Are Reclining Airplane Seats Becoming a Thing of the Past?

Airlines have been quietly scrapping the feature in an effort to cut costs

Rows of airplane seats, which, according to CNN, are slowly starting to lose the reclining function
The most controversial plane feature is reportedly on its way out.

To recline your seat or not to recline your seat? That is the in-flight question.

In February 2020, a viral video showed an agitated man in the last row of a plane berating a woman in front of him for reclining her seat. It sparked a highly contentious debate on the internet, and in the InsideHook office, as it became abundantly clear that for every one person who vehemently believed in their God-given right to recline, there is another who considered it a cardinal sin.

And, as far as I can tell, there hasn’t been much progress made in either direction in the three years since. Except, while we were busy arguing over the internet, it appears airlines were quietly doing away with the controversial feature.

According to a report from CNN, reclining seats are slowly being taken out of airplanes and it’s actually a cost-saving strategy as opposed to a play to appease the masses (surprise, surprise).

A Definitive Guide to Reclining Your Seat on an Airplane
The surprising consensus among travel and etiquette experts

“[T]here’s a mechanism hidden in the structure underneath your seat cushion that contains a pivot, the wires connecting it to the button on your armrest, and a pneumatic canister that returns the seat to an upright position. Seatmakers call this kinematics: the parts that move,” John Walton wrote. “For airlines, this represents a cost, firstly from maintenance: any kind of mechanism is prone to breaking, whether from normal wear and tear or because passengers don’t treat airplanes gently.”

It’s also a weight cost, because those mechanisms add up quickly and “any weight that can be saved means reducing the fuel needed to carry it.” And, of course, there is the potential for fights between passengers over reclined seats, which comes at another type of cost to airlines.

That said, there are many alternative seat designs being piloted in hopes of a better tomorrow. In the meantime, however, if there are any words of wisdom this travel writer can impart, it’s to not be an asshole. If you’re flying a budget airline, and you know the person behind you is already breaking their kneecaps against the back of your seat — don’t recline. If reclining your seat is of the utmost importance to you, consider upgrading. It’s not difficult to look out for your fellow passenger, and if we were all a little more conscious of doing so, maybe reclining seats wouldn’t be on the verge of extinction.


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