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.