subject and many people love to argue that it’s “their right” to recline if the seat allows them to – I disagree.

If you argue that you have the ‘right to recline’ you’re suggesting that your needs come before those of everyone around you (more specifically, those behind you) and that’s just about as selfish an attitude as you can get.

Why is one person’s need any more important than another’s? Just because you have a button on your seat which allows you to recline doesn’t mean you have the unquestionable right to make someone else’s journey uncomfortable and/or unpleasant.

a row of seats in an airplane

Sure, on a red-eye or on a flight of notable length (say, over 3 hours) I can see why it may be nice to recline and I see nothing wrong with someone checking with the person behind them before gently reclining their seat in an attempt to get some rest….but that not how things work in the real world is it?

In the real world we have passengers who slam their seats into full recline as soon as they possibly can and who leave them in that position through meal service, through drinks service and, essentially, for the whole flight whether they actually need to recline or not.

In the real world you’re not a frequent flyer until you’ve nearly had your laptop crushed, your meal deposited in your lap or your drink spilled all over you by an inconsiderate neanderthal in the seat ahead of you.

Consideration for others often goes out of the window once people cross through the aircraft door and the ‘me, me, me’ nature of modern society rears its ugly head.

Like it or not a lot of people are inherently selfish (especially when they travel) and if they can’t be trusted to show a bit of consideration for fellow passengers (which they can’t) the only solution is for airlines to take back a bit of control….and that’s what Delta appears to be doing with this latest move.

an airplane with blue seats

I guess it’s only fair to point out that if airlines didn’t make aircraft seating so dense in the first place this probably wouldn’t be such a big issue but, as cramped cabins are not going away anytime soon, I’m happy to see Delta doing something to make flying a little less horrendous.

Bottom Line

For the overwhelming majority of people there is no real reason to have to recline the seat on short flights so I’m delighted to see Delta limiting the amount of recline on offer on its A320s – I’d probably cheer harder if it eliminated recline altogether on the truly short-hop flights.

I’m tired of having someone else’s seat thrust in my face 30 seconds after take-off on short daytime flights and having what limited space I’ve been given reduced yet further. It makes it impossible to work or to get comfortable unless I also recline and encroach on the space of the passenger behind me (which I refuse to do).

With a little bit of luck we’ll see United and American follow suit….and hopefully a lot more airlines too. Perhaps then we may finally have a situation were the inconsiderate can’t negatively impact those around them as much as they can right now.

Featured image courtesy of Stuart Seeger via Flickr


  1. You’re just perpetuating the me, me, me culture. In this case you can’t run fast enough to kiss Delta’s ass on this because you agree. Did you even try to get a different perspective… didn’t think so.

    • Three questions for you:

      1) What different perspective? I fly all the time and I’m perfectly entitled to have an opinion (which I voiced) – you’re entitled to your opinion and neither of us had to like the other’s.

      2) How is my opinion that passengers should not be able to encroach on other passengers space at will perpetuating the ‘me, me, me’ culture?

      3) I started off the post by saying that I don’t like Delta’s loyalty program and went on to say that I detest how it behaves in a particular circumstance – how is that “kissing Delta’s ass”?

      I’m not sure if you understand how opinions work but just because I’m in strong favor of something that an airline does doesn’t mean I’m kissing its ass or advocating for the airline – it means I like that particular thing an airline has done.

      Are you kissing the ass of everyone who’s ever reclined their seat on a short flight by disagreeing with me?

  2. I totally agree with Darin. Your article is all me me me and giving the upper hand to Delta to do away with another limited, yet little comfort perk.

    What if someone has travelled for hours, worked for hours, has a connecting flight, etc and wants a nap or to lay back?

    I have never had a problem, eating, sitting, etc. with someone in recline, which they are entitled to do as they purchased a seat with a certain amount of recline. Let them do it man!

    I am VA Platinum so I fly more than enough to comment experience wise.

    • Ah right…so it’s “me, me, me” when I suggest that someone on a short flight not be allowed to recline into another passenger’s space but it’s not selfish at all to expect to be able to recline at will into someone else’s space on a short flight?

      Amusingly you make it sound like I’m suggesting that no one ever be allowed to recline and that poor hard working passengers be forced to miss out on precious sleep that they oh so deserve – give me a break.

      It’s slso amusing that you’re up in arms about Delta doing away with “another limited, yet little comfort perk“ yet you seem perfectly happy to ensure that passengers into whom others are reclining get considerably less comfort themselves.

  3. I feel like your argument sort of defeats itself when you write the following:

    Sure, on a red-eye or on a flight of notable length (say, over 3 hours) I can see why it may be nice to recline and I see nothing wrong with someone checking with the person behind them before gently reclining their seat in an attempt to get some rest….but that not how things work in the real world is it?

    It seems as though you are suggesting that there is some arbitrary cutoff for where it is reasonable to ask politely before reclining, but people could ask that same question on short hops as well. Moreover, as you note people don’t do that because that’s “not how things work in the real world” which would lead me to assume that you should actually want to limit recline on longer flights where such seat recline is an inconvenience for much longer. Obviously the decision not to limit it everywhere comes from passenger reaction – shorter flights mean that people will be more willing to except the negative change. But its still a negative change.

    Moreover, the introduction of slim line seats, and the existence of hard shell seats means we have the innovation capability to make this a non-issue for both types of consumers but airlines ultimately won’t do that because it eats in to profits. Instead they choose to make the seat more uncomfortable for the passenger because they know they have a captive consumer. I think thats what upsets me the most.

    Lastly, the people that really lose are they people that have medical issues where seat recline may help their comfort over the course of a flight. Sure, that may be a minority, but just because they are a minority shouldn’t mean that they matter less. Im happy to suffer some seat recline if it means that someone with actual, physical discomfort doesn’t have their whole flight ruined

    • What I’m suggesting is that I can understand a need to be able to recline on longer flights and that’s why I would not be in favor of Delta (or any other airline) taking this stance on flights of over 3 hours (that’s a journey time long enough were I can imagine people genuinely requiring to lie back a bit).

      On short flights there is generally a lot less reason for most passengers to need to recline (and encroach on another passenger’s space) so that’s why I’m in favor of airlines removing that option.

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