And this doesn’t just go for tall folks -- I’ll have none of you out there making flights more difficult for overweight folks, who already frequently face horrific rudeness from their fellow passengers, not to mention the anxiety associated with flying while fat, whether they’re treated politely or not. A larger person might not be able to cross their legs or shift to one side or otherwise make the newly reclined landscape more livable. It’s also worth keeping in mind that some smaller-than-average people need to recline because the default position hurts their backs. In short, when you take your seat make sure to look at who’s sitting behind you and make sure you won’t be making them miserable just so you can be marginally more comfortable.
If you can’t visually diagnose a back problem with a three-second glance behind you, consider the line, “Pardon me, I wonder if you’d mind my reclining the seat?” If that feels like a huge ask of a stranger, well, maybe just sit straight up till you touch down again at LAX.
Aren’t there like … devices you can buy to stop the seat in front of you from going back?
Oh, you mean Knee Defenders, those infomercial-y plastic hooks that lock into your tray table and jam the reclining mechanism of the seat to which that tray table is attached. This is such an aggressive move! There are so many better things you can be doing while you wait for takeoff than start fights! Knee Defender stans enjoy legroom, sure, but what they really enjoy is drama. At any rate, since their brief trip through the news cycle around 2014, the Knee Defenders have largely faded from the to-recline-or-not-recline discourse. The Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t do blanket bans on such devices, preferring to leave it up to the individual airlines, kind of like the federal government leaving, say, weed legalization to the states; that said, all major US airlines have banned these. Have the Knee Defenders caused fights on flights? Duh. But again, it’s not the Wild West out there, not even at their peak.
“Yeah, I have heard about those, but I’ve never seen one,” says McIlvaine. She polls the room once more. “No, nobody. If I ever did, I’d just say politely but firmly that that’s not an approved device, and say it’s acceptable to recline your own seat back, too.”
Why don’t airplane manufacturers just … stop making seats that recline?
Some already do! Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air are among those who’ll just leave ya locked upright all flight. Is this a better world, the one you dreamt of?
Ugh, fine, just tell me what my best options are. Please, my legs are so sore
Just checking, but you know you can look up your plane schematics online before you select a seat, right?
“I think these days, the savvy traveler is learning what seats to try to get if they want more legroom,” McIlvaine says. “Everyone tries to battle for the window or the aisle -- anything but the middle. Yes, the exit rows are desirable, but it depends on the airplane. A lot of times [you should] try for the front seat by the bulkhead, where the tray tables come up through the arms and nobody’s in front of you. And now a lot of times the airplanes have the Economy Plus area, and that’s a little better.”
If you have no extenuating circumstances in the realm of back problems or physical size, I truly believe your best option is to recognize that we’re all uncomfortable and that we all will, in a couple of hours, be less uncomfortable, and that therefore maybe your Outrage firepower is best focused on other things. Like calling Congress.