Airline passengers should pay each other for right to recline, study claims

Posted by
Joe Ellison
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Up there with speedy boarders (the worst) and parking so far away from the airport you’re practically in another time zone, another major gripe of modern air travel is someone reclining their seat in front of you.

We’ve all done it, of course, just some more than others. Whether you’re one of the faceless cowards who drop their chairs before the seatbelt sign has even been turned off, or the politer kind who at least wait until the middle of the flight before having the audacity to sprawl back and make someone’s difficult airline meal even more difficult, or just someone who opts against it out of principal, there’s no denying the right to recline continues to provoke debate.

Well it’s now reached new heights, with a study in the US finding that passengers should pay each other for the right to recline their chair.

In a series of experiments by New York-based law professors Christopher Buccafusco and Christopher Jon Sprigman, the pair discovered that people would demand on average $18 (£14) to stop the person in front reclining their seat, and claimed this bargaining could even be done through the purchasing of on-flight snacks.

When they asked if passengers would be prepared to take a snack or drink not to recline, the study found that 78 per cent of the people in front were willing to accept it, with 36 per cent willing to take the offer.

 “Nobody likes the recent turn toward airlines charging for every service, but maybe what we need is more of that,” they wrote.

"Most airlines still hand out free drinks, and sometimes little bags of pretzels. Maybe instead they should charge for them and allow passengers to purchase them for one another.

“Everyone wins. Seat recline space is efficiently allocated. Airlines are marginally further from bankruptcy. And no one gets punched in the face.”

That’s no overstatement. Unlike many short haul carriers in the UK, such as Easyjet and Ryanair, whose bulky chairs offer about as much flexibility as Jackie Stallone’s facial muscles, many airlines in the US still offer full-on reclining chairs, leading to spats on an almost daily basis.

Around two years ago the issue only worsened when passengers in ‘cattle class’ fought back by using a new product called the Knee Defender - a small detachable device which prevents those in front of you from dropping their seat back – which naturally sparked even numerous mid-air rows.

Although it proved bad press for the airlines, news of the incidents only made the product more popular, with orders soon coming in from across the globe – yep, even the UK.

As for charging to recline, perhaps airlines could implement a pre-boarding online booking form for passengers to indicate if they’d happily let someone recline in return for food. That could work. We hear United Airlines could do with some good press.

Or here’s a crazy idea, guys: how about giving people sitting in economy actual leg room? That could do it.

Images: iStock