Do You Ask For Permission to Recline Your Seat on a Plane?

I never knew it was a topic that was up for debate. I thought it was pretty simple: when the pilot allows, we all have a right to carefully recline our seats to enjoy whatever comfort we can get out of an airplane seat.

If you’re anything like me, I’m about to shock you all.

There are people out there who believe you should ask the person behind you for permission to recline your seat.

I sat on Facebook for an embarrassing, undisclosed amount of time to read people’s argument over proper airplane etiquette. I totally agree that courtesy and care is necessary on an airplane, but I don’t think asking other passengers for permission is.

There were rules all over the place! “Ask before reclining.” “Sit upright for all meal times.” Some people even said not to recline at all!

People complained about not being able to use their trays, get up to use the bathroom, or use their laptops. I read in horror as people called others “rude” and even worse names for not asking for permission. “Rude?” Really? These seats move back an average of 5 degrees. Five whole degrees are causing such an uproar in the travel community! Are we serious?

“I don’t think asking other passengers for permission is necessary.”

Let’s get one thing straight: we all want to be as comfortable as possible on our flights. None of us think airlines provide ample leg room, comfortable seats, or overall reasonable spaces to occupy for hours at a time. If you’re complaining about someone reclining on you, that means we’re all sitting in coach. In other words, it’s likely that we’re all on a budget.

However, being on a budget doesn’t equate to being less-deserving of mutual respect.

We don’t have the money to buy first class seats on each flight we go on, and we’re just trying to get to our destination with some feeling left in our legs. Is it really worth all this rage if I slowly recline my seat back without asking you if it’s okay? In my opinion, no, it’s not.

If I ask you if I can recline my seat, are you going to decline my request? Are you going to say I can’t use it to it’s fullest functionality because you want more room for your laptop, even though I paid for this seat? I have to give up my comfort so you can keep yourself properly occupied with entertainment? Unless you have a serious reason for asking others not to recline (e.g., anything medical), I don’t think it’s fair to ask others not to get comfortable so you can be comfortable.

I don’t think people realize there is a perfectly respectable balance for seat reclining that doesn’t involve asking for permission.

Ready for this one?

Recline slowly and gently after glancing at the passenger behind you.

Revolutionary, I know.

I understand some people slam back their seats without taking a peek at the person behind them. Depending on what you’re doing and how you’re sitting, you can injure your knee, fingers, or even your head. It’s unfortunate and avoidable and, for those people, I’m sorry.

However, the people who are inconsiderate shouldn’t be the deciding factor in whether or not everyone should ask for permission first. Those people should be respectful of others in the space around them and should take a look around to make sure the coast is clear. Additionally, they should recline gently instead of aggressively. Do they think the faster and harder they recline it, the further it will go? (Spoiler: that’s not how it works.)

“It’s not the other passengers we should be mad at—it’s the airlines.”

If all passengers took a quick look back to be sure they have space and won’t hit the passenger behind them by reclining, the “injury argument” would no longer be an issue. When the person in front of us begins to recline their seat, we’ll know not to get in the way until it’s set all the way back.

If you’re upset about not being able to stand up, use your food tray, or display your laptop due to a recliner, don’t you think your anger is a bit misplaced? I agree it’s uncomfortable and infuriating, but it’s not the other passengers we should be mad at—it’s the airlines.


They take space away from passengers—centimeter by centimeter, inch by inch—in order to fit as many flyers on the plane as possible. They continue to do it because we continue to buy the tickets, but that’s a whole other story.

I’m not suggesting we boycott airlines to demand more leg room, but I do suggest we have a little compassion and empathy for other travelers. There shouldn’t be any rules surrounding the act of reclining other than “be careful”.

If you have an extenuating case that really affects you when someone reclines their seat in front of you, I encourage you to politely let people know. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t always assume the person behind me is going to have an issue with my seat being reclined. If they tapped me on the shoulder and politely asked me to move it back to an upright position for reason XYZ, I’d oblige.

The key is to just be polite and courteous to those around you.

Traveling can be stressful enough. Planning, spending money, and executing said plans without any bumps in the road can take its toll. Don’t add more stress to your trip than you need to. On top of that, traveling on an airplane is a luxury for everyone. There are people in this world who can’t even afford the cheapest plane ticket out there, and we’re all arguing about whether or not passengers can recline their seats or not?

Before you raise your voice at the passenger who reclined his or her seat or give an attitude to someone who asked you to move yours back up, take a breath. Think about whether or not that argument is worth the fight.

With a little common courtesy and empathy for others, we can all fly a bit more comfortably.


2 thoughts on “Do You Ask For Permission to Recline Your Seat on a Plane?”

  1. I actually never recline my chair because I’m hoping the person in front of me won’t do it lol I think it makes the flight less comfortable when the person in front of you reclines – but I would never say anything about it because it’s their choice!

    Liked by 2 people

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