The Trend Toward Pre-Reclining Seats in Coach is a Good Thing

British Airways

This week it came out that British Airways was doing away with seats that recline on new short-haul aircraft and will instead use a “pre-reclining” seat. The knee-jerk reaction is, of course, to curse BA for taking away something so incredibly important (not really) and then mock the airline for using such silly words like “pre-reclining.” This may sound crazy, but I say the knee-jerk reaction is wrong. Pre-reclining seats are a good thing, and we should welcome them with open arms. The time has come to finally end the tyranny of the overly-aggressive reclining person (who somehow always sits in front of me).

There are really two kinds of people in this world: coach travelers who recline and those who don’t. I am firmly in the latter category and have been for as long as I can remember. If the golden rule still matters, then we should all feel that way. The last thing you want is the person in front of you to slam back the seat and dig into your personal space. I choose not to recline to respect the person behind me. Note: if you a) have an empty (or no) seat behind you or b) are sitting in front of someone who thinks kicking your seat is a sport, then ignore this and crank that bad boy back as far as you can go.

Some would suggest that the reclining issue is a recent development. Back when seats had greater pitch between them, you could recline as much as you wanted and nobody cared, they’ll say. I disagree. It’s always been annoying. Further, it doesn’t matter how much seat pitch you have when you’re watching your laptop get crunched or your bottle of water get knocked off the tray table. The tray table goes with the seat in front regardless of how far it is from you. Those items are going to be smashed regardless. Even in a world of less seat pitch, most seats themselves are thinner, so the amount of personal space hasn’t really changed dramatically on most airlines.

I say “most” because there are airlines which have absolutely put seats in that have dramatically impacted personal space. The ultra low cost carriers, naturally, were the first to push those boundaries. I think of Frontier with its mini/half tray tables. That is an airline that knows there’s so little space that you couldn’t get a laptop out without going into full T-Rex pose (little arms hunched over with the laptop at an angle) anyway. That is what sparked the pre-reclining movement. Most people have a negative opinion of pre-reclining, because so far it’s been associated with those knee-crunching airlines. But we can all hope this trend spreads further into more generous configurations.

“Pre-reclining” may sound stupid, but it’s actually quite accurate. Existing seats when they are in their “full upright” position (whatever that really means…) are mostly vertical. You can then recline up to about 4 degrees or so during flight. These pre-reclined seats actually lean back a bit (not sure how much, but it’s greater than 0 and less than 4 degrees) to make the initial seating position more comfortable. You can see a highly-inaccurate illustration above.

Why this pre-reclined position isn’t just the default on older seats is entirely unclear to me. Maybe nobody realized that sitting straight up was painful. Then again, it could just be a social commentary on our lack of proper posture in today’s world.

I’ve sat in pre-reclining seats, and I find them to be comfortable. Dare I say I find them to be MORE comfortable simply because I wouldn’t recline in a regular seat anyway.

Though these seats have largely been the domain of ultra low cost carriers, the closest thing we have to a ULCC in the legacy world is British Airways. So it’s sensible that BA would jump on this bandwagon early. BA spokesperson Michele Kropf told me that all new A320neo family aircraft will be delivered with pre-reclining seats in coach. “A small number” of existing A320 family narrowbodies will be retrofitted with these pre-reclining seats over the next few years. In other words, if you’re flying within Europe on BA in the future, you’ll pretty much have the same seating experience as if you’re flying Ryanair.

BA isn’t doing this because it’s the right thing to do for passengers. No, of course it’s an economic decision. With slimline seats and tight pitch in general, the airline can fit more seats onboard. And if it’s doing that, then pre-recline should be a requirement. It doesn’t hurt that removing the recline means there are fewer moving parts in the seat that can break. It’s good for maintenance, and it’s probably lighter as well, so it’s good for fuel consumption. (Even a little bit matters.)

You can decry British Airways for effectively going to a ULCC configuration within Europe if you want, but don’t take it out on these pre-reclining seats. That’s a feature that should be on every coach seat, good legroom or no.

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51 comments on “The Trend Toward Pre-Reclining Seats in Coach is a Good Thing

  1. I’ve noticed that seat manufacturers have paid much closer attention to proper ergonomics in recent years. (A related trend is that new seats have more pronounced lumbar support, which I approve of.)

  2. with you 100%.

    BA aside, once EasyJet started giving out seat assignments and I gave them a try, I was thrilled to find that most EasyJet planes have non-reclining seats, so I was doubly sold.

    Also, like you, I avoid infringing on that limited space belonging to the person behind me. That is esp true when I get my favourite-of-all economy seat, exit row aisle on some of the older UA 767s in the “2” section of the 2-3-2 config. Since I’m in a “luxury” seat, why cramp the guy/gal behind.

  3. I agree totally that losing the ability to recline coach seats is no biggie. Personally, I don’t think there is any such thing as a comfortable coach seat, and I have yet to experience a coach seat that didn’t make my neck hurt when I reclined it more than a tiny bit. That’s one of the reasons I’m traveling less and paying more for non-refundable first-class fares these days. So far as I’m concerned, the only way to be comfortable in coach is to be unconscious.

  4. The only time I ever THINK of the issue of reclining is when a FA asks me to “put my seat up” because it was reclined when I sat in it or accidentally hit the button. I try to get window seats so that I can “recline” the side of my head against the side of the plane.

  5. I don’t see this as a problem on short haul flights. However, I don’t buy your arguments, Brett, about reclining being bad, wholesale. I understand the whole issue causes disproportionate levels of stress when people are inconsiderate (because, by nature, many people are inconsiderate from time to time). But having spent 17 hours in Coach on Tuesday, I would not be functioning were it not for the option to recline a little to help get some rest. I am neither excessively tall, nor a complete short arse, but I know that I am rarely troubled by someone reclining ‘in to’ me, on the 70k miles I fly each year. Maybe I sit differently to you, maybe my legs are different proportions to yours, but I know that when I’m sat behind someone who has reclined (as they do, almost always), I simply adjust my posture if I need to.

    If the issue is not being able to use a laptop when someone reclines, well, ask if them politely if they mind adjusting their seat a little – but it’s nobody’s right to insist that the cabin is their pseudo office space for however many hours you’re stuck in it for. And as for encroaching upon ‘personal space’……get a grip; what, exactly, does your Coach fare entitle you to ‘own’ as personal space? I’m just thankful that nobody sits on my lap on a flight!

    So, I know I’ll get flak for taking this stance, but a blanket ban on reclining in Coach just isn’t something I would support – on short haul, for the record, I rarely recline at all (unless it happens to be very late at night and I’m dead from a long connection).

    Roll on the ‘down thumbs’…. :)

    1. I am never bothered by a fellow passenger reclining, and I need to recline to get a bit of rest–even on short flights–because usually I have already had a long flight before it and/or long haul to get to the airport, etc. Flying is exhausting and time-consuming, and a 4-inch recline is seriously not too much to expect or ask.

    2. Thanks, Bobber, I agree with you.  Thank goodness I do not have to fly British Airways.  The person who does not want anyone in front of him reclining “because of his knees” should be the one who needs to be sitting in First or Business.  For back and chest reasons, I cannot fly unless my seat reclines.  I don’t put it all the way back as I am considerate.  Having spent 35 years of my life working for a major airline, I will not board an aircraft unless my seat reclines.

  6. I have 2 conversations on each and every flight. I tell the person behind me that if I recline, I will do is slowly. To the person ahead, I simply ask for a warning before reclining. These tiny conversations have reduced tensions, spilled drinks and kicked seats by an amazing margin.



  8. I flew on Spirit a few days ago San Diego to Chicago, paying the $35 for each of us (what a fantastic deal) to have a confortable Big Front Seat.

    What surprised me was that the Big Front Seats on Spirit don’t recline at all!

    This didn’t matter much as the seat was still a lot more comfortable then my flight out to the West Coast on Delta in the Main Cabin and that was at a window with an empty middle seat. Although I did enjoy the seatback monitor, movie selection and free drinks/snacks on Delta, no entertainment on Spirit.

  9. I’m fully in the do-not-recline camp as well. As a somewhat taller person (6′-2″) the worst thing is someone trying to recline right into my knees. Of course my body stops their recline but some people then try body slamming the seatback to get more recline. That’s when I politely inform them that my knees are in the way, and not one of those anti-recline devices.

    Mostly due to my experience I think there should be no option to recline in Y class. I don’t really care about short haul or long haul either. If you absolutely need recline that’s what business class is for. Besides, the amount of recline they give you in Y is so minimal it’s not like any normal human this side of narcolepsy can actually sleep in that position anyway.

    1. I’m 6’2″ as well and I sleep reasonably well in a reclined seat on very long flights (Australia to North America). Not at all in unreclined seats. For me personally, the little bit of recline (multiple inches at the head) makes all the difference in comfort for myself; the little bit of recline (probably not even an inch at the knees) by the seat in front makes no difference.

      I do like the slide-and-recline seats that some airlines use (ie that slide forward slightly while reclining, so they don’t take any knee room from the seat behind).

  10. I’ve sat in Allegiant’s pre-recline seats. Aside from the seat being exceptionally hard, I did like the angle of the seat and even at 6’4″ made the 90 minute flight bearable at 30″ pitch. I personally was a fan of what JetBlue had when I flew with them which were the seats that the bottom slid forward on the recline. I thought that was a good compromise which was, if you want to recline that’s fine, but you do in your own space. I know people in general hated those seats.

    As a side note I find it interesting that every time I read articles about seat reclining, it’s interesting to read in the comments how everyone who comments has a back condition. (No offense to anyone who actually has one)

    1. I too have flown Allegiant with their pre-recline seats, and found it quite comfortable.

      In addition, they appear to have raised that bar that used to prevent passengers from putting their legs straight out in front of them, and while that is now more common, the combination on Allegiant made it perfectly acceptable.

      I agree with Cranky – it’s a good positive move

  11. So because you don’t personally like to do it, it makes it the right call?

    I just wish they’d do away with all the corporate speak in their press releases. Stop with the hollow talk trying to convince us that they made this decision with our best interests in mind. People would have a little more respect and trust if they just said they’re making this decision to put more seats on the plane so they can offer lower fares to more customers.

    1. LOL, right !!!….I’ve been saying this for years……”this is what the customer wants” pyschobabel. When did they want it ?, I never “voted” for this. I’ll pay the first guy a thousand dollars – who actually polls me with any questions about my feelings on airlines fees, rates, seating, baggage etc. Stop lying to us and, as you said, just tell us the truth about why you are cramming in more seats and lessening comfort.

    2. Mark – I don’t recall seeing a press release on this one touting anything.
      Am I missing something? I know when I spoke to BA, they weren’t trying to suggest that this was being done for the traveler. They were just matter of fact about giving the details.

  12. I am fully in Cranky’s Camp here, but would also like to add that this issue is the worst for me in US domestic first class, where the seat recline can be to the extent that you end up being able to give the person in front of you an update on their male pattern baldness. So your legs aren’t cramped, your top is, and the tray table becomes useless. And of course in F, the other person takes a more hard line stance on paying for their right to recline.

    1. @YFFB: on United’s A319/A320s the new slimline seats stop that from happening–kind of like being in a cradle; not a bad thing IMHO.

  13. I put seat recliners in the same camp as those people who bring a neck pillow on a 1.5 hour flight or take a middle seat arm rest when they’re in the aisle seat. It’s 1.5 hours – you’ll live without your neck pillow or reclining your seat. On an overnight to London, sure, recline your seat because that’s the closest you’ll get to a decent nights sleep (i.e 3 hours). But for a short hop to STL, no need to recline your seat.

      1. Or what if that person connected to that 1 1/2 “hop” after a 17 hr non-stop flight from SIN?

        Fortunately you don’t get to decide what other people can do in their seats, or whether they are allowed to use a neck pillow.

  14. Never understood the issue (on most planes). If the person in front of me reclines, it makes it hard to reach my bag under the seat without contorting my head while I reach, but that’s about it. I can still use my laptop. I don’t feel confined. I’m 6’0 tall. As mentioned, the seats only recline ~4 degrees. I don’t get it. To the person who said it’s an issue in domestic first class: yes, 100% true, those seats sometimes recline uncomfortably far.

    1. On a flight from London to San Diego last year (nearly 11 hours), I was unable to use my laptop (15″ MacBook Pro) because the person in front of me had their seat reclined for the whole flight).

      1. Sad!

        Turns out they paid for the seat with the recline feature. They simply used the space allocated to them by the aircraft configuration.

  15. “BA isn’t doing this because it’s the right thing to do for passengers. No, of course it’s an economic decision. With slimline seats and tight pitch in general, the airline can fit more seats onboard. And if it’s doing that, then pre-recline should be a requirement. It doesn’t hurt that removing the recline means there are fewer moving parts in the seat that can break. It’s good for maintenance, and it’s probably lighter as well, so it’s good for fuel consumption. (Even a little bit matters.)”
    Why are you defending the airlines – who continue to make billions? If they didn’t cram more seats in front to back, side to side with less legroom every year, they wouldn’t have to “justify” this discomfort. Flying a CRJ or a short-haul flight (less than two hours), okay, I get it, but it will just be a matter of time before people will be forced to sit bolt upright with no legroom, no shoulder room on those wonderful “slimline” seats (= no padding) for 7, 10, 12 hour flights. Might as well just put in park benches or wooden chairs. Honestly I’m trying to think what else they could possibly do (and will) to make us more uncomfortable.

  16. I had to take a pre-reclined seat on United from Anchorage to Chicago as no economy-plus seats were available. The overnight flight was miserable. Usually, I can fall asleep any time I recline — bus, train, plane. But in this practically upright position, I had to stay awake all night without even a place to put my knees. Won’t do that again.

  17. I’ve never fully reclined the seat if there’s someone behind me, but I will just go back ever so slightly to relieve pressure on the back.

    Years ago on some commuter flight the aircraft had a pre recline seat and it was okay, but slightly more declined then I like.

  18. This is fine in Europe because stage lengths are pretty short there. (Air France has already done it quite a few years back on their domestic narrowbodies.) It would be more annoying if this became commonplace in the US where redeye flights on narrowbodies are more common.

    That said, if there were a flip the FAs could switch to turn off seat recline on daytime flights, I would be all in favor.

  19. Totally agree with you about pre-reclining seats. I’ve flown Spirit before and it’s nice to use your laptop without fear of the crunch.

    I think the real issue with BA’s decision is the slimline seats, which have less cushion than the older seats. I have yet to fly an airline with comfortable slimline seating.

  20. That’s great until you’re on a red-eye on the new UA slimlines that recline maybe 2 degrees! Uncomfortable, wings that won’t stay put to rest a head against, and no way to even get a little bit of recline to sleep. I’ll take the old 757 config any day .. so sad they’re going to reconfigure those to these new seats too. I agree for daytime flights fine, for red-eyes pre-recline in a fairly upright config is painful.

  21. I too don’t recline and will only do so if the person in front of me reclines. I’ve found most airlines the recline isn’t good for my back so I avoid it. Just hope BA and other airlines don’t follow the F9 Frontier model – those excuses for pre-reclined seats, at least on the A320 I flew recently with F9, were more like rescue backboards than anything I’d actually term a seat and were terribly uncomfortable for a 2-hour short haul flight.

    1. I flew the Frontier A320 last year, but in the Stretch seats. It’s the same seat, but with extra padding, full size tray table, more pitch, and the ability to recline. It’s hard to directly compare since even though I was flying cross country, it wasn’t nonstop, but I thought the seat was more comfortable than the Southwest Evolve seats (which, to be fair, have been widely criticized).

  22. I’m totally cool with no recline on flights under 3hrs, but most of the time I’m on a 7.5 hours on a 757. Not reclining the entire night would not be fun.

    Even a shorter flight is nice to recline when it leaves after 9pm.

  23. I rarely recline, but when I do, I check in with the person in back of me first. I’d appreciate a similar courtesy from the person in front and would happily rubber-stamp it.

  24. I couldn’t disagree with you more on whose space it is for reclining. I consider the recline to be “my” space, just like I consider the recline of the person in front of me to be “their” space. I’m 6’2″, and I don’t find that the person in front of me reclining affects my knees much at all (especially when I make the underseat area empty either by putting my personal item in the overhead bin (if there’s room after the aircraft doors are closed) or under my feet and stretch my legs under the seat, which I find to be the most comfortable whether the seat in front is reclined or not.

    I certainly try (usually successfully) to recline slowly and check if the person behind me has a laptop out before I recline. I think it is completely unreasonable to expect that the person in front of you keep their seat upright the whole flight.

    I find a coach seat reasonably comfortable (ie entirely tolerable for 16 hour flights like SYD-DFW) when fully reclined but very uncomfortable even for short flights when upright. I’ve only been on prereclined seats once or twice (a HA 717 is the example I know for sure), but I find the ones I’ve been on about as (un)comfortable as an upright regular coach set.

    Of course, this is all very personal.

  25. This is a good thing. Surprised more carriers haven’t gone with these type of seats. Everyone’s legroom is the same, and it removes any animosity from those who feel like someone is trying to get more than they deserve (even though those who do recline are entitled to do so as, otherwise, why would the seat recline in the first place?).

  26. There are reasonable arguments for and against non-reclining seats. But once an airline has decided that its profit-maximizing strategy is to cram as many pax as possible into the coach cabin, you have to eliminate recline. Spirit quickly realized this reality, and I applaud them for it. The worst is a low cost airlines that hasn’t adapted. A few months ago, I flew a Chilean airline called Sky that has Spirit-like legroom but offers full recline. Almost every Chilean pax immediately puts their seats back, so the experience can be completely miserable. In my seat, the top of the forward passenger’s seat actually extended over my own seat cushion (think about that for a moment). Something as simple as reading a book was entirely impossible, and the forward passenger’s head was basically in my lap! This was crazy, which is why more “pre-reclined seats” are in every travelers future.

  27. Still prefer the ‘NYC subway grab-straps’ configuration.  Pack-in more PAX on flights under 2 hrs.  MORE PROFIT!  No liquids served, no Blue Rooms needed (or accessible), no wrenched F.A. backs pushing trolleys….Slightly changed Weight&Balance computation….No more ‘hot-dog…zoom…take-offs’, please.IN-FLIGHT EMERGENCY: Sardines are already firmly-packed in a pretty strong Airbus or Boeing ‘can’….lol  aka  A Kindred Soul

  28. I’d like the idea of all seats being set at a recline. But I have noticed that FAs are very conscientious about getting pax to get rid of even the slightest recline when coming in for landing or for taking off. How much recline will the FAA allow as a permanent recline? Or has this issue been avoided?

    1. FA’s do this so if an emergency evacuation occurs upon landing, the passengers can actually get out of the row versus trying to maneuver around a reclined seat. I have personally hurt my back trying to get out of a row where the passenger in the aisle seat of the row in front of me was reclined and I needed to use the lav in mid-flight. The contortion to slide out from the window (my preferred selection) seat put me in an awkward position, and I twisted my back into an unnatural position. Luckily, I had a few Tylenol with me to aleave the pain for the duration of my Trans-Pac flight.

    2. Jonathan – I couldn’t get BA to give me specifics but it’s a degree or two and it’s not an issue with the FAA.

  29. I really couldn’t care less if a seat reclined or not on a domestic flight, so this seems like a non-issue to me on the stage lengths BA is deploying these on. (Though I think both sides need to be reasonable on anything > about 4 hours. It’s not reasonable to expect the person in front not to recline at all on a 16 hour flight from DFW to HKG, for eample.) That being said, I detest these slimlines in general. I’ve yet to find one that doesn’t give me saddle sore and achy thighs after about 90 minutes.

  30. If you do not wish to recline, that is your choice.  I have been flying commercial aircraft for 50 years.  For the past 8 years, I am unable to sit up straight for more than 30 minutes.  It is too uncomfortable for me.  I made 9 round-trip flights in 2017.   Before I board, I ask if the seat reclines.  If it will not, I have to take another flight.  This is the reason I can no longer attend church services.  At home, I always sit in my recliner and often with my laptop.  I am sorry if you find it annoying when some of us recline our aircraft seat.

  31. “There are really two kinds of people in this world: coach travelers who recline and those who don’t. I am firmly in the latter category and have been for as long as I can remember. ”

    so you’re saying you’ll fly 14 hour nonstops from LAX to SYD and keep your seat upright the whole time ?!

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