When is it ok to recline your seat on an aeroplane? The right answer is, of course, “between takeoff and landing.” The better answer, however, might have something to do with the person seated behind you.
The Washington Post recently published The Completely Correct Guide to Reclining on an Aeroplane, much of which deals with observing how your recline might affect the person in the next row.
If you’re seated in front of a child or a petite adult, for example, go ahead and recline.
If you’re in front of a larger adult, maybe hold back.
Take a peek at the person sitting behind you. Are they clocking in under 2m? You’re good to recline. But if you look back and the passenger appears to be a starting centre for the New York Knicks, take your finger off of that recline button. Airlines these days offer economy passengers roughly 80cm to 1m of legroom (or “seat pitch”) on long-haul flights. Think of the perils of being in coach when you’re 6'2" with legs some 1m long.
If reclining your seat means pressing it against someone else’s knees or preventing them from using the tray table, it’s worth reconsidering.
A few caveats, of course: If you’ll experience pain or health issues unless you recline your seat, that takes precedence. If you’re on a long-haul flight, it’s ok to recline during the part of the flight when you’re supposed to pretend that you can sleep comfortably on a plane. If the person in front of you is reclined, and you want to start a “recline chain,” give it a try.
Lastly: if you want to practice ethical reclining without making snap judgments about other people’s bodies and the space they take up, you can always turn around and ask. “Mind if I recline?” is a considerate, polite way of checking in with the person sitting behind you — and thanks to the way social courtesies work, they’ll probably say yes unless your reclined seat would cause them pain or health issues.
Which means you can recline in peace, knowing you’ve made both the right and the correct decision.