Yesterday, we shared the amusing case of the cross-country trip that was diverted when two passengers got in a battle over a reclining seat. But the real villain here isn't our travel-addled selves. It's that we still let airplane seats recline at all.
Yes, the story of two middle-aged adults grounding a plane because they couldn't agree to settle their dispute like reasonable humans is funny—ha ha! It sounds like the setup to a romantic comedy I would probably happily watch on an airplane. But here's something that's not funny: There's just not enough room for seats to recline any more.
The bottom line is that the days of affordable comfort in the skies—especially on domestic flights—are over. As airlines struggle to turn profits in the face of rising fuel costs, economy seats in planes keep getting smaller and smaller, with less and less legroom. Though many airlines persist in giving us the illusion that we're flying in comfort with amenities like seats that barely recline and flimsy "pillows" filled with straw, most of us can't really pay the premium that comfort actually costs.
Today's airplane rows are so tightly packed together that the act of reclining not only makes it impossible for the person behind you to enjoy basic liberties like using their laptop, reading a book, and eating food, it's also painful for anyone within barking distance of six feet tall. If you're reclining into someone just a tiny bit above average human height, chances are you're going to cause them extreme discomfort so that you might get a few inches of comfort.
You might argue that a few inches of comfort is what you deserve as a paying customer of an airline. You might be old enough to fondly remember a time when you could casually lounge into coach class, push your seat back with abandon, and fall into a deep slumber until 10 minutes before landing. That the world had this once might lead you to believe that you deserve this forever.
Not so! You deserve what you can pay for, and at the dirt cheap economy prices we've demanded, all we can afford is to be shoe-horned into a junky seat and shuttled from point A to point B while being served by a cranky lifer. Many budget airlines like Spirit have already seen the light, physically removing the reclining mechanisms from seats. And there's evidence to suggest that many airline passengers agree they'd be better off without reclining seats. The obvious exception to all of this is business and first, which still offers enough leg room that reclining is fine and good.
The rest of us, though, need to give it up already. We can avoid future battles in the skies and everyone will be a little happier, and ultimately a little more comfortable.