I can totally understand someone reclining his seat on a long-distance flight. On a short hop, I don’t have any sympathy for anyone using his “right” to recline his seat. The seat pitch on short flights these days make you an anti-social person by default if you choose to recline. I had my share of not being able to even drink a cup of coffee because somebody just wanted to “rest”.

I usually try to reposition my legs as much as possible, not only because I have to, but also to try to make the journey as unpleasant for the rester as it is for me. I’m aware that is just childish behaviour, so I am wondering whether there are more effective and more civilized countermeasures to make the flight pleasant for both of us.

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    The commercial answer is to pay for business or first class.
    – mouviciel
    Sep 2, 2013 at 7:18
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    Cramming more seats into the same are makes the airline anti-social. Jamming your knees in someone's back 'to make a point' marks you as childish. +1 to mouviciel, or looking for flights on less crowded airlines, or ... (see others' comments).
    – hunter2
    Sep 2, 2013 at 7:56
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    I think it's rude for people to refuse to let you to recline. Everyone's paid for their seats, and if you really have a problem with leg space, then buy premium economy or a higher class ticket. Or try to check-in and get seats near bulkheads. Sep 2, 2013 at 8:52
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    @AnkurBanerjee It is not about refusing people to recline, it is about making people being aware they are actually rude by just reclining without notice.
    – user141
    Sep 2, 2013 at 11:23
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    Many airlines now allow you to pay for bulkhead or exit row seats now. I do it pretty much every flight these days. That said, I'm really for not allowing seats to recline and letting everyone have equal comfort.
    – user5043
    Sep 20, 2013 at 15:32

6 Answers 6


So, there are two mechanical solutions to, what is, fundamentally social problem, but before I provide them, I want to make clear that employing these is an easy way to be regarded as a jerk by your fellow passengers, and not without merit; the seat is designed to recline, and while putting it back can be inconsiderate, restricting the use of the feature by others can be just as inconsiderate on a long flight. Think long and hard about just how much of an asshole you are willing to be before attempting to block the passenger in front of you from taking what small comfort they can in the horrid conditions found in coach class on a commercial airliner.

First, the commercial solution: The Knee Defender. A small device that clips onto the arms supporting the tray table, when the clip is in place, the seat in front of you is unable to recline. It can be adjusted to allow for limited recline, if you're feeling considerate, but the 'courtesy card' provided by the manufacturer should be pretty clear evidence that this is inherently a pretty inconsiderate product.

Knee Defender Courtesy Card

If, in addition to being a jerk, you're also a cheapskate, you might want to look into using a water bottle or other, similarly sized rigid object as a shim to prevent the seat in front of you from reclining. Like the Knee Defender, this has the downside of requiring that you keep your tray table down to rescue your precious legroom, and, unlike the Knee Defender, also will take up some space on the tray table, which may or may not bother you. It is similarly inconsiderate to use.

Alternately, you could be less of a jerk, and pay the often pretty nominal premium to get a bulkhead facing/exit row seat, where nobody is in front of you to recline.

  • 2
    I can imagine that this might be against 'the rules' to use. 'The rules' being either the airline's rules, the FAA (or equivalent) regs, or a combination. Installing unauthorized, unlicensed, unregulated personal equipment on a commercial airline should open you up to a whole lot of liability issues.
    – hunter2
    Sep 2, 2013 at 7:44
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    @hunter2 The FAA has said the Knee Defender is okay, though several commercial airlines have forbidden them. Sep 2, 2013 at 13:45
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    Note that this has just made the news after two passengers got into an argument over its use
    – Mark Mayo
    Aug 26, 2014 at 14:47
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    On a long flight, yes, restricting the recline would be inconsiderate, however, for what it's worth, the OP's question specifically mentioned that and referenced short flights, where the seat pitch is typically much less. For people with long legs, having someone lay their seat on your knees is not just a minor inconvenience, as the inability to recline would be on domestic flights for most people. Of course, long-haul flights where everyone is expected to recline (and where seat pitch is generally higher) are a different story.
    – reirab
    Aug 27, 2014 at 21:20
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    How is this answer marked correct? If the question was "How can I be a total jerk on a flight?", then yes, this answer is correct. As it stands, @jpatokal's answer is the correct one. Mar 23, 2015 at 2:49

No, you do not have any right to stop the person in front from reclining, and yes, it's childish behaviour on your part to try to stop them. Everybody on a plane has the right to recline their own seat, and flight attendants can and will enforce this if asked.

You put "rest" in quotation marks, but maybe they really do need to recline: they might be sick, connecting from a 17-hour flight spent next to a screaming baby, any number of things that are really none of your business. I've reclined and slept like a baby on a short-hop SFO-PHX flight... because I just flew in from NRT and didn't manage to sleep a wink.

The one useful thing you can do to create a bit more space for yourself is to recline your own seat.

  • 29
    If somebody asks how many minutes they should zap their babies in a microwave to dry them after a bath, it's still a correct answer to tell them not to do it... Sep 2, 2013 at 2:01
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    Note that while food is being served flight attendants usually ask people to put their chairs upright, so eating isn't usually a problem. Sep 2, 2013 at 3:05
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    Your original question said nothing about communication? If this is your actual concern, there's an extremely simple solution: ask the person in front to tell you before they recline. Sep 2, 2013 at 5:32
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    "Everybody on a plane has the right to recline their own seat" [Citation Needed]
    – reirab
    Aug 28, 2014 at 15:49
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    @ChrisH Indeed, many of the newer seats do reduce your own legroom when you recline them. Personally, I actually like those, as it means that the person in front of me is using their own legroom to recline, not mine. Those types usually don't bang into my knees when the person in front of me reclines. At any rate, though, there isn't any type of economy seat (at least not that I've ever seen) where you can gain legroom by just "reclining your own seat," as this answer suggests. I take that this answer was not written by someone with long legs who has experienced this.
    – reirab
    Dec 31, 2015 at 17:38

Lifehacker actually has a post about ways to find out which seats are actually non-reclining, so that you can try and book the seats behind them.

A similar article of theirs shows the (meaner) option of blocking the seat with something like a water bottle.

enter image description here

(from gawkerassets)

There's the aforementioned Knee Defender, as well, but that's where you start getting controversial, and indeed Northwest, American, and Continental Airlines have banned it.

It helps to remember that nobody is comfortable in economy class, tempers are short, and purposefully preventing someone from reaching that little bit of comfort they believe they're entitled to by reclining may cause a response from them which you may not enjoy...

  • 2
    @uncovery I didn't mean that it's less controversial, just that some airlines ban the Knee Defender, but they don't ban bottles. Note that I did indicate in my final paragraph that it may not be the best idea to use these responses, and my first suggestion was to look for seats without this problem.
    – Mark Mayo
    Sep 2, 2013 at 6:35
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    "... nobody is comfortable in economy class": Whenever I start thinking I'm uncomfortable in economy class and I just stop for a moment and think how lucky I am to be a member of the jet set at all and remember I chose to spend my limited income on economy airline seats rather than cigarettes like other low income earners I know. We're pretty spoiled compared to most of the other seven billion people around if this is what we have to complain about. Sep 2, 2013 at 7:41
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    "believe they're entitled" .. are entitled. People who have paid for a seat that is designed to recline have paid for that entitlement. // Could be more controversial - if I slam a lot of weight against a KD, hopefully it will hold or 'fail gracefully' (hopefully ...). If I do that to this 'hack', what do you reckon will happen? And who is liable, then?
    – hunter2
    Sep 2, 2013 at 7:50
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    @hunter2 I'm not saying they're NOT entitled, as I was writing it I nearly put in the fact that many booking sites now describe the number of degrees the seats incline, so yes, they paid for it. However, just the fact that they feel they have the right to recline (which I'm not saying they don't) means that when you block it with a bottle or whatever is likely to ruffle some feathers.
    – Mark Mayo
    Sep 2, 2013 at 11:00
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    @hippietrail obviously. But that's comparing apples and oranges. I'm very grateful to be able to travel by plane, and I willingly buy the cheapest seat available, because I'd rather spend my money on other stuff. But if you survey an economy class of passengers after LHR->HKG->AKL, very few of them will be feeling terribly comfortable, was my point. But yes, comfort is relative, #firstworldproblems, and all that.
    – Mark Mayo
    Sep 2, 2013 at 11:02

I just came across "The etiquette of seatbacks and elbow room" It nicely answers the OP. I would suggest to read the full blog, but the ettiquete is outlined as follows:

  1. Look Before You Lie Back
  2. Use Only What You Need
  3. Mealtime: Sit Up Straight
  4. For red-eye flights: " I say equip planes with a third light next to the "seatbelt" and "no smoking" lights: "Seat backs down.""

The blog then continues what to do if you are the victim of an instant recliner:

  1. When the person in front of you leaves his seat, nudge the seat back up a little on the sly. Don't be too obvious -- if he doesn't notice (or even if he does), you may reclaim some of your personal space for the duration of the flight.
  2. If the person in front of you blasts her seat back and then proceeds to buck in her seat against your knees, you may need to use similar body English to reclaim some of that space. I'm not encouraging you to become a "seat-kicker," but sometimes you gotta make the case in terms the other guy will understand. If she's slamming against your knees...
  3. Politely request that she put her seat back up slightly.

Personally I think this blog nicely covers the issue form both perspective.

  • 1
    I think those numbered suggestions for what to do if someone reclines are in reverse order. There is an option 0 too - buy a better seat if you need it.
    – user
    Sep 17, 2015 at 13:13

I'm much taller than average and in some airplines it's already tight without reclined chairs in front of me. Thus on most flights I keep my legs in a normal position, which already makes it very difficult for the person in front of me to recline their seat. This is enough for most cases. But not all.

Communication is usually the best way out of this. Explain to the person in front of you that you need the space (standing up has helped me convey that message in most cases) and if needed with the airplane personnel. If there's another chair available they're often happy to help you out.

Unfortunately that doesn't always work out either. I was on a 10+ hour flight with a person in front of me insisting on reclining their seat. My legs are really long and the chair was painfully pushing against my knees. All seats were full. I tried to communicate with the person, in 5 languages, without any kind of response, as if they were deaf. The flight personnel was also mostly ignoring my situation, even though they managed to get some response from the person (so they were not deaf).

I finally just put my legs over the chair in front of me, pointing upward, a situation that lasted for more than half an hour, after which the person somehow came to their senses and moved their chair slightly forward giving me just enough space to keep my legs in a normal position.

  • 1
    @drat, if they're not taken (you'd have to be a giant for them to bump someone else from that seat), and you're not travelling with (e.g.) an infant who's banned from an exit row. For that matter the proportion of people with femurs long enough to have problems in economy appears to be greater than the proportion of seat with extra legroom. Aug 28, 2014 at 9:18
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    @Kasper - In life there are advantages to being tall, tons of them. I am around 6 ft as well, but there are disadvantages too. Leg room in aircraft, back seats of cars and when traveling by buses & trains. The seats are designed to allow recline to relieve a persons SPINE and NECK from the load. If you need more space buy a more expensive ticket. I had a super huge OBESE guy next to me once and did not like how he was overflowing into ME and MY space.
    – Alex S
    Dec 19, 2015 at 12:12

One thing to do is to ask for a new seat. Some airplanes may have a few "extras," and give you some choice of seats.

Even if there are no "new seats," the fact that you asked puts the airline on notice that there is a problem. If they're at all on the ball, the cabin crew will talk to the other passenger and try to work out something between the two of you.

  • Even better, ask that the recliner gets the better seat so that you don't get any benefit beyond not having a recliner in front of you. That will seem less like you are just trying to get a free upgrade.
    – user
    Sep 17, 2015 at 13:15

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