What happened to the friendly skies?

transportationBoy, have things changed in airplane travel. A friend posted a video on Facebook about jet travel in the 1960s. Travelers were served seven course meals that might include caviar, roasted pheasant and lobster tail. Flight attendants were called Air Hostesses and they treated travelers as if they had been invited to dinner at their house. Passengers dressed up and actually looked forward to flying, which was a five star experience.

Fast forward to today and we’re lucky if we get a free bag of peanuts and enjoy even a one star experience, unless you pay four times the amount for a business class seat. Passengers have to wait in long security lines, are subjected to invasive body scans and have to fight for overhead baggage space. We have less and less room, we have to pay for just about everything, and those comforting amenities – blankets, pillows, free magazines – are as rare as a Broncos fan in Seattle. Passengers are cranky and stressed. Airplane travel is just not fun.

However, the lack of space and food, and the cattle car experience does not warrant rude behavior. There were three recent incidents of flyers exhibiting very bad mannered behavior around reclining seats. One passenger used a device, which will go unnamed because I don’t want to give it one iota of press, that prevented the passenger in front of him from reclining her seat. When he refused to remove the device the woman in front of him threw a glass of water on him, causing the pilot to divert the plane so the two hot heads could be removed.

Within the past three weeks two other flights were diverted when passengers went at it over reclining seats. I am shocked. Shocked at the completely selfish, me focused behavior these incidences exhibit.

First of all, we pay for the right to recline our seat. It is one small airplane comfort I hope we don’t lose. However, one must use common sense and some good manners when reclining. Before reclining your seat ask the person behind you if they mind if you recline your seat. If they do mind, graciously respect their wishes. Never recline during meal time. It’s very hard to eat when the seat back is right next to your face and on top of your food. When you do recline do it slowly.

If you are someone who is tall or who has long legs that are smashed by a reclining seat, politely ask the person sitting in front of you if he would mind not reclining because the seat  hits your knees.

Secondly, if you encounter bad-mannered behavior, do not respond rudely. It only escalates the situation. Instead respond with compassion and forgiveness. People have bad days, they may have been flying all day, or maybe they are headed to a funeral. You never know what is making someone behave badly.

A Facebook friend posted a story about having dinner at a family friendly restaurant with a friend and their two toddlers. They were enjoying a lovely meal when a woman came up to them and started yelling at them about how loud their kids were, saying they were terrible mothers and how it ruined her meal. The kids were not running around, nor were they being any louder than a toddler should be in a family friendly restaurant. Despite my friend trying to reason with this woman she continued to yell at them until finally the restaurant manager intervened and moved the woman and her party to another table. My friend was so shaken up she couldn’t eat another bite of food.

The restaurant manager comped their meal, gave them a gift certificate and when they were ready to leave asked her if there was anything else he could do that would make her feel better about the situation. My friend thought about it. Thinking this woman must “be an unhappy soul” to do something so callous and mean she decided to pay for her and her parties’ meal because she thought the woman might need some kindness. Essentially my friend turned the other cheek and responded to hate with love; a very difficult thing to do, but ultimately the most powerful response to bad behavior.

So while I understand how unpleasant flying has become, and we all may long for those days of roasted pheasant served by happy Air Hostesses, try to keep your cool. If someone blocks you from reclining or they recline while you’re eating take a deep breath, don’t take the behavior personally and respond with grace just as my friend did at the restaurant. You’ll feel better about yourself and hopefully the other person will learn a lesson about the power of gracious behavior.

Your turn to weigh in. Do you think people should be allowed to recline their seats? How do you feel about someone using a device to keep you from reclining your seat?


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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>


  1. Sandra on September 22, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    I just read your blog
    post about air travel, and I agree with most of what you say.  I
    respectfully disagree that people have a “right to recline” their
    seats on airplanes.  I believe it is rude to recline, now that airplane
    seats are packed in so close together.  Unfortunately, when one person
    reclines, he or she invades the space of another passenger, making it difficult
    or impossible for that passenger to read, eat, use a laptop, etc.  I
    believe that when an action we take makes things substantially less pleasant
    for another person, we have an obligation to refrain from that behavior. 
    Because the airlines are packing more rows of seats on planes, it is no longer
    possible to recline without making another passenger miserable.
    I applaud you for at least asking people to speak to the person behind them and
    ask if they mind the reclining, but I still think the correct and most polite
    approach is never to recline one’s seat on an airplane.  “Do unto
    others as you would have them do unto you.”
    Some airlines are making the seats fixed, so they don’t recline.  I think
    that will become more common.
    Airlines seats are indeed uncomfortable, and I sympathize with people who are
    trying to make themselves more comfortable, but it is rude and inconsiderate to
    recline one’s seat into someone else’s already limited space.

  2. ArdenClise on September 22, 2014 at 10:52 pm

    @Sandra Thank you for taking time to share your thoughts.I don’t think you’re alone in
    your feelings about reclining seats. Many people dislike having someone recline
    their seat in front of them. I don’t mind when others recline their seat in
    front of me, as long as they don’t do it too fast or recline when I’m eating,
    Following the same etiquette, I do like to recline my seat, perhaps because I’m
    tall with very long legs and like having the extra space. 
    I’ll be curious to see what others have to say about reclining.

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