On Sunday, Senator Chuck Schumer announced that he will introduce an amendment to an FAA funding bill that would require airlines to provide at least 35 inches of space between seats, and a minimum seat width of 18 inches. Most commercial airlines currently offer about 31 inches of seat pitch (the distance between any given point on one seat and the corresponding point on the seat in front of it) and an average seat width of 17 inches.
“I can’t fit in those seats," Schumer says. "I have to take the stuff out — the special bulletins and card so that my knees don’t bang into the seat behind me. And we know about all the fights that have broken out because of people leaning their seats back... When you talk to people about traveling today on the airlines, people are not happy. Bottom line is everything is being taken away, and nothing bothers people more than the fact that there is almost no leg room."
There's never been a better time to have an adult conversation about whether it is socially acceptable to recline your airplane seat. It appears the Internet, much like our readership, is split over this issue. According to FiveThirtyEight, 41 percent of fliers will dream of spilling a drink on you/actually do it if you dare shove your seat into their airspace. USA Today separates travelers into three camps: those who recline at will, those who ask before they recline, and those who keep their seats locked in place.
Some people say it's cool to recline your seat on a long-haul flight—11 or so hours in an upright position can't be that healthy, after all. But according to a Skyscanner poll from a few years back, 91 percent of fliers think reclining seats should be banned on short-haul flights. Never one to shy away from a #HotTake, Slate says the demons are both seat recliners and the people who design seats that recline in the first place, which is probably fair.
A writer for the Times argued a few years ago that if someone doesn't want the person in front of them to recline their seat, they can pay the person in front of them for the leg space. The cost of a plane ticket, Josh Barro argues, includes the right to recline. "If sitting behind my reclined seat was such misery, if recliners like me are 'monsters,' as Mark Hemingway of The Weekly Standard puts it, why is nobody willing to pay me to stop?" he wrote. "People talk a big game on social media about the terribleness of reclining, but then people like to complain about all sorts of things; if they really cared that much, someone would have opened his wallet and paid me by now."
My favorite argument in favor of the Right to Recline is that since tall people seem to have it easier in almost every respect, they should be forced to suffer on planes, a place in which the vertically challenged reign supreme. I understand, from tall folk, that 10+ hours in cramped space is a very difficult thing to endure, but so is spending high school with the nickname "Hobbit," and the never-ending struggle to reach the good cereal at Key Foods.
As long as airlines make seats that recline, people are going to stick their seatbacks into your face, so it's either time to stage an air travel revolution for more space (thanks Schumer!) or cut off your legs. For more on that, here's our guide to surviving long-haul flights. And here's where we come down on who gets the middle seat armrests.