Hoffman's Houston
aisle be back

Ken Hoffman on why travelers should decline the recline on an airplane

Ken Hoffman on why travelers should decline the recline on an airplane

Spirit Airlines cabin seats
There's a reason Spirit Airlines seats don't recline, says Hoffman.  Courtesy photo

I’ve had the usual run of mishaps and misfortunes on an airplane: reserve an aisle seat to wind up stuck in the middle, lost luggage, arriving late and missing my connection, sitting on a tarmac for hours, couples making out in Seats E and F, and walking into a bathroom that practically blinded me retina-searing stench.

I was on a flight recently where a man snored so loud — he sounded like an elephant during mating season — the airline gave everybody in the surrounding two rows a $75 voucher.

All that was peanuts compared to my blood pressure soaring past one billion on a recent trip. I was coming home from a long weekend getaway. I am an aisle guy, got to have the aisle or I’ll get claustrophobic and the sweat shakes.

Aisle regret this...
I fell into my aisle seat and settled in for the ride. All was good until I got a tap on my shoulder before liftoff. The guy behind me said, “My wife is sitting next to you, would you mind changing seats with me so we can sit together?”

His wife said, “You don’t have to do this.” But he looked like a nice enough, normal fellow. And you know me, I’m a giver. I’m a people person. (Editor's note: Since when?)

I said, okay, but on one condition: you don’t recline your seat during the flight. Seat rows are so cramped and tight these days that if the person in front reclines, his head is practically in your lap. You can’t use your laptop because now it’s in your lap. So's your meal. You can, however, perform dental work on the person reclining in front of you.

To recline or not to recline?
It’s a Shakespearean question of in-flight etiquette: to recline or not to recline. I vote that that reclining is rude, an invasion of someone’s personal space and, frankly, an act of aggression.

The guy behind me started negotiating, “How about I recline just halfway?” I said nope. Then he said, “How about if you’re sleeping?” I said, “Look, you want to change seats? Then you don’t recline. Period.”

He said okay. To me, that’s a legal and moral covenant.

The plane’s wheels left the ground and I did my usual — I jammed my knees against the seat in front of me so the person couldn’t recline no matter how hard he pushed that button. I could feel his chair trying to move back. I thought, not going to happen, buddy. We had a deal. The guy said, “I’m not doing anything, I’m just sitting here.”


I don’t understand why people recline airplane seats, anyway. It’s not any more comfortable to sit back a tiny little bit. I find it easier to sleep with the seat in its full and upright position. Airplane seats are not chaise lounges around a hotel pool. I know that Spirit Airlines catches a lot of grief for other reasons, but their seats are bolted into the upright position so they can’t recline. Good for Spirit Airlines.

Outside Online recently ran a column titled “Stop Reclining Your Seat on Airplanes” with a hundred reasons why you should sit upright. Hey, stop reading my diary!

A battle in the air
Twenty minutes into my flight, it was war. The guy kept pushing his button and leaning back. And I kept not letting him. It was a very mature battle of wills. I dug in.  

After the drink cart rolled by, I drifted off for, I’m not sure, maybe an hour. When I awoke, this idiot in front of me was in full recline. His bald spot was staring me dead in the eye. I should never have let him sit next to his wife. I would have done her a favor to say no. I’m a delightful row mate.

I decided to let it be, peace and love. I didn't want to get into a blow-up with this jerk and wind up on Youtube. (I do enjoy those videos of in-flight mayhem, though. Usually it’s a rich person who can’t stand being ordered back to coach with the unwashed.)

Technically, of course, he was allowed to recline his seat. Maybe the pilot should stop saying, “lean back, relax and enjoy your flight.” I wasn’t going to get into a “he said, he said” with a flight attendant. It’s also technically legal not to bus your tray at a fast food joint. But we do it, because we are socialized animals. 

Game point: Ken
When we touched down, when he turned to open the overhead storage, I might have mentioned what I thought about him and how he took advantage of my good nature. Just to emphasize my point, I told his wife, “Sorry you had to sit next to your husband." She didn't deserve that, but in wartime there are collateral casualties. 

That set him off. He said, “Do you want to discuss this outside?” I said, “What are you, in the third grade? Look, I apologized to your wife. Now take your bag and go, and don't forget your suitcase.”

Not a bad line under pressure, which almost made the whole horrible experience worth it. But that’s the last time I play let’s make a deal on an airplane.