Stop the Dreaded Seat Recline – How to Save Your Knees on Airplanes

To Recline Your Seat or Not to Recline Your Seat – That is the Question

If you ever want to get a good debate going, ask your friends whether coach passengers have the right to recline their seat during a flight. While some people vehemently defend their right to recline, others equally defend the right to not have their kneecaps crushed. It’s something you might want to consider once you’ve snagged the best airfare prices and are ready to board.

The “don’t-crush-my-knees” group has begun to get creative, since flight attendants will tell you that if you’ve asked the person in front of you not to recline and they recline anyway, there’s really nothing they can do about it. While some tall people use Knee Defenders to keep the person in front from reclining, the job can also be done with more pedestrian objects, including zip ties and water bottles.

Zip Ties are Your Friend

The zip tie method works only if neither you nor your immediate neighbor plans to use a tray table during the flight. Here’s how it works: You use the tie to tightly bind the extension arm of your tray table to the arm of the adjacent tray table. When the person in front of you (or the person in front of the adjacent tray table) tries to lean back, the zip tie binds his seat in place. The only way to get around it would be if both he and his neighbor (sitting in front of the second bound tray table) were to recline in unison.

Zip tie for seat backs

As for removing the zip tie at the end of the flight, nail clippers are your best bet. The zip tie you see in the picture is a giant, reusable one, but if you were to use a smaller disposable one, any standard toenail clippers should handle it. These are allowed by the TSA as long as they do not have any sort of blade accessory.

Thirst Quencher, Kneecap Saver

Another method is wedging a straight-sided water bottle between the back of your open tray table and the tray table latch, as seen in the picture. When the person in front tries to recline, their seat will bounce back to the upright position at the top of this post. Beware: the flight attendant may ask you to remove the bottle if the person trying to recline complains.

Ethics of Defense

Whether these techniques are ethically defensible is a matter of hot debate, with “right-to-recline” flyers about evenly matched with “don’t-invade-my-space” flyers. Furthermore, there is no agreement on how to put an end to these issues once and for all. Some people suggest the common courtesy of asking before reclining (or asking the person in front not to recline), or even bribing the person in front not to recline. Others contend that seats in coach should not recline at all, thus spreading discomfort more evenly throughout the cabin. Who knows? Maybe making a smart upgrade to first class is the best solution.

Or, you can just direct your cold air vent on the back of the person’s head.

Zip Tie photo courtesy of Jordan at Izuno Travel

Water bottle photo courtesy of Angus Kidman


Published: May 26, 2011