Delta Airlines Cutting Back on Reclining Seats

Delta is cutting down on reclining seats. Is sliding back your seat rude or air passengers' last perk?

Delta Airlines announced it would limit how far back seats could recline on a number of its new jets. Passengers on the carrier's Airbus A320s will have only 2 inches to recline, down from 4 inches. First-class passengers will also have less wiggle room, 3.5 inches instead of the previous 5.5 inches.

The goal isn't to squeeze in more seats, the airline insists but to preserve passengers' "personal space."

"I think it's a great idea," says travel expert Johnny DiScala of "Airlines should give us more legroom, of course, but if they're not going to do that they should just remove the recline button altogether. It's where most arguments on planes come from."

DiScala predicts other carriers will follow in Delta's footsteps. "It cuts down on repairs, it stops fights."

Some budget carriers have already disabled the reclining function, including Spirit Air, easyJet and Ryanair. Last year, British Airways announced that seats on 35 of its new Airbus A320neos and A321neos would remain stationary, "to ensure everyone in the cabin enjoys a comfortable journey."

While reclining seats would seem to be one of the last few perks air passengers retain on increasingly crammed flights, their misuse causes more stress than they relieve. "I've seen drinks spill, laptops come close to breaking," says DiScala. "Even in first class, it causes problems."

Only 62 planes—or less than 10 percent of Delta's entire fleet—will be affected by the change, mostly those flying shorter routes. There is no current plan to modify seats on Delta's international flights.

But whether it's rude to recline your seat has long been a topic of debate. On a TripAdvisor forum, responses ran the gamut.

"It depends," wrote one member. "If it's a night flight and people are sleeping, then it's OK. But it's definitely not OK to keep it in recline throughout the flight. Yes, it's more comfortable for you but not for the poor passenger behind."

Violators, they added, "deserve to have the back of their seats kicked."

But another respondent said they hit the recline button as soon as the plane clears the troposphere. "All planes except maybe small puddle jumpers recline... If you were only allowed to use it to sleep on long flights then they can announce that to the passengers. The airlines are cutting more and more 'extras' and this is one of the few things that have not been taken away from us."

If you do choose to recline your seat, DiScala said there was some basic etiquette to follow.

"The polite way is before you recline, turn around and give the person behind you a heads up. See if they have a drink or laptop out, or if they're sleeping anyway. When you're on a plane just be genuinely nice to everyone."