Recliner Rage

UNITED STATES

Recently, an argument between airline passengers over reclining seats became so tense that the pilots of the fight diverted the Boeing 737 from Denver to Chicago. Days later, two other flights were diverted because of similar disagreements. (Associated Press)

Use our activity “Defend Your Personal Territory” to learn about less drastic measures of conflict resolution.

This Boeing 787 is similar to the 747 that was diverted from Denver, Colorado, to Chicago, Illinois, after two passengers got into an argument over reclining seats. Photograph by Pawel Drozd, courtesy Wikimedia. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

This Boeing 787 is similar to the 737 that was diverted from Denver, Colorado, to Chicago, Illinois, after two passengers got into an argument over reclining seats.
Photograph by Pawel Drozd, courtesy Wikimedia. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Discussion Ideas
Read through our terrific twin activities “Define Your Personal Territory” and “Defend Your Personal Territory.” Adapt their questions to reflect the airline passengers’ dispute. Suggestions below!

  • Have students sit in chairs directly in a vertical row, mimicking most airlines’ economy-class (coach) seating. Have them lean back in their chairs at different intervals, and engage (or pretend to engage) in different activities, such as reading, eating, working on a laptop, or listening to music.
    • How do different students define or measure their personal territory?
    • Do students define their personal territory as the space in front of them (where they are reading, eating, etc.) or the space behind them (where they may recline and relax)? Both?
    • Does their definition of personal territory change if the space in front of them is “invaded” on by someone reclining?
    • Do students think their peers should ask permission before reclining?

 

  • The passengers in the AP story got into such a bad argument that the entire plane was diverted hundreds of miles. This cost the airline money and inconvenienced the pilots, flight crew, air-traffic controllers, airport personnel, and, most of all, their fellow travelers. It also cost the belligerent passengers themselves, who were literally grounded (as many of us who misbehave have been) when they were not allowed on connecting flights and had to spend the night in Chicago before flying to Denver the next morning. How do you think the offending passengers could have resolved their conflict without causing such difficulty?
    • They could have waited until they were calm enough to talk with each other instead of screaming profanities and throwing cups of soda.
    • They could have spoken to a flight attendant to see if one of them could switch seats with another passenger.
    • They could have negotiated:
      • The passenger in front could have reclined only slightly.
      • The passenger in front could have not reclined for part of the flight.
      • The passenger behind could have not used his laptop for part of the flight, reducing the impact of the reclining seat in front of him.

 

  • This ridiculous situation brings up a number of excellent issues about personal territory and space. Think about the situation from the point of view of the front passenger, the rear passenger, and the airline.
    • Do you think the person in the front seat had a responsibility to tell the person behind her that she wanted to recline her seat?
    • Do you think the person in the rear seat had a responsibility to tell the person in front of him that he would appreciate it if she did not recline her seat?
      • Did he have a responsibility to tell her he was preventing her from reclining?
    • Do you agree with the inventor of the Knee Defender, who thinks that the airlines are “selling the same space twice—to me to sit down and then inviting people to put their seat backs there as well”?
    • Do you think airlines’ economy-class seats should be able to recline?
      • The passengers in question were sitting in an “economy plus” section, which is more expensive and offers more legroom/recline room than standard economy seating. Do you think these “economy plus” seats should be able to recline?
    • If seats cannot recline, should the airline reduce the ticket price to reflect a reduction in service?
    • If seats can recline, should passengers pay a fee to recline?
    • Do you think the duration of the flight makes a difference in how to approach an argument about reclining seats?
    • Do you think passengers should be able to purchase and use “Knee Defender,” a device that prevents the seat in front of them from reclining?
    • Do you think there should be airline-specific rules, or should the flight crew handle each dispute on a case-by-case basis?

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