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Etiquette at Work

Airlines can ease tension over cramped space

Three times in the past two weeks, airline passengers have had altercations over reclining seats. It’s going to happen again. In fact, the attention on the issue is likely to encourage more problems in the future.

In a recent article, Associated Press writer Scott Mayerowitz quotes Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants: “Seats are getting closer together. We have to de-escalate conflict all the time.’’ Then she concludes, “The conditions continue to march in a direction that will lead to more and more conflict.”

Airlines have reduced the space between seats from 33-35 inches to 30-32 inches. At that amount, a fully reclined seat invades the space of the person behind it. It becomes difficult to use the tray table to work on a laptop or eat a snack. Any person with long legs will have the seat back knocking their knees, adding to their discomfort. Even worse: The passenger in front often slams the seat down when reclining it.

Airlines dismiss the legroom concerns, noting they have redesigned seats so the reduction is barely noticeable to passengers, Mayerowitz reported. “Southwest’s seats have thinner seat-back magazine pockets,” he wrote, “Alaska Airlines shrank the size of tray tables, and United moved the magazine pocket, getting it away from passengers’ knees.”


But these justifications won’t change the increasing frustration passengers feel. It is translating into overt actions, which are not good for anyone.

Airlines are responsible for the problem and the solution. They need to take action because the problem is only going to get worse. Eliminate the recline feature or, at the very least, limit the amount of recline to half or less than what is allowed now.

Two airlines, Spirit and Allegiant Air, have already removed the recline feature. It’s time for other airlines to follow suit. To allow a situation that so easily causes conflict to continue is jeopardizing the safety of passengers and crew alike. If airlines fail to take action, it is going to lead to more altercations.


It’s time for the system to change.

E-mail questions about business etiquette to etiquetteatwork@emilypost.com.