In flight, try to reason with aggressive recliners

travel q&a airplane manners

December 21, 2008|By Los Angeles Times

One pervasive plane problem is when the person in front of you puts the seat back in the full recline position and leaves it there for the whole flight, which is particularly aggravating on a long intercontinental flight. This happened to us on a return trip from Paris. I asked our cabin attendant to help us. She refused. We paid full price for someone using our space. Shouldn't passengers have more manners? Can anything be done?

Yes, something can be done - probably by you.

In a recent survey, TripAdvisor, the online travel rating system of travel providers that relies on feedback from regular folks, found that more than 80 percent of respondents said airline passengers had become ruder in the last decade.

When asked what kinds of airline passengers were most annoying, almost 60 percent answered "oblivious parents." And 46 percent said the full-bore boor is the person who reclines his seat during meal service.

So should you suffer in silence when you're obviously the victim of all-about-me America?

P.M. Forni, author of Choosing Civility and The Civility Solution, thinks not. Incivility, he once said in an interview, is a precursor to violence. I thought that a bit dramatic until I recalled a fistfight over space that broke out on my last flight to Europe.

Forni, who founded the Civility Initiative at the Johns Hopkins University, urges his readers to take responsibility for handling the insensitive souls of the world, by taking responsibility for one's own psychic well-being.

"Responding to rudeness is an art," Forni once said in an interview. "It has to do with the ability of balancing self-respect and respect for others. It has to do with the ability to exercise self-restraint but at the same time being assertive.

"Assertiveness," he added, "is part of civility."

That means making your wishes known but without crossing the line.

For instance, "Hey, space-hogging jerkface" probably sets the wrong tone. Saying, "Excuse me, sir, I don't know if you realize this, but when the seat is reclined it's almost like being strapped down. I wonder whether I might persuade you to move your seat up - at least part of the way." If you give him a little psychological wiggle room, he just might give you some.

If you lack the courage to confront, you can go immediately to passive-aggressive with the Knee Defender, a gadget that clips to your seat tray and keeps Mr. Jerkface from reclining. They cost $15 a pair at kneedefender.com.

Good manners or clandestine gadgets? One could further world peace while the other merely preserves a piece of your world. Your choice.

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