I looked at the woman, and then at the man who was clearly not in her lap. He was close though, about a foot away, maybe? Sorry, I mouthed. I handed her a can of Diet Coke and a cup of ice and communicated to her in words I knew she’d understand: “Unfortunately he’s allowed to be in your lap.”
There are certain topics I avoid in polite conversation: Politics, religion, and the right to recline on an airplane. People feel very strongly about these things, and if the conversation gets heated there’s nowhere to hide — especially if you are on an airplane, 30,000 feet above the ground. In 18 years as a flight attendant, there has been more than one occasion I’ve considered locking myself inside an empty cart.
Flight attendants hear more complaints about recliners from antirecliners than anything else.
One time a woman wearing Coke-bottle glasses called me over to show me that she could not put down her tray table because of the seat in front of her. I suggested that perhaps if she removed the very large fanny pack from around her waist, it might go down. By the way she looked at me you’d think I was the crazy one.
She punished me by not ordering a drink.
Then there was the guy who had the nerve to complain about a recliner, even though his own seat was reclined. But he didn’t care, he just kept on complaining.
Even the people who, if you saw on the street, would think were the picture of politeness get upset about personal space on an airplane. An older woman threatened to punch a teenage girl in the face when the girl put her seat back. I had to remind the woman — a grown, adult woman — that’s not how we do things around here.
There are two kinds of people in this world: Recliners and Anti-recliners. They do not get along.
While most passengers dread turbulence, what leaves a lot of flight attendants dreading a long flight are on-board confrontations, which seem to be happening more often these days. It’s a really big deal for us to walk off a flight or have a passenger removed. Diverting a flight is absolutely the last case scenario, so the two passengers who were left in Chicago after fighting over a reclining seat must have been completely terrible.
Whoever you side with in the Great Seat Reclining Debacle of 2014, there’s one thing that needs to be said: All passengers are allowed to recline their seats. All passengers are allowed to recline their seats. Even during meal service, even right after the pilot announces we’re at a safe altitude, even when you want to work on your laptop.