This article originally appeared on Avvo.com.
Not long ago I was seated next to a female stranger on a flight from Seattle to Chicago. As we reached cruising altitude, the passenger in front of my seatmate reclined his seat. Her response was immediate: she promptly—and sharply—thumped the back of the “offender’s” seat with her left forearm, temporarily turning his noggin into a life-sized bobble head. He gave her a sidelong look—but he also returned his seat to its full upright position, and there it stayed for the remainder of the nearly four-hour flight.
She was stuck in the middle seat, which may have put her in a bad mood. But what, I wondered, gave this woman the right to physically intimidate another passenger, especially when that passenger had only attempted to relax a little?
He had broken no rules; neither the airline nor the Federal Aviation Administration prohibits his behavior. In fact, most U.S. airlines ban the use of devices, like the infamous Knee Defender, that block seat reclining. (By the way, you can achieve the same effect by tightly rolling up that airline magazine and jamming it between a tray table arm and the back of the seat in front of you. And as with the Knee Defender, you’ll be told to remove it if the passenger whose seat you’ve locked upright complains to the flight crew.)
The right to recline
Now before you anti-recliners get all indignant about your personal space, think about this: the reclining passenger has just as much claim to that space as you do. The guy who got his seat bopped on my flight paid for his ticket, and with that payment came the right to use the seat as it was designed to be used.
You wouldn’t dream of accosting a stranger for putting his carry-on in the overhead bin. Or for using the lavatory. So why do you think it’s okay to verbally or even physically confront another flier because he takes advantage of his seat privileges? Flying is trying enough, what with long lines and partial disrobing at the TSA checkpoints. We don’t need vigilante passengers who view it as their right to browbeat other fliers.
And why stop with seat recliners? Wouldn’t you also like to give a piece of your mind (or forearm) to the guy next to you who’s hogging up the armrest? Or to the parents of that squalling baby? Seriously. The air marshals have a lot more important things to do than quell fights provoked by intolerant passengers.
You get what you pay for
I’ll admit that the leg and lap room in coach seems tighter when compared to what it used to be. In the 1990s, coach passengers had an average of a couple of inches more knee space than they do on most domestic flights today. But they paid for that extra leg room: coach fares have fallen over the past 20 years. Don’t believe it? Well, the statistics tell the story: In the first quarter of 1994, the average airfare was $501.22. By the first quarter of 2013, the average airfare had declined almost 25 percent when adjusted for inflation.
So here’s the deal: you want to fly cheaply, you have to put up with fuller planes and less personal room. If you don’t like this bargain, buy a business- or first-class ticket, which guarantees extra leg room and plenty of space to open up your laptop. Or pay a little more to sit in an “extra legroom” coach seat, where you’ll get a tad more space for your precious knees.
But if you like lower fares, then stop whining, and for heaven’s sake, stop taking it out on your fellow passengers.
See also: Holiday Etiquette: Do not recline your airline seat