As all of you know—assuming you have had access to the Internet in the last several weeks—our society is at a crossroads. Ever since a certain video of a certain unruly gentleman banging on a ladies reclined airplane seat has populated the twittersphere, our country has faced a conundrum that has torn us apart, and created a dispute more fervent and contentious than anything you will see on a political debate stage, even in polarized times like these. The question at the heart of our shared tension is this: is it OK for you to recline your seat on an airplane? And, in the kind of concise and straightforward manner I am famous for, I can unequivocally tell you that the answer to that query is no.
It is not OK to recline your seat on an airplane. Here’s why.
1) It doesn’t matter that your seat can recline-Whenever asked why they feel justified reclining their seat, recliners often say “well the seat was made to recline so...” This is a ridiculous argument. Just because an object is capable of completing an action, doesn’t mean someone should use it in that manner. My car is capable of driving 150 mph. Does that mean it is OK for me to let my Camry out of its cage and drive it that fast on the highway? Of course not. It’s up to us humans, you know the rational beings with the capacity to weigh the ethical consequences of our actions, to determine the right and wrong way to use things. Given that, does it make any sense to give an airplane seat power over our own morality? Why in the world are some people so eager to surrender the strength of their conscience to the construction of a chair?
2) We all paid for our seats-Another common refrain from seat recliners. Yes, we get it, you paid good cheddar for this seat on this airplane so why wouldn’t you get your money’s worth by making yourself as comfortable as possible? I don’t know. How about because the person you are laying on paid money for their ticket too? Look, maybe one day when Bernie Sanders is president and the vast majority of plane tickets are free (zing!) you can feel validated in your belief that you are the only person on this aircraft who paid for an aisle seat in the economy cabin (also, why are you paying for your ticket in such a situation dumb dumb?). Until then, shut your foodhole! We all paid for our seats dude!
3) Time’s have changed-Another reason why the “seat was made to recline” logic is such bullshit. As recently as the early 2000’s the average economy seat offered passengers between 34 and 35 inches of legroom. Now that number has moved to between 30 to 31 inches. Times have changed, and while the profit crazy airlines are to blame for this restructuring in passenger legroom, all we can do as decent people is acknowledge the truth of our current inflight reality and change our behavior accordingly. Reclining airplane seats were designed for another era of air travel, one where it was more than acceptable to blow your Marlboro Red smoke directly into your pregnant seatmate’s face on the Red Eye home from Milwaukee. Society has moved forward, for the better. It’s time for some of us to catch up with it.
4) Being less wrong doesn’t make you right-It’s true that people do all sorts of terrible things on airplanes. They eat Filet O’ Fish’s with extra tartar sauce. They take off their shoes and socks. They pick their noses (I’d like to apologize again to that lady next to me on my flight home from Denver). All of these behaviors are abhorrent and should be condemned immediately. But the knowledge that other people do shitty things on airplanes is not an excuse for you to do slightly less shitty things on an airplane, just like the fact that some people commit murder isn’t an excuse for you to dine and dash at Red Lobster. And while I would love a moral justification for dining and dashing at Red Lobster, the fact remains that there is none. Sometimes the bad stuff you are doing is just bad. You don’t need to compare it to anything else.
5) You are fucking over everybody-Reclining your seat is a decision that sets off a chain reaction, wherein the person getting reclined on only has two options: 1-sit there, feeling the searing pain of the steel digging into their knees, and simply take it or 2-in a desperate search for relief, recline their own chair and send this ethical dilemma plummeting backwards, to the next person behind them. On and on it goes. Total anarchy that can extend all the way to the end of the plane, where the passenger in the very last row gets stuck with a chair on their lap and literally nowhere to turn. Think about this the next time you recline your chair. This isn’t about creating a minor inconvenience for one person. This is about forcing a plane full of people to acquiesce to your will.
6) Tall people never seem to be the ones reclining-I am 6’5” tall, and with great height comes great persecution. Airplanes aren't built for me. And yet, despite of that, I can still sit through a 4-hour flight without reclining. And I am not alone. I have never seen anyone my height or taller recline their seat on an airplane. Usually when people recline, they're relatively short, which makes sense, given that they have never experienced the agony of having a chair fall on top of you while also being tall enough to trick people into thinking that you're capable of dunking a basketball. I think what the airlines should do is rank all the economy passengers by height, and set up a system where the 2nd tallest person on the plane cannot recline unless the tallest person does, and the 3rd tallest cannot recline unless the 2nd tallest does, and so on and so forth. I call it the opposite chain reaction. And what it does is prevent a 5’9” middle-aged dude from recline in his chair, when a man of my size is sitting there stoically, watching several episodes of SVU and trying my hardest not to get caught pulling boogers from my nostrils.
7) Seat recliners won’t acknowledge their selfishness-When you recline your seat, you’re making an inherently selfish decision. And guess what? That’s OK. Human beings make selfish decisions all the damn time. For instance my wife just left town for 11 days. And I have already decided to spend the next week and a half poisoning my body with a copious amount of crab rangoons and kolaches, and potentially leaving her widowed with a very unsubstantial life insurance policy in the process, while pretending that the massive quantity of provender I am consuming is not just a very self-destructive coping mechanism meant to hide the fact that I am lonely and sad and certainly not thinking about anybody but myself.
The least someone can do when making a selfish decision is what I just did, admit their motives and move on. I will even go again and tell you that my desire for people to not recline their seats on an airplane is selfish. In much the way that the person reclining the seat is placing their own comfort above that of the person they are reclining on, me asking you to remain upright throughout the duration of your flight is doing the same. There are differences of course—the chain reaction, the aforementioned decreasing legroom and the ubiquitousness of laptops that can make seat reclining such a logistical nightmare—but in the end the truth remains: airlines no longer give a shit about our physical contentment.
Therefore it is up to us to give a shit about each other. Look, I am not saying you should never recline your seat. What I am saying is that you should never recline your seat ON ME. With that in mind all anyone can expect from you, seat recliners, is that anytime you want to recline your seat on an airplane, you ask the passenger behind you if that's OK. If that passenger is me, I will tell you no, it's not OK for you to make my physical space your own. But I say all that in the nicest way possible.
And, if you don't listen, I also won't punch your chair. That's the thing about massive people. We also have massive hearts.