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September 5th, 2014
02:33 PM ET

Airline seat battles: Do passengers have the right to recline?

There's a national debate over whether fellow passengers should be able to recline their seats. It's caused three flights in the past two weeks to make emergency landings.

United flight diverted over legroom scuffle

One man used the now famous Knee Defender to keep the passenger in front of him from reclining. It lead to a fight so heated his plane from Newark to Denver had to be diverted to Chicago.

An aviation expert tells CNN that diverting a flight is costly. It costs airlines about $6,000 per hour  and that doesn't include airport landing fees for some flights.

Controversial inflight device: Should the Knee Defender be banned?

So why all the fights over legroom?


Filed under: Aviation Industry • Money & Power • News
soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. jim

    When one reclines, a decision has been made to acquire more space. The individual may be aware that the result is loss of space for a fellow passenger. The individual may not be aware of the physics involved or may simply place their rights above those of another passenger. This is not illegal but merely discourteous. Many people are raised to be courteous and many are raised to disregard other people. Courteous people are often not passive people and feel the need to improve the behavior of discourteous people by smashing them in the face. This won't change. Conflict may be avoided by not having seats that recline .

    September 12, 2014 at 1:02 pm | Reply
  2. J. Marks

    Passengers have a right to enough leg room. Maybe there should be special rows for people over 6'2". For short flights, 2hours or less, seats should not fold down. For longer flights, there should be more leg room. People are not cattle!

    September 7, 2014 at 11:00 am | Reply
    • Gustavo

      I you wanna be confortable i think the best option is to buy a business or a first class, or maybe try a different airline company, but if you are looking for a better prize so you must accept what the company offers you. No one is forced to buy a ticket for a flight or company that you know does not offer so much leg space. You bought it knowing this features.

      September 9, 2014 at 2:03 pm | Reply
  3. craig

    Well a large factor depends on the size of the person,...as demonstrated,...I'm 6 foot 4,......so my seat is definitely going back,...cuz its crunch time when the person in front of me puts their seat back! Everyone has that right, or why have seats that go back,...............but ur right, airlines just packing us in like sardines,...and why I avoid flying at all costs!

    September 7, 2014 at 9:38 am | Reply
  4. Sandy

    I recline all the time and don't think twice about it. If the person in front of me is reclined and i'm not it doesn't bother me. If the person behind me is bothered well he can recline back too!

    September 6, 2014 at 1:17 pm | Reply
  5. Ebenezer Dada

    I think U.S airways are a bit better when it comes to this issue as i enjoyed a nice leather seat and more space first time in my life, others are nothing to write home about. Yes people have the right to recline their seat due to Health and Safety issue and to have a better long haul comfortably. Should in case i recline my seat i expect the passenger behind to either accept my condition or join me in reclining his or her own seat.

    Reclining is vital for any long haul journey in order avoid unnecessary cramp or groin which later on will have a legal effect on airlines.

    September 6, 2014 at 10:38 am | Reply
  6. Joel

    Here's my perspective, I pay the price the airline asks of me for my ticket. With this in mind, if the airline allows me to recline my seat to whatever extent then as a paying customer I have the right to recline my seat back. They don't want passengers to fight over reclined seats? Make the seats recline less or whatever, those chairs can be easily redesigned to reduce the angle of the recline. Like Dave above me said, the problem is not the passengers onboard, it's the poor management of the airline.

    September 6, 2014 at 7:04 am | Reply
  7. Sharon

    For short flights – no meal service, no entertainment system – the seats should simply NOT recline. For long flights, some courtesy about how and when to recline should be practiced – not during meals, and always with advance notice. Slamming your seat back into someone's space (yes, I know that it's shared space) unannounced is rude, potentially disruptive and even damaging if food trays and beverages are still on the tray behind the recliner. Some common sense and courtesy goes a long way in civility in the air.

    September 6, 2014 at 3:43 am | Reply
  8. Dave

    The problem is not the passengers. It is the fact that the airlines try to cram more and more people into less and less space. If the small profit that they gain from those few extra rows of seats is that critical to their survival, then they are so poorly managed that they probably deserve to go under.

    September 5, 2014 at 11:41 pm | Reply
  9. Nick

    Erin Burnett proudly states that she does not recline her airline seat. I am disappointed that she doesn't tell the audience the class with which she travels. I highly doubt she travels in coach as most of us do. If you travel in business or first class you have so much room that you don't need to recline. Have you ever traveled in coach Erin?

    September 5, 2014 at 10:03 pm | Reply
  10. Joe Liello

    People have the right to recline , tall people have the right to sit comfortable so. Airlines should move the seats .
    Should be a law there is to many people on the plane now.

    September 5, 2014 at 9:58 pm | Reply
  11. Carolyn Guidry

    Airlines should be required to limit seats so there is ample space for reclining . On most planes now there is hardly enough to get into the seat, let alone sit comfortably.

    September 5, 2014 at 9:44 pm | Reply
  12. Nick

    It is fine for people who fly first class or business class to say they don't recline because they don't need to. They have so much room.

    September 5, 2014 at 8:17 pm | Reply
  13. Mary Kay

    We've had issues during flights...my sons are both 6 feet 8 inches tall. I am 5 feet 10 inches. Several times, the person in front of us attempted to put back their seat and was unable to do so due to our legs being so long. There was NO extra room for us to adjust to accommodate them. The flight attendants were no help whatsoever. They always took the side of the passanger who could not put their seat back, never helping us out to find a solution that accocomodates all parties involved. We cannot afford the expense of first class, which provides passengers with more room. We are just ordinary working-class people. Please tell me what what the solution is?

    September 5, 2014 at 7:59 pm | Reply
    • Jo

      You do have the option to purchase a ticket in the section that will afford your son extra leg space, i.e Economy Plus. You must be cognizant of the fact that there is lack of legroom for someone 6'8" before you purchase that ticket. Flight attendants do not have the ability or authority to change your son's seat without incurring an extra cost on your behalf. It would behoove you to investigate which is best for your son and the most economical way to go about this.

      September 8, 2014 at 6:04 pm | Reply
  14. Tom Moroney

    As a man who is 6'4, a person in front of you reclining there seat can be annoying and uncomfortable, but I will undoubtedly recline my own seat because it is there and i can. This whole notion of it being rude is taking away from the main point. Why are airlines trying to can us into seats like sardines. I pay for my airline ticket just like everyone else, which includes a seat that reclines. I never have enough room due to my height but the recline button is there to be used. Unless you are taller then me you have no right to complain about this. I have bad knees as well but I won't stop someone from enjoying their recline seats.

    September 5, 2014 at 7:06 pm | Reply
  15. dasher28

    the only point were it wouldn't be rude to recline your seat is if nobody had to use the bathroom at any point of the flight and everyone reclined their chair the same amount. How can one use the small pull down table provided from the seat infront if the seat is reclined?

    September 5, 2014 at 7:00 pm | Reply
  16. Shirley McCullough

    Airlines should give passengers enough room to recline their seats, otherwise lock them in the upright position.

    September 5, 2014 at 6:52 pm | Reply
  17. Deb

    If all you have to worry about in life is how far back your seat reclines, I want your life. Who is to say whether the person that has the 'right' to recline has the more valid supposition, or the person who feels they have the 'right' to utilize their tray and knee space has more valid concerns?

    September 5, 2014 at 6:37 pm | Reply
  18. Tony liotta

    You pay for the seat and the space of that seat, like the person behind you they have the option to recline their seat too. Everyone has the choice of how much room they have and it is the same maximum space for each passenger unless you pay a premium

    September 5, 2014 at 6:36 pm | Reply
  19. Ryan

    I will recline my seat if I see that the person behind me has reclined theirs. If the person in front reclines their seat, and I have been unable to recline mine, I secretly and silently loath them.

    September 5, 2014 at 6:18 pm | Reply
  20. rick

    the airlines is the blame, they pack the people in so tight to make more money not to make the passengers comfy.

    September 5, 2014 at 6:18 pm | Reply
  21. HeartofOz

    I am not sure that this has a yes or no answer. It can depend on whether someone is eating or trying to use their tray, the size of the person behind you can all weigh into whether or not you should recline. Is it night? If it is really that annoying to have someone recline their seats then, you have to look at your seating options and pay the extra if you want more space. Asking the attendant to "request" politely or to ask yourself for the chair in front to be raised, is a little more polite and less likely to cause problems, than to just take away someone else's space. Over all in the big picture you are not on a plane for too long so suck it up sunshine!

    September 5, 2014 at 6:09 pm | Reply
  22. Tom Collens

    We could all walk very slowly across a crosswalk (and some do), but those of us that are courteous to our fellow man walk a bit briskly so they may turn or continue on. One does not need to fully recline to sleep if tired or to be comfortable. I just would not feel right about doing so knowing how uncomfortable & miserable it is when someone does it to me.

    September 5, 2014 at 6:00 pm | Reply
  23. FA Bubba

    I think Airlines should increase the minimum distance between seats.

    Airlines should also consider the seats that Pan Am used to have - the SEAT moved forward, and the back pivoted forward, leaving the headrest in the same space. This means the person who reclines loses knee room, and the passenger behind is not affected.

    September 5, 2014 at 6:00 pm | Reply
  24. Kathy So

    Airlines should somewhat limit the amount seats can recline. I don't appreciate having someone's head in my lap; there is never enough room. On the other hand, passengers should just suck it up and get over it!

    September 5, 2014 at 5:42 pm | Reply

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