Dear Annie: I was recently on a cross-country flight, and the person in front of me reclined her seat all the way for the entire flight. I’m tall, so sitting in such a confined way is incredibly uncomfortable, to the point of being painful.
On top of that, she slung a big winter coat over the top of her seat, and the fluffy hood was protruding into the space in front of my face. Even though my screen was on the back of her seat, it did not obscure my view of a movie, but it did invade what little breathing room I had left.
I just want to know: What is wrong with people? Do you think it’s OK to recline your seat all the way for an entire flight? And what about the coat? Was she out of line, or am I?
— Cramped in the Cabin
Dear Cramped: Oh, boy. I have a feeling I’m going to get a plane-load of mail about this one, regardless of my answer. Like pineapple on pizza, matters of airplane etiquette are polarizing.
And this has only become truer in recent years, as airlines have attempted to pack more and more passengers onto planes, resulting in less and less personal space. (Both the distance between seats and the width of the seats themselves have shrunk by several inches over the past two decades or so.) Etiquette infractions that once might have been only a bit annoying — such as hogging the armrest — are now downright infuriating. Tensions are high at 30,000 feet.
I’ll start with your easier question. It is rude to sling your jacket over the back of your seat and into the personal space of the passenger behind you. Long flights are straining enough without being made to feel as if you’re in a coat closet.
Now on to the trickier part — to recline or not to recline.
You bought that seat, and you have the right to recline it as far back as you’d like and for as long as the flight attendants say it’s allowed. But of course, having the right to do something doesn’t make it right to do it. I think it’s kind to take your surroundings into account. Turn around and see whether the person behind you is tall. If so, consider reclining your seat only slightly.
Also take into account the time of day. On a red-eye flight, reclining one’s seat is to be expected, as nearly everyone will be lying back and trying to catch some sleep. On a daytime flight, on which people may be trying to work, a reclined seat can impede laptop space.
If you are an extremely tall person (and weren’t able to snag a front-row or emergency exit row seat), it’s worth politely asking the person in front of you to consider not reclining his or her seat all the way.
If you don’t want to say anything or if you’ve said something to no avail, do your best to let it go. Get up and walk the length of the plane every hour. Don’t just sit there attempting to bore holes into the back of the head in front of you, blood boiling. It’s not good for your health.
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— A native Californian, Annie Lane writes her Dear Annie advice columns from her home outside New York City, where she lives with her husband, two kids and two dogs. Her debut book, Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie, features favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette. Email your Dear Annie questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.