Dear Delta CEO: Don’t Pass the Seat-Reclining Buck
tl;dr: Asking passengers to get permission before reclining ignores the real problem
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably saw a viral video last week of an angry airline passenger petulantly punching the seatback of the reclining woman in front of him. The video divided the internet about who was to blame, but it also did something more important: raise the question of whether reclining an airline seat is kosher or verboten in general.
You may have also seen that the CEO of Delta weighed in on the subject. His (somewhat surprising) take is that passengers should always ask permission before reclining their seat. Easy for him to say: he probably hasn’t had a seatback touch his knees in years.
Indeed, his response really revealed that the last thing we need is CEO-splaining about airline etiquette. To state that it is the duty of the passenger to ask permission to recline is pretty easy to do when you’re approximately 35,000 feet away from the problem. If the rest of us also waltzed into an airport, without standing in lines or worrying about boarding, we’d likely be less exasperated and eager to ask permission of our neighbors. And let’s be honest here are we actually going to believe that CEOs are seated in cattle class, especially one that’s a CEO of an airline? I’m all for spreading the message to be mindful of our neighbors, but it’s slightly patronizing to receive etiquette suggestions from the silver spoons when the rest of us are holding a plastic spork.
The problem, this unfortunate episode makes us realize, is that, when it comes down to us, most of us just aren’t huge fans of the on-board experience when flying, especially managing the often tight quarters. This is the real traveler experience, Mr. CEO. So, it’s no surprise we can get a little tense about seat recline. Think about everything we’ve just been through to even get on the plane! We all have varying views about the subject, to the point where the viral video emerged between a passenger trying to recline and the passenger behind’s reaction. It’s not a good look for anyone, but we still can be a little nicer to one another. I’m of the thought that the recline is part of the deal. If I don’t use it, I lose it, but if the person in front of me uses it, I don’t lose it.
Suggesting that passengers ask permission before using a built-in feature of the seat they paid for doesn’t seem to be an ideal solution. Unfortunately, banking on human kindness (on an airplane!) doesn’t seem to be an effective strategy. Modern planes are a zero-sum game for passengers, and it’s up to the airlines to deal with the root issue, not pass the buck on to cramped customers.