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It’s time to get rid of reclining seats in economy

There is only one way to solve this problem: Take away our ability to do it


The biggest issue dividing our nation right now has nothing to do with impeachment hearings, global warming, or what Jennifer Lopez and Shakira wore during their Super Bowl halftime show. Airplane seats have once again ignited the rage of a nation, specifically the age-old question of to recline, or not to recline.

Perhaps you’re one of the 2 million or so people who have watched the video of a man punching the back of another passenger’s seat on an American Airlines flight last month. The unidentified man, who resembles a former amateur boxer who now plays drums in a Smashing Pumpkins tribute band, smacks away at the seat of the woman in front of him because she reclined, allegedly spilling his drink in the process.


The woman, Wendi Williams, is now threatening to sue American Airlines after her seat was repeatedly pummeled by the seat back boxer on the 90-minute flight from New Orleans to Charlotte. She claims the flight attendant threatened to remove her from the plane for being a disruptive passenger after she complained. She also claimed she never spilled the man’s drink. The incident has gotten so big it now has its own name — reclinegate. Everyone knows it’s not a true controversy until the suffix “-gate” is added to a word.

Williams is also demanding that the seat back boxer come forward so she can sue him as well. (Side note: If you want someone to come forward, don’t threaten him with legal action. Instead, pretend you’re going to apologize, or announce that you want to give him a boat or something. Also, don’t call him a “jackhole” on Twitter.)

The point — it’s coming, I promise — is that the seat reclining controversy appears to be something that will never go away. Like taxes or Celine Dion concerts, these fights are a regular, annoying occurrence. The two sides of this bitter fracas have dug in their spiked heels. Recliners will use the “I paid for this seat so I’m reclining it” argument. Non-recliners have stuck to the refrain that recliners are obnoxious individuals for diminishing what little room they already have. Never shall the two sides meet.


There is only one way to solve this problem: Get rid of reclining seats in economy class.

Any parent knows this tactic is effective. When the kids are fighting over a toy and won’t share it, the parent eventually takes the toy away. If you can’t play nice, you can’t play at all. This is why we can’t have nice things.

This may sound extreme, but let’s look at the facts. Airlines will never examine the situation and say, “Well, it looks as if folks need space, time to take out a few rows and give them some legroom.” Meanwhile, passengers will continue to act like rabid raccoons fighting over a banana peel in a trashcan when they’re on a plane. This situation is never going to change.

Getting rid of reclining seats in economy class will level the playing field. It’s one less stress to face. Never again will someone eating, drinking, or working on their laptop worry about the seat in front of them flying back. Recliners who argue that they paid for their space will always have the same space. Get rid of the recline, or just pre-recline all seats. When the variable is removed, the fighting will go away.


Because I’ve traveled down this bumpy runway more than once, I know the arguments that will be coming from those who think reclining is their right. They’re tall and they need more space. They’re worried about blood clots, or they have bad knees. I get all that. I’m average height, and I still feel cramped. Reclining 3 inches doesn’t solve these problems.

I’m not necessarily a fan of Spirit Airlines, but the bargain carrier has seats that do not recline. People may complain about other things on Spirit, but they’re not fighting with their fellow passengers about reclining. The few times I’ve flown Spirit, it’s been liberating not to fret over impending seat wars. All those passive aggressive tactics that are currently employed in the recline-versus-no-recline wars disappear. I can focus on binge watching “The Love Boat” without worry.

Whether you shake a fist at my idea, or you’re a reasonable person and you agree, I believe that getting rid of reclining seats is the only way travelers will finally reach across the aisle and find common ground. In the meantime, please refrain from punching seats on airplanes.

Christopher Muther can be reached at christopher.muther@globe.com. Follow him @Chris_Muther and Instagram @chris_muther.