Reclining Seats: Airline-Manufactured Corporate Controversy

Steffani Cameron
7 min readJul 4, 2016


You’ve had two hours sleep before a 30-minute way-pre-dawn cab ride to a foreign airport, and you don’t know the language for cabby small-talk so you’re slipping in and out of consciousness as you run through your checklist again — passport, money for fees, addresses... You’ve hauled your luggage through the airport, checked in, and ate bad airport food to kill off the two or three hours between check-in and lift-off. That got you onto an early-morning connector to another airport, where you have to kill off 2.5 another hours, but yay for security lines and other fuckery, because you’re down to 45 minutes to waste. Thank God you’ve got the most uncomfortable airport seats in the world to “rest” in while you fight off the flying masses to charge your electronics before a cross-Atlantic flight that’ll see your entire day disappear into pointlessness.

Finally boarding after delays, indecipherable crackling announcements for two hours, punctuated by bawling babies and shrieking children, you sink into your chair and begin flight rituals. Decompressing with bad movies and infant-sized glasses of water, all you’re praying now for is the underwhelming meal so you can struggle to get whatever sleep the gods impart upon you.

So the big question is: Do you recline?

4% of Lonely Planet readers say it’s NEVER okay to recline. 37% say when sleeping. So, 96% of people think it’s okay at some point to recline, yet Mr. Semley wants you to believe it’s a crime against humanity.

The Ethics of Reclining // •eyeroll•

Well, thank God for this chucklehead writing for Canada’s Globe & Mail, we now know that to recline your chair is just steps away from clubbing baby seals and cheating on your spouse. Reclining your chair makes you a part of the “scourge” of the “reclining traveller.” Mon dieu! Quel horreur!

In his inexplicable opinion column, John Semley writes of the debate to recline airplane seats:

“Knowing how to conduct oneself in such scenarios can be tricky. The thing about manners and etiquette and the other fineries of social graces is that they’re unwritten. They’re matters of convention more than hard-and-fast policy. Which is why, I think, it helps to harden the conventions; to offer firm prescriptions that become rules, such as the old escalator adage, “stand right, walk left,” or the just-as-generally-accepted “don’t fart on an elevator.”

So here’s one: Don’t recline. Don’t recline on airplanes. Don’t recline on trains. Don’t recline on buses. No reclining. Ever.”

I feel sorry for John. Withholding sneaker farts in elevators is struggle enough, but not reclining for a few precious moments of rest after what are sometimes hellish days of travel just getting to the airport, well, that’s quite the hair-shirt you’re donning, my friend.

No reclining “ever,” John? Oh, no, magnanimously he says there are sometimes exceptions. So, what, if I’m on my third connecting flight of the day after getting two hours sleep, a note from my mother gets me a golden “reclining permissible” pass?

I have to justify to YOU why I’m reclining? Really? Guess what, pal? It’s none of your business what my motivators are. I don’t have to justify a damned thing, other than seats are made to recline, and I’m reclining.

To think, this guy could recline, but instead he wants to glower at the woman ahead of him like she’s evil for making the best of a situation forced upon her by a corporation nickle-and-diming us to death.

Sheeples: Corporate America’s Favourite People

You know what happens in airline headquarters when opinion pieces like this come out? They wring their hands with glee. Why? Because people like John Semley are complicit in helping airlines get away with something that should be illegal, cramming us in like sardines.

The fact is, being crammed in as we are, seated upright and hinged at the hips, increases the likelihood of blood clots — blood clots that can kill you.

I’m not trying to fear-monger here, I’m pointing out basic medical facts, and blood clots being connected to confined airline seating are a fact. Google “blood clots long flights” and it’ll take 0.57 seconds to yield 189,000 flights., the American Society of Hematology writes, “Blood clots can sometimes form in your legs during air travel because you are immobile for long periods of time, often sitting in cramped spaces with little leg room. While commonly referred to as “economy class syndrome,” the clinical term for this type of blood clot is deep vein thrombosis.”

Blood clots in legs are so tied to airline travel that it’s called “economy-class syndrome”! I have a morbid dream: That a class-action lawsuit about people who’ve died of aneuryms and heart disease within 72 hours of a flight will eventually make airlines realize they can’t afford to cut our comfort in the name of profit.

Oh, look. Chairs that recline because they’re supposed to recline. How devious! Monarch Airlines, you’re so evil.

Nice Guys Sleep Last

Still, John wants to you sit up ’cause it’s polite.

Do you know why airline seats still recline, despite the age of Sardine-Can Travel of airlines? Because they know we’ll rise up and stab ’em with our plastic forks if they take away our last vestige of comfort.

So, despite cramming us in, removing every last convenience of service, our seats are still made to recline. It’s what they do. To say that, well, yes, they recline, but you’re a bad person for doing so is as stupid as it gets.

Who the hell are you to say no one should ever recline? I’m officially homeless. Travel is my life. I may love the locations I go to, but days I have to fly are days when I understand why Dante writes about the “planes of hell,” because I’m pretty sure some of the airplanes I’ve been on, while not a level of the evil afterlife, certainly could qualify.

If my back’s killing me from hauling my luggage, if I’ve had 2 hours sleep before a red-eye flight, or any other number of scenarios, you bet your life I’ll be reclining. If you have a problem with me reclining, then maybe you can get your head out of your ass long enough to realize that life’s tough and maybe, just maybe, I really need a break today.

Sometimes I’m even having a good day and I recline just because I wanted to do so, because I’m a rebel who says, “Hey, a 10-hour flight, maybe I’ll lean back and take some pressure off my lumbar.” It’s not just a crazy idea, it’s my right. I paid for a ticket to ride, and my ticket to ride comes with a seat that has a magical button that reclines.

So when folk like John are crying out about the indignity of seats doing what they’re designed to do, smart people like me book flights on sites like, where we check the leg-room measurements. Below-average leg-room flights are a “Aw, HELL no” moment for me. If you’re booking without caring about such things because you want to save $50, well, good for you, then suck it up.

When I recline, I generally assume that anyone behind me will correspondingly recline, and so on, like a domino effect. If they don’t recline to complete the domino chain, then tough on them. If they’re too tall for the leg-space allowed, then why didn’t they pony up a few more bucks for an exit row?

You see, I think of flights like rock concerts. If you’re in a stadium and the band is killing it, and the guy ahead of you gets up to dance, you don’t get to whine about them dancing and blocking your view, you get to shut up or dance. Those are your options.

Do a reciprocal-recline, or shut up. It’s that simple.

We’re such well-trained sheeple that they have this infographic about how and when one should recline.

They’ve Got Us Where They Want Us

As a consumer, I’m beholden to the greedy hell that is modern airline travel. In North America, I can’t say “Well, that’s stupid, I’m taking a bus,” because 2 hours beats 20 hours on a bus, doesn’t it? Time is money and I can’t afford to lose the time.

When I can take a train in Europe, I do. When buses in Mexico offer world-class comfort with spacious seats and extensive amenities, I’ll take them where I can.

But airlines know we’re going nowhere. There’s just too much time at stake to take other options in most cases. More people are flying now than ever, yet airline greed continues. Did you know they’re now introducing a new substandard class called “economy minus” or “last class”? Some evil asshole has actually come up with a way to make airline travel even worse. Really.

Yet folks like John are willing to kowtow to this corporate greed and play the happy sheeple, willingly complicit in being “nice” about trying to give everyone equal amounts of space by never reclining.

Screw that. I can’t afford business class. I can’t be some kinder, gentler schmuck who plays the role to which airlines are hoping I’ll finally give up and give in.

If reclining my seat is the only way I get to rest and relax on otherwise awful flights, then I’m doing it. If reclining is how I fight the power, then I’m going all Public Enemy on their ass and doing just that.

If you want to recline, do so. If you’re pissed off about the guy in front of you reclining, then remember who your fight is really with: Greedy corporate bastards sucking your comfort from you inch by inch. Your problem isn’t with another passenger, it’s with corporate headquarters. Channel that rage where it belongs.

Rise up and stab ’em with your plastic folks. Or just recline, let domino-inducing chaos ensue, and drive home that it’s from our cold dead hands they’ll snatch those last inches from us.

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Or, in this case, whenever one person reclines.



Steffani Cameron

Three years living as a nomad, committing random acts of solo slow travels through 22 countries, and over 80 cities. I write for money. Canadian.