To Recline or Not to Recline, Is That the Question?

When it was disclosed last week that British Airways planned to install non-reclining seats on its 25 new Airbus A320neo and A321neo planes, the predictable outcry ensued.

It was a battle royal between those who favor civility and those who assert their “right” to recline. Among the representative comments on FlyerTalk:

I see the inability to recline seats in short haul a positive! I hate it when the passenger in front reclines.

No recline so stuck bolt upright for 2-3 hours at the end of the work day flying home, no coffee included…

Thank goodness BA have removed recline. No more arguments with the inconsiderate person in front of me now when in Y.

For me, I don’t think a non-reclinable seat for short haul is itself the real issue – up to say 1hr30 or so.

And so it goes. And so it will continue, as other airlines follow British Airways in fitting their planes with non-reclining seats. There are those who are categorically opposed to reclining seats, and those who categorically favor them. And never the twain shall meet.

Rather than those categorical Ayes or Nays, however, the best answer might be: It depends. Specifically, it should depend on the legroom between the seats. No one complains when a passenger in first class reclines her seat. Because there’s plenty or room between seats, and reclining doesn’t encroach on anyone else’s space. But when there are a scant 29 inches between seats, as is increasingly the case in coach cabins, even a fully upright seat back is only a few inches from the face of the passenger behind. Under those circumstances, tilting that seat back even further is inconsiderate of other flyer’s personal space at best, and an act of hostility at worst.

So what about this: For seats with less than, say, 32 inches of pitch (the distance between seats), seats will be fixed in an upright position, no recline possible. And for seats with 33 or more inches of pitch, seats will be reclinable 5 degrees for every extra 1 inch of legroom.

No absolutes there; recline and pitch are co-variables, as they should be.

Reader Reality Check

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and almost that long writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

This article first appeared on, where Tim is Editor-at-Large.