I think that there are two kinds of people in this world. Those who recline their seat backs on airplanes, and those who don’t.
I’m of the latter category. I don’t keep my seat back in the full upright position because I sneer at the comfort of those few inches of recline. Because really, who wouldn’t want to lean back those luxurious two degrees? I don’t recline my airplane seat because I respect the well-being, the comfort, and the knees of the person behind me.
Flying from Los Angeles to Houston on Sunday, I was behind a recliner. The moment the pilot turned off the seatbelt sign and the air steward reached out for the PA to announce that we could use approved electronic devices, his seat clacked loudly backward until it was very close to my face. I could easily pick out his split ends. I could read the tag on his tee-shirt. I could suggest answers to the sudoku puzzle he was solving. Fishing my novel out of the carry-on I had stowed underneath his seat required Cirque du Soleil contortions and, briefly, putting my head in the lap of the person sitting next to me.
I respect this passenger’s right to recline. He was following airplane protocol, and he swiftly returned his seat to the proper position as we prepared for landing. But leaning back one’s seat on a tightly packed airplane is one of those activities we have the right to do but, perhaps, should refrain from doing out of respect for those around us. Reclining one’s seat is the airplane equivalent of walking around the locker room in a state of bold undress. Sure, you’re allowed. But do you really want to be that guy?
I ate my mini pretzels thoughtfully and — honestly — with some feelings of bitterness and spite. (I had declined my traditional airplane beverage of ginger ale, as the seat back in front of me had wedged me into my seat, and a trip to the unsavory airplane bathroom really wasn’t an option.) Why should I be uncomfortable for three and a half hours so this stranger could fool himself into thinking he was comfortable?
Here’s my proposal. As passengers settle into their seats before the cabin door is closed, the air stewards should skip over the seatbelt instructions — because really, people, seatbelt instructions? — and instead ask everyone to vote. Should this be a flight in which we recline? If so, let’s all do so on the count of three!
Then we can all enjoy our ginger ales worry-free.