For the five minutes after takeoff, every passenger on an airliner exists in a state of nature. Everyone is equally as uncomfortable as everyone else—well, at least everyone who doesn’t have the advantage of first class seating or the disadvantage of being over 6 feet tall. The passengers are blank slates, subjects of an experiment in morality which begins the moment the seat-belt light turns off.
Ding! Instantly the jerk in 11C reclines his seat all the way back. The guy in 12C, his book shoved into his face, reclines as well. 13C goes next. And soon the reclining has cascaded like rows of dominos to the back of the plane, where the poor bastards in the last row see their personal space reduced to about a cubic foot.
As the article also details, asking people not to recline their seats rarely proves fruitful. I understand why people lay back -- even if I'm not convinced it makes a flight that much more comfortable -- but it strikes me as odd that people reflexively do so the instant they're allowed, not bothering to check if their reclining will negatively impact their fellow passengers.Or else there are those, like me, who refuse to be so rude as to inconvenience the passengers behind us. Here I sit, fuming, all the way from IAD to LAX, the deceptively nice-seeming schoolteacher’s seat back so close to my chin that to watch TV I must nearly cross my eyes. To type on this laptop while still fully opening the screen requires me to jam the laptop’s edge into my stomach.
When I marched drum corps, our tour buses also had reclining seats. (Note: Reclining seats were the extent of the luxury on the horn bus; the Troopers, while a classy organization, were not flush with cash.) We were allowed to recline our seat, but only after saying "seat back," a phrase that was intended both as a request and a notification for the person seated behind us. To this day I still check with the person behind me on those rare occasions I do recline my seat; it just seems the natural, courteous thing to do. You don't know if that person has a hot drink or a laptop on their tray table, and a confined space 30,000 feet in the air is one of the last places you'd want to be asking forgiveness instead of permission.
A turn of the head, a short, simple request and a modicum of common courtesy. It's not that difficult and will win you many brownie points from those around you. Flying is rarely an enjoyable experience -- let's not make it more difficult for our fellow travelers.