The Fight For Airplane Legroom Turns Turbulent on American Airlines

Published on February 13, 2020

A woman who recently flew on an American Eagle flight from Charlotte, North Carolina to New Orleans, Louisiana is calling out the airline for not properly reacting to another passenger who repeatedly punched the back of a seat that she had reclined.

Meanwhile, she posted a video of the incident on Twitter and sparked the age-old conversation: To recline or not to recline? Jetiquette would state you could recline so long as it doesn’t disturb those around you. 

The passenger, Wendi Williams, said that on Jan. 31 her Express flight (that mean’s she’s probably on a 50-70 seat plane), when she first reclined her seat the man behind her asked that she wait to do so until he was done eating. She accommodated the mans request and then reclined the seat after he was done, according to a Fox News story. So for a minute, things were civil. Then, it happened. She said the man reacted to her recline by repeatedly punching the back of her seat, which she captured on video.

This situation is not uncommon on board aircraft in the U.S. as airlines are adding more seats. However most airlines will show a warning message if a non-reclining seat is selected at time of booking or check-in so that the passenger is aware of the cramped space.

The man seated behind Williams repeatedly punched and pushed the back of her seat in protest of her reclining the seat and making his space even smaller. However, she never brought her seat back up and instead recorded the incident. After posting it on Twitter she added that the flight attendants actually offered the man a free drink because of the lack of space; again not uncommon. In an effort to provide good service and off-set a potential unhappy customer, flight attendants may comp a drink or two to passengers in uncomfortable situations as a “service recovery.” Williams didn’t state when the drink was offered, before or after the situation. Then she states when she started recording the incident a flight attendant supposedly informed her that it was against airline rules to record video (each airline has a different rule/regulation for this).

Williams later posted:

“I was contacted via phone by American [Airlines,] they apologized but really didn’t accept any responsibility for the flight attendant’s actions,” she charged. “I will be calling the FBI to press charges against the ‘man’ who mistook me for a punching bag. Anyone who doesn’t like it, I don’t care!”

Though some Twitter users showed sympathy for Williams’ situation, others were more curious of her version of events. Critics countered that it was “unfair” and “mind-boggling” that she would recline her seat against his wishes and invade the man’s space in the first place. But is it her responsibility to make up for the airlines lack of space in main cabin?

Personally, I believe you have a right to recline your seat and be more comfortable. However, whether you should or not in a specific situation is another matter. You should always be considerate of those around you. If your recline would impact the person behind you, try to work out a solution together. Is that really so hard?

Bobby Laurie is a Columnist at Grit Daily. He is also a co-host on the nationally syndicated weekly travel and lifestyle television show, "The Jet Set," and serves as a travel expert for The Today Show, CNN/HLN, Inside Edition, among others. Laurie is one of two travel experts with actual, hands on industry experience. He has worked as a flight attendant since 2007 for three major U.S. airlines and served as an Analyst for In-Flight Policies and Procedures developing FAA-approved emergency procedures and communications.

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