Indian Ministry Of Aviation Chimes In On Seat Recline Debate

Following the shocking incident onboard an American Airlines flight, the Indian Ministry of Aviation has tweeted out a quick reminder. The tweet focuses on reminding everyone on the etiquette of reclining your seat and ensuring comfort for all onboard.

American eagle E175
The tweet comes following an incident onboard an American Eagle flight. Photo: Nathan Coats via Wikimedia

The video shows a man repeatedly punching a woman’s reclined seat very hard, causing her seat to shake. The man punches the seat multiple times, according to the woman, and then moves on to jiggling it annoyingly. This was all because the woman reclined her seat.

The flight attendant, according to the woman, did nothing to help but called her out for filming the incident. This video triggered a backlash against the conduct of the man but also raised some questions. The main question is around the etiquette of when to recline your airplane seat. Many people chimed in on this debate, including the Indian Ministry of Aviation.


What is this all about?

On Saturday, the Ministry of Civil Aviation tweeted about the importance of being considerate when reclining one’s seat. They warned against treating flight seats like a train sleeper berth and reclining all the way into the person behind you. This tweet was meant to lay out some rules on flying etiquette to ensure everyone is respectful of others’ space.


The tweet did not go down amazingly well, despite its good intentions. People called for regulation on the space between seats and claimed that seats barely recline more than a few inches on most flights anyway. Most blamed the airlines for “packing people like sardines” and the government for enabling them.

There was also anger directed at the government, claiming most officials either occupy the front seats with extra legroom or travel in first or business class, painting them as elites for calling out reclining passengers in economy. Some even claimed the government was trying to justify the actions of the man in the video.

While the tweet’s goal was admirable, clearly people do not want etiquette being dictated by the government.

What is this debate all about and what’s the solution?

The debate centers around how much, if any at all, a person should recline their seat with someone sitting behind them. The last few years have seen seats becoming narrower and with less pitch, meaning that recline is a touchy subject. While reclining can reduce the pain of flying in these seats, it also means the person behind you loses substantial space.

Frontier Interior
The rise of slimline seats has exacerbated the recline debate. Photo: Frontier

This narrows the debate into two sides; the ones who feel entitled to recline their seat (they’ve paid for it) and those who believe its discourteous and doesn’t let the person behind remain comfortable (especially with the tray table open).

Both sides do seem to have a valid point, but personally I aim for a middle ground. In this case, you don’t recline your seat right after takeoff, during the meal service but you can after that. This is contingent on asking the person behind you if you can recline and if yes, how much.

What do you think about seat recline? Is it your right, as a fare paying passenger, or is it just rude?


Leave a Reply

newest oldest most voted
Arjun Caprihan

Seats are designed so as not to interfere with the person in the row behind.
The rule used to be to keep seats upright as long as the fasten seat belt signs were on, and during a meal service. Other than that, it was OK to recline as far as the seat would allow. The issue is that some airlines ( in the name of shareholder value) have squeezed the seat pitch in order to cram in more passengers.

Basically..air travel is no longer a pleasure, rather a fairly painful experience!
Go figure…


I was recently booked to fly on an Egyptair 737-800 in business class from Cairo to Tunis. Due to the low number of passengers they changed the aircraft to an all-economy Embraer 170.

I dread flying economy because I am 6’3″ and can never get comfortable, especially if the design of the seat in front does not allow me to get my feet under it. Of course, if the seat in front is fully reclined it makes things worse.

However, I was amazed how comfortable the seats on the Embraer 170 were, especially given that THEY DIDN’T RECLINE!

Therefore, I conclude that much of the controversy could be avoided if seats were better designed!


Once on an Indigo, i was in row 11 (non-reclining seat – ahead of emergency exit seats i.e. extra legroom seats).

The experience was horrible. Being 6-2, its barely any legroom, to top-it-up non-reclining seat on an Indigo with very thin seat cushion.

The guy ahead of me happily reclined. Although the recline is not as bad as the picture in the advert, but it seriously deprives of legroom and space.

I just couldn’t even feel sleepy during ghost-hour flight.

Had a similar experience years ago on Jet Airways flight to Delhi, last row non-reclining seat. However it was morning flight so not much fuss.

Ideal solution would be to increase the legroom assuming the seat ahead of you will recline – which i’m sure no airline will opt for as it reduces the number of seats they can cram-in.


A friend of mine felt intimidated by the person in front of them some years ago. They stayed hemmed into their seat for the bulk of a 10 hour flight, and the guy in front had reclined his seat soon after takeoff, and had it reclined for all but the last 20 minutes or so.
My friend got off the plane and had a meal with family that evening. The following day she died in hospital as a result of DVT.
Perhaps her own reluctance was her downfall, but people should all be tolerant. When you have all bought economy class you all have the same rights. You don’t just kick off at someone. You talk and agree how you’re going to do things. Why make a trip unpleasant for no reason?


I paid for it, so I (respectfully) recline as far as possible. I do have the courtesy to put my seat in the upright position during meals, but as soon as the tables are cleared, I’ll recline again. Not with a b**g, like some people, but slowly going backwards. If the person behind feels cramped, he/she can recline as well to solve the problem.


The real issue here is one passenger taking away space from another. Sorry, you don’t have the “right” to do this! Same goes for the person “of girth” who cannot properly fit in the width of the seat. you bought THAT SEAT. Fit in it please!

I witnessed a case on a flight about 15 years ago where a person suddenly and completely reclined their seat, the person behind was using a laptop…. the screen got snapped off! The laptop user needless to say was very upset, the airline would not give the name of the passenger who damaged his laptop, so he called the police from the plane upon landing. The j**k in the seat in front was arrested, charged, and ultimately had to pay for the laptop, plus fines.

There are “defenses” to this activity – you can buy a small plastic device that jams the ability to recline. Slip it in place during taxi…. flight attendants don’t like it…. but really nothing they can do about it. Google “Knee Defender”….

There’s a really simple answer to this: redesign the seats so that the top of the headrest remains in exactly the same place, but the bottom of the seatback moves forward, taking the seat cushion with it.

What? You say your knees hit the seat in front of you? Well… perhaps you can find a “happy medium” where you recline slightly and don’t hit your knees? Sorry, did you say the airline has the seat pitch so small you cannot do this recline? Well… next time pick a seat or n airline that gives you the extra space! It’s all about YOUR CHOICE. You want extra space, PAY FOR IT. Don’t steal it from your fellow passenger!

Gear Up

There is no controversy. You pay for the seat, it reclines, you are allowed to recline it. I would have punched that man right in is bald head.

Dan S

As long as we have reduced seat pitch, we are going to experience the annoying seat back recline. I only see two alternatives. 1] Remove a row or two of seats and restore seat pitch allowing for more space or 2] remove and replace all reclining seats in economy with non-reclining seats. You will never please everybody but to me this is the closest you’ll ever get.


Seats are out in the upright position during meal service, landing and takeoff, That’s what we did on my first flight in 1969 on a Lufthansa B707.


I’m a tall person, and am most comfortable sitting with my knees just touching the back of the seat in front of me. I will not have my knees squashed so that someone else can fully recline. Negotiation is possible.

Laetitia Gerber

It is rude should not be allowed to recline into passenger behind you

David Griffiths

Totally agree with Syd… not just after take-off or during the meal service, and only after asking the person behind.


Its just rude.


Simple fix. Do not allow reclining seats.

John Pearson

Just slamming your seat back without checking what the person behind you is doing, is downright discourteous. Yes it’s a problem for all of us. But don’t just slam it back into there space. I would like to see a limit to half the current recline.


What about a passenger behind you jabbing his knee constantly in the back of your seat and making the seat shake? Perhaps it is my bad luck but every economy flight I have been on, I have always had someone jab their knees in the back of my seat and makes it shake. I recall trying to sleep once and this guy kept pushing his knee into the back of my seat causing the seat to shake and causing me to wake up. What is the etiquette there? Nowadays, there is no flight etiquette. Humans will do what they want, irrespective.