A United Airlines flight from Newark to Denver had to be diverted to Chicago when two passengers had a fight about one of them reclining her seat. Here’s the story as it first appeared: Plane diverted as passengers fight over seat reclining.
First, let me say that I’m in Los Angeles at the moment and early tomorrow morning I’ll board a United Airlines flight to New York. It will no doubt be an interesting flight as the entire flying world has heard about this story. I have an “Economy Plus” seat (more legroom) and bought it at the last minute in what appeared to be a place on the plane devoid of other folks. By tomorrow that may not be the case and I may have to negotiate with my forward and back flying partners.
In all of my online discussions about this today, mostly on the NPR site, it seems that people fall into the same two camps as the two who got tossed off the plane.
1. I bought a seat. That seat reclines. Therefore it is my right to use the seat as it is intended. (#2 believes there is an implied “fuck you” in this opinion).
2. I bought a seat. I’m tall and have to squeeze in. If the person ahead of me reclines it makes it tough for me to get comfortable or put my tray table down. Any person who reclines their seat is an insensitive ass and to make sure it doesn’t happen, I’ll lock the seat ahead of me with the “Knee Defender” just in case (#1 believes there is an implied “fuck you” in this opinion).
In my mind, if both seats are in coach and essentially the same, if these two people could talk to one another and switch places it might solve the problem.
These things happen
I fly quite a bit and I used to fly quite a bit more. And, I’ve flown United Airlines more than any other airline so I’m quite familiar with their equipment on various routes, both in the US and overseas. And, I fly coach, Economy Plus, and when I have the miles I upgrade to business or first class.
In all of this travel I’ve experienced the argument that happened here from both sides: I’ve had the person ahead of me recline in such a way that I could not eat the food on my fold down tray (maybe a blessing), and I’ve had the person behind me poke his knees into the back of my un-inclined seat and make it uncomfortable to sit for any length of time.
Here’s the thing: if someone is sitting behind me who has long legs and is scrunched in, all he or she has to do is politely ask that I not recline my seat. This has happened to me and I’m always happy to oblige.
In the case that just happened though, the person in the back seat who didn’t want the seat in front to recline used a device called The Knee Defender to lock the seat in front in such a way that reclining is impossible. I wasn’t there so I don’t know if he first asked the woman ahead of him to not recline before resorting to this, but to do this preemptively is not only against United regulations (the flight attendant asked him to remove the device), it’s rude.
No, it doesn’t justify having water thrown at you but if someone did this to me without asking me to not recline first, I’d be annoyed and would call the flight attendant to remedy the situation, even if I never intended to recline my seat.
Other similar scenarios that happen regularly
There are many other scenarios that are tough on travelers and require delicacy.
How about when the person behind you puts a heavy “laptop” on the tray table and pounds it and doesn’t bother to put the laptop on his/her lap when told it’s bothering you. That person is infringing on your space without actually violating it spacially but it’s a violation none the less.
Or, how about the person who doesn’t know the difference between open air and over the ear headphones and blasts his/her music such that you can hear every bass beat. Another violation of space without a physical issue.
Or, and this seems trivial but at times its not, how about negotiating the arm rest with your row mate. That can get tricky if one of you is insensitive. Again, civility rules the day here.
Or, and this is a very delicate situation, how about times when you sit next to someone who’s extremely overweight and needs to put the armrest up between both of you and in doing so, is pressed up against you the entire flight. This is a violation of space and if the flight is of any length it can be rough.
This last scenario happened to me on a very long flight (on Northwest Airlines) and when I got up to use the bathroom I asked a flight attendant who noticed what was happening if I could be reseated or the other person could be reseated. She looked at me like I was an insensitive ass and told me no and that was that.
Years later it happened again on a cross country flight on United and I was reseated and the heavy person got two seats. I’m not saying that person ought to have to pay for two seats, but I ought to be able to sit in mine without being crushed.
In the scenario that happened the other day, one might say the person in back ought to be able to sit in his seat without being crushed by the reclining seat ahead of him, but it’s not quite parallel. Seats recline. It’s how they’re built. What happens in planes is a social balancing act that passengers have to work out civilly. Many times when the person ahead of you puts their seat back and you put yours back it cascades all the way to the back of the plane. I’m not defending reclining here, but seats don’t come with built in civility, they do come with built in reclinability.
Another thread in various discussions is that it’s all the airlines’ fault; they’re milking every penny out of these flights and they’ve squished the coach seats closer and closer. I think that’s true but knowing this and knowing one has various physical “issues” one needs to plan ahead so one doesn’t suffer.
For example, I can’t make it across the US without peeing at least once, sometimes numerous times, depending on how much water I take in, and I like to drink plenty on long flights. Knowing this, I will not book a long flight unless I can get an aisle seat. Period. I do this because, especially in coach, it’s impossible to get out from a window seat without the entire row getting out. I don’t want to be uncomfortable, and I don’t want to bother my seat mates any more than is necessary. This is something I do for myself, and to make it easier to fly with other people. At times it costs me some extra money to do this because sometimes the only aisle seats available are in Economy Plus. it’s worth it for me.
One might also say, I like window seats and I have the right to pee when I want and everyone needs to get out of my way when I want to pee. There’s a point where personal freedom bumps into civility.
If I was tall enough so that flying in coach on United was an issue, I’d work hard to get an exit row seat (much more legroom). On many United flights, exit row seats are in Economy Plus and so, cost a bit more. But, it’s the kind of thing that frequent travelers do all the time; we try to make the trip as smooth as possible, for ourselves and for our fellow passengers.
Had the two people in this scenario talked a bit and maybe switched places, it’s possible that they’d have both made it to Denver on that flight.
Tomorrow should be interesting.