A passenger sitting in Economy Class aboard a Virgin Atlantic flight from New York JFK to London Heathrow started “violently shaking and kicking” the seat in front of him because the person sitting in it reclined their seat in order to get some much-needed sleep during the short transatlantic night flight.
Sam Bowman, who works in publishing for payment processing company Stripe, described his “bizarre experience” in a series of tweets following the incident on Saturday.
Thank you to the excellent crew member at @virginatlantic who was firm with him and calmed the situation down. He and his wife said I was "running to teacher" by asking her to deal with the situation. Must be a very difficult job dealing with people like that – it is appreciated!— Sam Bowman 🇺🇦 (@s8mb) September 3, 2022
“I reclined my seat to sleep and the grown man behind me started violently shaking and kicking my seat, and refused to stop until a flight attendant told him to,” Sam wrote. “Then his wife loudly declared that I was a sociopath.”
Sam says he would have had sympathy for his seatmate if he had been tall or if there hadn’t been any room in the overhead lockers to put his hand luggage. It turns out, though, that this wasn’t the case… the man just didn’t want Sam to recline his seat.
“Would happily discuss the reclining politely with someone – I don’t want to make tall people uncomfortable, though I do need to sleep – but really taken aback by that reaction,” Sam said of the situation.
Thankfully, cabin crew came to the rescue and firmly told the man to quit attacking the seat in front and let Sam have his seat reclined.
In this case, Virgin Atlantic fits out its Economy and Premium Economy cabins with reclinable seats for one reason only… to allow the person in that seat to recline the seat. An especially welcome comfort feature on an overnight redeye flight when people want to get a few hours of rest.
Outside of taxi, takeoff and landing, most airlines don’t generally have any hard and fast rules on when passengers are allowed (or not allowed) to recline their seats, although it’s generally considered good etiquette to keep seats upright, or reduce the recline, during meal service times.
After that, opinions on when it’s acceptable to recline can vary massively.
On shorter flights of up to three hours, many people believe that passengers should forego reclining their seats, and an increasing number of airlines agree – by installing seats on aircraft used for short-haul flights that don’t recline.
Daylight flights can also be tricky, and it can be considered poor manners to fully recline your seat at the first opportunity without first checking with the passenger sitting behind.
But some people on Twitter replied to Sam saying that reclinable seats should be banned altogether.
IMO it’s simply a matter of courtesy. If someone is sitting behind you then don’t recline your seat. If you do it anyway, that says something about you.— Tim Graves (@realTimGraves) September 3, 2022
Aircraft seats should not even have a recline feature to be honest. If you want to lie down to sleep, book business or first class. Otherwise you’re encroaching on others space who have paid the same fare as you.— AJ (@ajaclare) September 3, 2022
It’s entirely possible to sleep upright, as many do on trains.
Airplane seats simply shouldn't be allowed to recline – but the obvious response when someone reclines is to stew silently, not act deranged.— Daniel Abernathy (@dabernathy89) September 3, 2022
“If you want to lie down to sleep, book business or first class. Otherwise you’re encroaching on others space who have paid the same fare as you,” one person wrote in response to Sam’s tweet.
“It’s entirely possible to sleep upright, as many do on trains.”
Another person wrote: “If someone is sitting behind you then don’t recline your seat. If you do it anyway, that says something about you.” A third person wrote: “Airplane seats simply shouldn’t be allowed to recline – but the obvious response when someone reclines is to stew silently, not act deranged.”
Back in 2019, Ed Bastian the chief executive of Delta Air Lines which owns a major stake in Virgin Atlantic, shared his opinion on the seat recline controversy, saying passengers have a right to recline but conceding it was a major “pain point” for passengers.
Bastian also said passengers should ask permission of their seatmates before reclining their seat. Delta has fitted out some of its aircraft with reduced recline seats in an effort to reduce tensions.
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.