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The Great ‘Airplane Recline Debate’ Is Raging Again


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Anyone who’s ever been on a plane — even if it was only once — has a stance on the great “Airplane Recline Debate.” Imagine, if you will, that you’ve just spent an entire day basking on the parched white sand of one of the world’s most epic secret beaches. You surfed. You swam. You got drunk way too early in the day. Now you’ve boarded your plane, exhausted beyond all belief, and you feel the prospect of sleep looming. You know that if you can just recline your seat you’d knock out and sleep through both meals services.

Only to discover that Shaq is sitting directly behind you. And the big fella doesn’t take kindly to strangers in his lap.

Forget asking why Shaq isn’t riding first class, you have a decision to make: do you recline, crushing Shaq’s knees and spending the majority of the flight with an angry Shaq looming over you like a dentist? Or do you opt for courtesy, deferring to the NBA legend by sitting upright all flight?

Travel writer Natalie B. Compton took to Twitter yesterday asking where her fellow travelers on Twitter stood on the matter and we have to say we’re a little shocked. Not that the topic remains as divisive as ever, that’s to be expected, but that so many people could have such a wide range of opinions on what seems like a simple question.

A glance at Compton’s mentions reveals a range of different personality types at play here.

The “I Paid” Mentality

If you paid for a plane ticket, one that has given you access to a seat that reclines, it’s fair to believe that you implicitly have the right to recline in it. Right? Right?

It’s not uncommon for this type to say, “If the airline didn’t want me to recline, they wouldn’t let seats recline!”

The Courtesy Is King Crowd

Uproxx’s own EIC, Brett Michael Dykes, falls into this crowd. Some travelers believe that if you’re going to recline, you might as well be as polite about it as possible. We can stand behind that, we all come in different shapes and sizes. Part of being spatially aware of yourself is being aware of those around you as well.

These people are nicer than you and I, just accept that.

The People Pleaser

The People Pleaser has some overlap with the courtesy crowd — they don’t want to inconvenience you. But while the courtesy crowd will look you in the eye or telegraph their intentions as they recline, the people pleaser will suffer in silence, perfectly upright.

This is all fine and well. But don’t be a martyr and then hold it against us later. Speak your truth, fam!

The REAL Issue Is Capitalism

The people who fall into this crowd are woke AF wild cards. Some believe you should recline, some believe you shouldn’t, some say it depends — but one thing is for certain, the real issue is the airline itself and the larger levers and gears of capitalism. Why jam in so many seats with such little space and make the experience a nightmare for everyone? Profits!

This crowd is tricky. The case for capitalism failing the masses gets stronger every day, but this take often ignores the simple law of supply and demand. We demanded cheaper airline tickets and made it clear to corporations that we value price over amenities. Current flying conditions are simply the furthest iteration of that idea.

The Chill Crowd

Our final air-traveler clique is the chill crowd, this type just rolls with whatever life throws at them. They assume people will recline and accept it as a part of travel, especially if they’re on a long flight, but don’t be surprised if they’re silently judging your total lack of awareness when you recline on a 45-minute flight from LAX to SFO.

The construct here is essentially utilitarian and case-by-case driven. It doesn’t rely on blanket judgments and seeks to find some sense of equity for all. It’s not as cut and dry as some of the others, but it is compassion-driven.

This latter option was how the majority of responses to Compton’s question played out. We’ll take that as a good sign for humanity.

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