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Just In: Reclining Seats Facing Extinction in Airlines

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  • Aviation experts forecast that airlines might cease offering reclining seats in coach, the basic flight class, to decrease maintenance expenditures and fuel use.
  • Leading U.S. airlines such as Southwest Airlines, American, and United have not yet removed reclining seats, but they have implemented significant alterations. For instance, Delta reduced its economy seat recline options from four inches to two inches on short flights in 2019.
  • William McGee, a senior fellow for aviation and travel at the American Economic Liberties Project, argues that the elimination of reclining seats in coach could enhance the overall flight experience by mitigating in-seat disputes and discomfort.

The long-standing debate about whether or not to recline seats has caused disagreements among air passengers. In an effort to settle this dispute, airlines might be contemplating the removal of reclining seats in coach.

Coach class, also referred to as economy or main cabin, provides the most basic services. As opposed to premium economy, business, and first-class cabins, which often come with full meal services, coach only provides minimal snacks. The comfort and padding of coach seats also leave room for improvement.

Despite the lack of luxury, coach passengers have had the option to recline their seats until now. However, alterations in coach seat designs over the years have impacted the reclining capabilities of the seats.

“This trend has been evolving for several years now, and I anticipate it will persist,” said William McGee, a senior fellow for aviation and travel at the American Economic Liberties Project.

The reasons for this anticipated trend are not exclusively about passenger comfort but are mainly associated with the expense of maintaining and repairing reclining seats. Much like a car, these seats require periodic inspections and can incur significant repair costs if the mechanisms fail.

Moreover, the weight of reclining mechanisms can accumulate. The heavier the plane, the more fuel it consumes. To cut back on the escalating cost of jet fuel, airlines might contemplate removing these weighty reclining mechanisms.

“Lighter seats are what airlines desire, because with the cost of jet fuel they constantly aim to decrease weight onboard,” McGee commented.

Although leading U.S. airlines have not yet completely eliminated reclining seats from coach, changes are noticeable. In 2019, Delta decreased the recline options of their economy seats from four inches to two inches on short flights. On some flights, Ryanair and British Airways now provide “pre-reclined” seats.

McGee pointed out, “The simple truth is that US airlines have been deteriorating their economy class products for many years now, bit by bit, but permanently.”

As per McGee, the removal of reclining seats could contribute to an improved overall flying experience. This modification might even lower in-flight incidents and disagreements instigated by one passenger’s decision to recline their seat, which can disturb and inconvenience the passenger seated behind.

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“There’s no doubt this could be beneficial for air travelers,” McGee stated.

If airlines opt to remove reclining seats from coach, passengers who prefer to recline during their flight will have to pay more. Some global carriers are beginning to offer “fixed-shell” seats in premium economy, which allow passengers to recline up to seven or eight inches.

“Will some passengers miss recliners in economy class? Certainly,” admitted McGee. “But many more will be thankful they don’t suffer a broken laptop or hot coffee spilled on them when the passenger in front decides to recline.”

Let us know what you think, please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Ron

    April 20, 2024 at 7:02 pm

    I think the problem is American Citizens have become so grossly overweight that whether they reclined the seats or not, they will not be comfortable.

    The problem is in the size of the people.
    Not to sound mean spirited, but factual just look around and you’ll see what I mean

    • Daniel Gray

      May 2, 2024 at 6:47 pm

      Oh really? Have you ever seen Canadian Snow Birds? The ones that come to Florida during the Canadian Winter? They have more rolls then a jelly doughnut Or have you ever seen German Tourists? They have a shape and its round! My point is its not just Americans that are too large for the seat its ALL countries and races. Holy Heck we have one lady in England that her thigh is twice my waist size and she is demanding that the airlines give her two seats and she only pays for one and is claiming that unless you do its fatphobic. No its called not knowing when to push yourself away from the dinner table lady!

  2. Jeff Washington

    April 20, 2024 at 7:06 pm

    Is Mr. McGee completely out of touch? I think so. Non reclining seats are painful for most backs and spines. The issue ‘that seats recline and thus cause spilled coffee or bumped laptops. The issue is that airlines have compacted the space between rows of seats. Reclining didn’t used to be an issue. Seat rows are so tightly packed now that it is very difficult to reach carry on baggage legally and properly stowed under the seat ahead of you or to pick up a pencil which drops on the floor. Seats are too close together to even view laptops for the most part. So no, Mr. McGee, it is not a good idea from the traveler’s standpoint to immobilize the sardine like seating compaction. It is clear you represent the airline lobby.

    • Nancy Kwiek

      April 20, 2024 at 7:49 pm

      Hey Jeff, you took the words out of my mouth. I, like you, both realize the enormous expense for 1 plane to fly with fuel costs and such but you are correct about the spacing of the rows on basic coach. It all comes down to money more rows & seats added the money per seat. I remember the days on “domestic” flights a passenger would be served a lunch and/or dinner with a choice if meal to choose from at NO COST! That’s because the cost of your flight included the meals plus cocktails were offered as well like wine. So the simplest answer for Mr. McGee would of course be pay more for your flight in order to have those luxuries. Well done Jeff.

  3. Jonas R

    April 20, 2024 at 7:27 pm

    Mr. Jeff Washington is correct. It has become inhuman the way that coach travel has changed. The difference in price between coach and premium is hundreds of dollars more, and most people cannot afford the difference. So, do you punish your passengers, even those, like me, who have shown unrelenting loyalty to the Brand? I blame this all on former President Ronald Reagan, who selfishly deregulated the airlines. Since then, the airlines have been out of control, making air flights the most uncomfortable means of modern travel today. Airline decision-makers need to fly short flights in Europe, except for the low-cost carriers, to see how there is still respect for human comfort. US airlines should be ashamed of themselves.

  4. Vicente Timiraos

    April 23, 2024 at 1:31 pm

    Floor sitting will be the next alternative…
    Sad!

  5. CharlieSeattle

    May 7, 2024 at 12:09 am

    Next will slave ship horizontal spacing in several layers.

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