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Delta CEO: You Should Ask Before Reclining Your Seat

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Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian waded into a newly intense debate over reclining airplane seats last week, saying passengers should ask before leaning back.

“I think customers have the right to recline,” Bastian told CNBC during an interview. “I think if someone knows there's a tall person behind them and they want to recline their seat, I think the polite thing would be to make certain that it's OK.”


It's a hot topic – especially after the viral incident where an American Airlines passenger repeatedly punched the backseat of a woman who reclined into his space. Video of the incident spawned a week of hot takes on whether or not reclining is acceptable.


The Right to Recline?

Reclining has become one of the few ways for passengers to seize more space as airlines have crammed more and more seats onto increasingly tighter planes.

Across the industry, seat pitch – the distance from one seatback to the next – has shrunk from a norm of roughly 34 inches two decades ago to just 30 or 31 inches today. Check out Seatguru for your upcoming flight and you'll see that's the case.

American Airlines, for example, has retrofit many of its Boeing 737-800s that once held 30 rows of seats to install 33 rows. From first class to coach and even the lavatories, everything shrank in size. Less space = more seats = more revenue.

And it's not just legroom that's shrinking. Airlines have also added more seats per row; most airlines now squeeze 10 seats across on a Boeing 777 in economy, up from the previous norm of nine. To make it all worse, flights have never been more full, so your odds of flying with an empty seat nearby have gotten slim.

In Delta's case, Bastian defended the airline against these trends.

“We haven't reduced our pitch in our aircraft in years,” Bastian. “In fact, we're going the other way. We've been adding a lot more seats with more pitch with more space on our aircraft.”

That's true in some respects, and Delta's spacious new Airbus A220 showcases that mindset.


airlines seats


But that doesn't change the fact that space on Delta flights has shrunk over the last decade or two. More recently, Delta began limiting how much passengers can recline on some domestic flights – from 4 inches to just 2 inches in economy.

For his part, Bastian says he never reclines – he said he thinks it's improper for the CEO of an airline to do so.

“And I never say anything if someone reclines into me,” he added.


Bottom Line

Maybe Bastian is wrong, maybe he's right. But it seems unfair for the CEO of any airline to set the standard for reclining, considering they created the problem in the first place.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

5 Responses

  • Yes, I agree with your last statement that the CEO should not set the norm. It is inhuman sometimes when you are on a flight – especially an international one and you can’t recline or someone is reclining into your space. It would be hard to say no if someone asked you about reclining into you so I don’t agree that one should ask permissions. It is also distressing that the amount of space per seat is declining too over time. I think these executives who decide to cram in more seats should try to sit in one when you can’t recline on a long international flight. Then they will know how it feels to be so crowded in such little space. And I am not a large person – under 5 foot 5 inches – but find myself being very uncomfortable in most planes with the amount of space available. The lack of space is the worst thing about flying – especially internationally.

  • This is absurd. Asking implying accepting a no unconditionally. How is that fair? How about asking turning on your phone screen as the light might disturb others? There should be a limit of socially accepted conduct.

  • I was on a long-haul day flight to Peru on a crappy 767 with the person ahead of me fully reclined, but when I reclined, the person behind me protested. I just put my seat back up.

    Sure, I could have been obstinate, angry, and overwhelmed a sense of unfairness… but I just didn’t need to recline that badly. I sat upright behind a reclined passenger… and to my surprise, it was OK.

    I don’t usually react that calmly, but sometimes I can manage to be the piece of bamboo that flexes, so that we all get through it together.

  • I would like to insert as many bleep bleep bleeeeeep words here…however, I do my best to be kind at all times. I recline my seat without asking, but I have been considerate in the past due to a particular situation…a tall person behind me, the elderly, and someone carrying a baby.

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