Reclining Your Airplane Seat Is Worse Than Manspreading

illustration of someone reclining on airplane

There I am, getting settled into my own little private 32in of sky. At  6'3", 215lbs, flying for me is a little like putting a goldfish in a shot glass, but I manage. My laptop’s out, and I'm ready to get some (albeit cramped) work done when -- wham!!! -- the seat in front of me crashes back like a trash compactor on the Death Star. My laptop is now literally under my elbows, the in-flight entertainment screen is at a distance my mom warned would ruin my eyesight, and what’s left of my Diet Coke is soaking through my pants. And it happens to me probably every other flight.
Which is mindboggling. How. Still. Today. How can the precious little real estate the airline so generously allotted to me be ripped away like I’m a nobleman during the French Revolution? And worse, how are there people who still think that -- just because the seat is equipped to lean back -- it's OK to recline into the legs of the passenger behind them. At this point in the history of air travel, EVERYBODY should know that leaning your seat back (especially without asking) is tantamount to bludgeoning the guy behind you with a lead pipe. And closing your eyes, putting on your headphones, and pretending it never happened only adds insult to injury.

I understand; the airlines do give you the option to lean your seat back, and you are perfectly within your rights to use it. You're also perfectly within your rights to spend most of the flight in the bathroom. Or chew your seatmate's ear off with your thoughts on nuclear proliferation treaties. But just because you CAN do something, doesn't mean you have to do it. And sometimes out of courtesy to other people, you just don't.

manspreading on public transit subway
Anatoly Tiplyashin/Shutterstock

I've recently decided that reclining your seat is the airplane equivalent of manspreading (it’s a word now!), when a guy on the subway or the bus or the public park bench spreads his legs wide while sitting. By doing so, he occupies more than one seat, forces everyone else to cram into uncomfortable positions, and shows about as much regard for his fellow humans as Paula Deen does for cholesterol.
But the thing about manspreading is, it’s biological. Men actually subconsciously do it to exert authority or “alpha” behavior. And studies have shown that women actually find it sexually attractive. I find it tough to believe, though, that any woman in the history of the world has ever said, “You know what turns me on? Dudes who aggressively throw their seats back and spill drinks on my lap.” Then again, I could be wrong.

Seat reclining
CandyBox Images/Shutterstock

So, really, seat reclining is WORSE than manspreading. The funny part is, when you look at who’s reclining their seats, it’s not the large individuals like myself, who you'd expect need the extra room. No, we understand the pain seat reclining causes and tend to fly upright so as not to inflict any additional hardship on the poor sap behind us. It’s always some short person with plenty of leg room to spare, who I’m pretty sure realizes this is the one situation where they can show up a taller person and decides to get a Napoleon complex at 30,000ft.

woman sleeping on plane
Matej Kastelic/Shutterstock

Some people claim they recline their seats to get sleep on the plane. Right. Sleeping in coach is kind of like staying out all night after you’re 30 -- the only way it’s happening is with a lot of drugs. And if you just downed your body weight in Ambien, that extra eight degrees you’re robbing from my poor kneecaps won’t keep you out of your slumber.

But regular seat recliners aren’t even the worst. The real sociopaths of the skies are the folks who sit in Economy Plus and then recline into a regular coach passenger. That’s like driving your Porsche through a mud puddle just so you can drench the guy waiting for a bus. And laughing about it.

Look, as they say in that Virgin America safety video, we’re all in this together. The airlines aren’t going to be adding legroom anytime soon, and one of the fine luxuries we gave up when we decided airfares shouldn’t keep pace with inflation was the ability to put our seats back. Think of it like a sacrifice for the common good. Or at least for the tall guy sitting behind you.

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Matt Meltzer is a staff writer with Thrillist. Follow him on Instagram @meltrez1.