Follow these 5 rules before reclining your airplane seat


With another busy travel season right ahead of us, thousands of infrequent fliers will be taking off for family vacations. But before you recline your airplane seat, here’s a warning.

The right to recline 

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The debate over whether it’s acceptable to recline the seat that you paid for has led to nasty exchanges and even fights. One survey found 41% of people consider reclining a seat downright rude.

Shannon McMahon used to think that if you bought the seat, reclining was your right. Not anymore.

“The moment that the monster of a human sitting in front of me sent a full cup of scalding hot tea careening into my lap when he jolted his seat back during food service, I knew I’d been wrong about that rule of thumb all along,” McMahon told

McMahon came up with five rules about reclining your airplane seat, and she thinks it’s about time everybody starts to follow them.

5 rules for reclining your airplane seat

Rule #1: Look back

This is what McMahon describes as the “golden rule.”

Give the passenger behind you a heads-up before you push that little button. If you don’t feel like speaking to them, warn them using body language.


Rule #2: Don’t recline during meal service

Most airlines aren’t serving full meals for domestic flights, but it’s safe to apply this rule to beverage service as well. After all, you don’t want to end up getting burned (or burning someone) over a couple of inches of space.

Rule #3: Take only what you need

For most economy passengers, space is tight. And while some airplane seats recline more than others, you might not need to fully recline to take an in-flight nap. Maybe only recline halfway?

Rule #4: Recline slowly

If you ignore the “golden rule” of looking back, you could at least recline slowly. If the passenger behind you just paid for in-flight Internet access and is using a laptop or tablet, they’d surely appreciate it.

Rule #5: Use your words

Finally, be civil. Passive-aggressiveness will only lead to more problems, and you don’t want to end up on, a site featuring pictures and videos of disturbing things that happen on planes.

RELATED: These 7 things could get you kicked off a flight

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