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My last (Swiss) long-haul flight was overnight and a lot of passengers tried to sleep. Nevertheless, the flight crews served dinner at the start of the flight and breakfast shortly before landing. Both times, they woke up and asked the passenger in front of me to put his seat back into the upright position so that I could use my tray and eat my meal.

Is this a service I can expect from the flight crew of any airline, or is this not common?

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Air New Zealand has done this every time I've flown with them; Cathay Pacific and China Eastern have not, so it seems to depend on airline and not the flight attendants, for what that's worth. –  waiwai933 Dec 18 '12 at 0:28
Korean Air did it on my recent flights with them. Just when eating and during takeoff/landing, though. –  reirab Aug 27 '14 at 21:21

4 Answers 4

up vote 19 down vote accepted

From a former cabin crew's point of view, there are two issues here:

1. Waking the passengers up:

This is done for two reasons actually:

  • Safety reason: It is a good practice for the airlines to wake passengers up whenever possible, the real reason behind that is checking if the passenger is ok or not. Many cases of very sick passengers (incapacitated) were discovered this way. Sometimes the crew fails to wake up the passenger and call a doctor onboard, doctor comes and discovers something wrong and saves the passenger!. (I have personally experienced that). Sometimes dead passengers are discovered this way. Furthermore, this practice is embedded in most airlines' safety policies.

  • Service reason: If the crew did not wake up the sleeping passengers at the time of the service, once the passengers wake up they will ask for a meal. This is not easy for many reasons, the meals can not be re-heated again (food poisoning risk) and most likely the crew will heat all of the meals for that service at once so no extra frozen meals available. The crew also can not use the meals from the second service before its time, also heating the meals takes from 20-30 minutes and there will be no time especially after the second service. So to save their selves from some problems, wake them up and ask them, that's the best for both crew and passengers.

2. Asking the passengers to put the seat in upright position:

Now this does not really make sense, most of the airlines interior manufacturers have solved this issue and not the space nor the position of the opened tray table is affected by the seat position (either upright of fully reclined) because tray tables are not originated from the seat itself, they are originated from the seat legs which are fixed and do not move. So reclining the seat will only makes the upper area smaller but does not actually move the table backward. I worked for years as cabin crew on different models and different interior designs and never seen this issue. Yes reclined seats can make it harder for you to enter the row because the upper are will be more narrow but for sure it will not affect the lower area where the tray table is. Many airlines do distribute a "Do Not Disturb" sticker in long-haul flights to people who wants to sleep undisturbed will stick it so crew will not wake them up during services. First and Business classes passengers do not have to worry about this because they usually have more space between rows and in-seat tray tables.

To answer your question, why do they do it in this airline, I really do not know and I can not know, but I am sure they have a good reason. Either they have a bad interior design or just some policy for a reason I am not aware of.

seat leg

As you can see in the photo above, the tray table is attached to the seat leg which is fixed. Reclining the seat while the table is down will not affect the table position. Otherwise the table will also be tilted!

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+1 for the clear picture which illustrates a long held misconception. –  Ram Dec 20 '12 at 19:28
It's not a matter of the tray table itself not working properly, it's a matter of having the top of the seat back on top of the tray table, which doesn't allow a sufficient amount of room for the passenger behind them to eat. On a recent long-haul, until the FA asked the person in front of me to move their seat up, there was not enough room to even get the tray with the food on it to the tray table, let alone me be able to cut and eat the food in a reasonable manner. –  reirab Aug 27 '14 at 21:27

What the cabin crew does depends on the airline. Some have a defined policy that they like passengers to put their seats into upright position, some don't really care. It may also vary on whether the flight crew enforce an airline's policy or not.

Among travellers there's a bit of debate too on what's best. While some consider it rude to adjust seats or recline when when food has been served, there are others who say - especially if it's a long-haul / red-eye flight that they would rather not be woken up just because meals are being served. (Yes, there are people apparently who hate free food.)

I see it this way: why do you need to be passive-aggressive and expect the flight crew to tell someone to adjust their seat if it's making you uncomfortable? It would be rude to ask someone to not recline generally, but during when meals are served it's perfectly okay to ask a passenger in front of you to adjust their seat - and I've never heard of anyone refuse to do that.

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How would an FA asking someone to allow me to have enough room to eat constitute me being passive-aggressive? –  reirab Aug 27 '14 at 21:29
@reirab Because the person is right in front of you and you can ask them yourself politely. Nobody has ever refused me to put their seatback upright during meals. –  Ankur Banerjee Aug 28 '14 at 23:35

I think this situation very depends on not only Airline, but the crew themselves. You said that ead was served at the start and finish of the flight, so, if you have problems with man before you, you can say that this position of the seat is unsafe during such phase of the flight.

But I think this is all about negotiation between you, your neighbors and the flight crew.

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I really dislike this practise, as it is essentially saying "My comfort is more important than yours."

I have a strategy for dealing with this, which is if you get someone being totally inconsiderate in front of you and slamming their seat down into you, throwing the contents of your seat tray all over you, bide your time for maximum effect and then develop a sneezing fit and direct the blast directly onto the top of the head of the offending person, which should be right in front of your mouth and nose if your seat is still upright.

If you time it right, you'll get a second chance of a direct hit when they pop up and turn around to stare at you open mouthed.

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Not really answering the question. Yes we could all be passive aggressive to the guys in front, or buy one of those seat protectors that literally prevents it from reclining, but the OP was asking about the role of the Flight Attendants in this situation. –  Mark Mayo Dec 19 '12 at 21:50
The badge donating system looks like it uses peak detection and not current value. This answer has a "Teacher badge" for a +1 score on a first answer, but a, so far, -4 actual score. I wonder how many teeth DP... has got left? –  Russell McMahon Apr 23 '13 at 21:32

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