Wendi Williams, a teacher from Charlotte, North Carolina could never have imagined attending a teaching conference in New Orleans would end up in her becoming the center of attention in a Twitter storm that has divided opinion and got many people asking what is and isn’t actually acceptable to do on a plane.
Wendi was returning home as a passenger on an American Airlines regional Embraer 175 from New Orleans to Charlotte on January 31. She was sat in the second to last row of the jet which was operated by Republic Airways on behalf of American Airlines and decided to recline to seat for the short flight of just over an hour and a half.
As Wendi explains, she has had extensive neck surgery in the past and her cervical spine is almost completely fused – she had the option to recline to seat and she decided to do so because it made her journey more comfortable.
Unfortunately, the passenger sat directly behind Ms Williams didn’t want her to recline – at first because he was trying to eat. In a long Twitter thread, Wendi explains that she returned her seat to the upright position to allow the man to eat before again reclining.
But at this point, the man again demanded she sit upright and then started to punch the back of the seat… forcibly. Wendi claims this went on for some time before she decided to get out her cellphone and record exactly what was going on.
The male continued to punch the back of the seat, over and over again, while watching a video on his iPhone without impediment. At one point, the man appears to aggressively threaten Ms Williams before continuing to punch the seat.
But when she approached a flight attendant for help, she ended up getting in trouble and was asked to delete the video. Instead, the flight attendant apparently sided with the man by giving him a rum and coke and agreeing the legroom was “tight”,
Wendi says she’s ended up with “horrible headaches” for over a week as a result of the incident and has been forced to take time off work. After first approaching American Airlines privately, she decided to go public because the airline failed to offer any assistance.
What may have surprised Wendi even more, however, was the reaction of other Twitter users. Rather than criticising the man for what was clearly assault, many users have jumped to his defence, claiming Wendi deserved it because reclining one’s seat breaches unwritten airline etiquette.
The key thing to establish is whether plane etiquette was followed. Was the person behind asked if it was ok? If not then the (metaphorical) gloves are rightly off.— Martin (@martin99morris) February 12, 2020
EasyJet have removed recliner mechanisms from all plane seats & thereby removed more than 50% of issues between passengers. There is no need to recline a seat unless you are on a long-haul flight & the meal service is over. Reclining a seat into another persons face is just rude.— Norms (@Norminaus) February 12, 2020
I never recline if someone is in the seat behind me. It's not okay because you have the ability to recline, it is about when you recline. You inconvenienced him, he inconvenienced you. This was a Quid Pro Quo. Plus, looks like he can't recline away from you.— Todd Ginter (@CaptainLesgate) February 12, 2020
I think it is about time to remove the reclining seats from all aircrafts so this does not happen again. People are inconsiderate to others when reclining their seats. I had passengers reclining during meal time on Atlantic flights. Was unable to eat and had to go hungry— Brian Snape (@BrianSnape_SWS) February 13, 2020
For its part, American Airlines says it is “concerned” with Wendi’s account of the incident but has told her she would need to contact the FBI to make a formal report.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.