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Readers’ Rules for Reclining on Planes

Earlier this month, Carl Unger asked for your opinion about reclining on airplanes. The response was huge (nearly 600 of you weighed in), and while reading the comments, I came across a bunch of great suggestions for reclining in a way that is polite, not too space invasive, and that avoids sudden-recline drink spills, laptop smashes, and the like.

So here they are: Our readers’ rules for reclining. Thanks to everyone who contributed ideas!

  • Ask the person behind you before reclining. According to readers, most people who ask before reclining almost always get “yes” for an answer, and since you’ve made the effort to be polite, you’re less likely to endure “accidental” seat kicking from behind during the flight.
  • If you don’t ask, at least make eye contact with the person behind you so they have some warning you’re going to move the seat toward them.
  • When you recline, do so slowly. Countless readers have stories of spilled drinks or damaged laptops after a sudden recline on the part of the person in front of them.
  • Take pity on the tall. If there’s one thing I learned reading through the comments, it’s that people with long legs already have the seatback pockets digging into their knees. They would really, really appreciate it if you didn’t add to the discomfort by lowering your seatback onto their legs.
  • Bring your seatback up during meals. By doing so, you allow the person behind you to have the most access to their tray table.
  • Recline in moderation: Call it the happy medium between those who find reclining rude and those who think of it as a necessity or right. By reclining a few notches, you’ll be more comfortable, but not at the expense of the person behind you.
  • Don’t see-saw recline. A number of readers brought up how annoying it is to get continually dive bombed by a seatback reclining and then being brought upright a dozen times or more during a flight. Simplify: Recline for naps and then bring your seatback at least closer to upright when you’re awake.

Do you have other suggestions for how to recline politely on planes? Share them below!

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