Yesterday I noticed a lot of tweets and blogs sending their traffic to an article on Slate titled The Recline and Fall of Western Civilization. The article asserts that we as a society are broken because we recline our seats causing those behind us to suffer. It then takes the utilitarian view that reclining seats should be completely done away with. The first thing that came to my mind was, “are we really that bothered by seats reclining that Slate needs an article about it?”. Then I started thinking about the subtle “me, me, me” that was going on here cleverly disguised as “it’s for the greater good”.
Obviously, everyone on the plane would be better off if no one reclined; the minor gain in comfort when you tilt your seat back 5 degrees is certainly offset by the discomfort when the person in front of you does the same.
This quote in particular stood out. Unless you are a very tall person the amount of discomfort one receives from that same 5 degree seat recline is minimal as well. Sure, you may not be able to use your laptop on the tray table anymore, but the idea that you will be “uncomfortable” is a stretch. I am on an airplane a good chunk of every week and there are a lot of other things that are much more annoying and inconvenient than the guy in front of me reclining his seat.
Sure, I think it is annoying when a person reclines their seat right after take-off, or even better, the guy who does it on the ground after the flight attendants walk away, but I see some value in seat recline. I have had a few instances of back pain where I needed some recline to help relieve that pain and that 5 degrees made a difference. If we’re going to ban reclining seats then should ban all items that make trash (people litter), people who sit with their legs open on the subway (takes up my space), and so on.
Maybe what the author really wants to see is a seat like what ANA has installed on their Dreamliners, essentially a seat where the seat back is a shell, the bottom cushion slides forward, and the back cushion slides down. Such a seat gives a recline, but does not infringe on the space of the person behind.
I will say this. No matter how tall you are, products that keep the person in front of you from reclining, such as the Knee Defender, are not the answer. In the end air transportation is similar to a bus. If people want the experience of how nice commercial travel was in the 1960s then we’ll need to bring back regulation, make air travel unaffordable for a section of the population, and close a few airports… No? But it means a “better” travel experience for those traveling.