Man Started “Violently Shaking And Kicking” Seat When Passenger In Front Reclined

Sam Bowman reports that he was flying Virgin Atlantic in economy. He reclined his seat, he says, in order “to sleep and the grown man behind me started violently shaking and kicking my seat.” After the violent passenger was told to stop, “his wife loudly declared that I was a sociopath.”

The important point to make here, aside from the obvious “don’t physically shake the seat of the person in front of you” is that a passenger whose seat reclines gets to decide whether to put that seat in the upright or reclined position, outside of takeoff and landing where the government makes the decision for them. It’s not always appropriate to recline, but the decision belongs to the passenger whose seat it is.

He isn't even very tall AFAICT. He just has a bag under the seat where his legs should be. I would happily discuss the reclining politely with someone – I don't want to make tall people uncomfortable, though I do need to sleep – but really taken aback by that reaction.

— Sam Bowman 🇺🇦 (@s8mb) September 3, 2022

Thank you to the excellent crew member at @virginatlantic who was firm with him and calmed the situation down. He and his wife said I was "running to teacher" by asking her to deal with the situation. Must be a very difficult job dealing with people like that – it is appreciated!

— Sam Bowman 🇺🇦 (@s8mb) September 3, 2022

Seat recline is important for passengers on long flights with poorly-padded seats, as a way of distributing passenger weight to reduce back stress. Reclining is also a passenger’s right.

  • The seat is designed to recline (except on certain airlines like Spirit and Frontier)
  • A passenger controls their own seat
  • Airlines ban the Knee Defender device, which prevents recline – a device was designed to stop reclining and airlines wouldn’t allow it (though largely to prevent damage to the seat)

In an environment surrounded by masses of people it’s nice to pretend no one else exists. It’s even better to take politeness into account. So there is an etiquette to exercising your right to recline.

  • Don’t recline during mealtime.
  • Try not to recline unless it serves a real purpose (if it doesn’t actually benefit your comfort, don’t recline).
  • If you don’t want the passenger in front of you to recline, the correct approach is to politely ask them not to. And if they want to recline and you don’t want them to, see a Coasian solution. Offer them money not to recline.

    I once paid a child (with their parents’ permission) not to recline on a Cleveland – Los Angeles flight so that I could work on my laptop. It was the best $5 I could have spent.

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