The Humanist Dilemma: Can We Forego a Small Bit of Comfort to Avoid Making Someone Else Far More Uncomfortable?

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Decline to Recline: Given all the very important issues you tackle in this column, I hesitate to bring up something relatively trivial. But I saw this TV segment proposing everyone on airplanes agree not to tilt their seats back. The idea is that putting your seat back may make you a tiny bit more comfortable while making the person behind you a lot more uncomfortable. The reporter suggested a “Decline to Recline” campaign to get everyone on board (pun intended). I would like to spread the word through your column.

-Upright Citizen


Dear Upright,

Thank you for your suggestion. The clip is really amusing and makes a very good point. Although I will say that in the past when an airplane seat was all the way back, the person behind you could give you a dental checkup, whereas lately I can’t even tell if my seat is vertical or fully reclined until the attendant chides me to return it to the upright position (which is about a half inch forward of the maximum reclining position).

Even so, it’s those little considerations of other people and cooperation among strangers that make the difference between pleasant and miserable experiences. If you don’t knock your seat back, the person behind you may refrain from jostling you throughout the flight, and then you may decide to help a neighbor get a bag down from the overhead without dropping it on anyone, or let another person get out first to make a connecting flight. And so on.

What goes around comes around. A little kindness, courtesy, and consideration can go a long way, especially in high-stress situations. Whenever it costs you little or nothing and has the potential for a nice beneficial ripple effect, go for it!

Readers: next time you’re on a plane (or bus or train) and think of leaning your seat back as far as it will go, consider “Decline to Recline.” Pay it backward.