A video of a seat-reclining scuffle on a plane was viral. Posted on Twitter by a woman, it showed the man behind her continually punching her seat to discourage her from reclining her seat. Reactions poured in from all quarters, which shows how strongly people feel about proper plane etiquette.
The woman said later that she missed days at work, had to get X-rays and suffered headaches due to the man-made turbulence. While some viewers felt that every passenger has a right to recline their seat, others felt that one should always ask before reclining one’s seat as that would be the compassionate thing to do.
In my experience, there are some people who can’t wait to lie down as soon as the plane takes off. One would think they haven’t slept for days. For someone like me who can never fall asleep on a flight or train journey, it is aggravating to see others slip into slumber so effortlessly
India’s Aviation Ministry weighed in on the issue, with the minister saying that passengers should remember that this is not a sleeper berth on a train and they should be responsible travellers. If only it were that easy.
The reaction that seemed the most practical to me was the reminder of reclining rules such as not doing so while being served meals (of course the airline crew are there to remind us of this); never on short flights; if the person behind requests you not to, please refrain; and recline slowly to prevent spills and jolts.
In my experience, there are some people who can’t wait to lie down as soon as the plane takes off. One would think they haven’t slept for days. For someone like me who can never fall asleep on a flight or train journey, it is aggravating to see others slip into slumber so effortlessly.
Coming back to the strong reaction of the woman mentioned earlier, I can sympathise with her. Many years ago, I had a similar experience on a long-haul flight. This time around I was not even guilty of reclining my seat. But the man behind me apparently suffered from restless leg syndrome.
This is an irresistible urge to move the legs. Now I don’t really have a problem with this but when those legs are shaking my seat and causing me to feel airsick, I am not going to suffer in silence.
Initially, I ignored the jarring movement but when it continued for a very long time, I turned back and politely requested the male passenger to stop rocking my seat. There was a momentary lull but the movement started again.
After several requests to stop his actions, I was forced to bring this to the notice of a flight attendant. The lady informed the man that I was being disturbed but he continued the jarring movement. Eventually, I was given the option of changing my seat, which I readily accepted.
Sometimes I wonder if there’s something about me that invites turbulence. An aura perhaps. On another flight, I was rudely brought to earth when a man landed on my lap! I kid you not. This was the result of a brawl between him and another irate male passenger over luggage in the aisle blocking passage.
The aggrieved woman passenger was advised to file a report for assault after complaining. The airline said in a statement that it was looking into the issue.
If I had been told then to file a report, I would have done so in a jiffy. Of course, the issue might still be in the process of being looked into but at least you feel that your objection has been noted.
Such experiences are becoming rampant as less leg room is now the industry norm. In August 2014, a man on a flight from Miami to Paris ended up being handcuffed mid-air after he flew into a rage over a recliner, and the flight was diverted to Boston.
Vanaja Rao is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, India.