A Controversy In Which One Side Is Clearly Correct

No doubt you have seen the video of the long-suffering gentleman whose private airplane space is being intruded on by a woman who has reclined her seat way too far, and who gently taps on the back of her seat to remind her that she is violating a cardinal rule of etiquette. Well, that isn’t how everyone describes it. First, the video as posted by the woman on Twitter, then my opinion on it:


As a very frequent flier–I am well into my second million miles on Delta, not to mention all the other airlines–I have often been bedeviled by an impolite person in the seat in front of me, who reclines his or her seat too far, intruding into my space. Sometimes this makes it impossible to use my laptop on the table in front of me, and sometimes it forces me to recline in turn, thereby transferring the problem to the person behind me. I have never actually pounded on the over-reclined seat in front of me, but I confess that I have occasionally banged it rather forcefully when it impeded me from getting into the aisle. And sometimes I have muttered audibly about amateurs who don’t know the first thing about flight etiquette. This is a subject on which I feel strongly.

The man in the video was in the last row before a bulkhead, so he was not able to recline his own seat to create a little more space for himself. Was his reaction to the woman’s rudeness excessive? No doubt it was. But I can sympathize with someone who is goaded beyond endurance. I am a moderate man. I do not urge that passengers who recline their seats excessively be shot. But I do think they should be consigned to the Bernie Sanders Gulag.

Some years ago I flew to Miami with my wife and several of my children. My oldest daughter and I were in one row, she in the middle and I in the window seat. An elderly gentleman was on the aisle. Behind us were a woman and her two young sons. The father was in the same row, but across the aisle, and he pretended not to be acquainted with his offspring.

The boys were ungovernable. They shrieked, rolled in the aisle, blew on a whistle, and relentlessly kicked the backs of the seats in front of them–ours and the elderly gentleman’s. The mother, meanwhile, was enthralled with their brilliance, and repeatedly pronounced them geniuses for the benefit of those who could hear–i.e., us. At one point one of her sons correctly identified a couple of dinosaurs, a diplodocus and a triceratops if memory serves. She went into ecstasies of approbation.

After close to three hours of this, the mother went to the bathroom and the boys began kicking with renewed vigor. Finally the gentleman in the aisle seat snapped. He unbuckled his seat belt, leaped into the aisle, turned on the two malefactors and screamed insults at them, demanding that they stop kicking his seat.

Did he go too far? No doubt. But my daughter and I felt that he spoke for us. Airplanes are inherently stressful venues, and etiquette is important. Those who recline their seats excessively violate an important norm that should be obvious to any traveler.

Some blame the airlines, and they have a point in that it would be easy to design seats so they cannot be reclined so as to impinge unduly on another passenger’s space. Problem solved. The airlines should do this. But we are Americans; we do not rely on big business to make rudeness impossible. The time has come for airline passengers of the world to unite. We have nothing to lose but the sight of reclined seat backs, six inches in front of our faces.

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