It's a pretty common scene in any airline's TV advertisement: A passenger leans back, reclining in their seat with a comfortable and relaxed grin that you just know is impossible to sustain when actually flying economy class.

Clearly airlines feel that the fact their seats recline is a selling point, otherwise the smug smiler wouldn't feature in the telly ads.

But the numbers from a survey by Skyscanner suggest the airlines might want to reconsider. The unscientific poll of 1000 fliers found that nine out of 10 respondents want reclining seats on planes banned.

The problem, of course, with reclining seats isn't that your seat reclines, it's that the seat of the ignorant b*****d in front of you reclines.


Although they're often good for a talking point (and I use them often in these pages), these self-selecting surveys from travel businesses are to be taken with a grain of salt - but the numbers on this are compelling. A quick scroll through social media seems to support the notion that many passengers don't want reclining seats.

For fans of distributive justice and economics, the reclining-seat issue is a modern version of the tragedy of the commons. Reclining my seat is not in the wider interest of everyone in the (inflight) community, but it's very much in my interest. Conversely, when everyone else reclines, that's not in my interest.

"It's partly because there are two general personality types while travelling," says Dr Becky Spelman, a psychologist from the Private Therapy Clinic in London, examining the psychology of so-called reclining seat rage. "There's the 'altruistic soul', who is considerate of others, and the 'selfish ego', who will look to increase their own comfort at the expense of others."

(Word to the wise: The survey found the most likely passengers to be "altruistic souls" were women aged between 18 and 24. Try to sit behind them. Men over the age of 35 were the most selfish. Er, that's me ... )

As with so much in life, common courtesy could hold the key. How about we try telling the person seated behind when we're going to recline? Trouble is, an aeroplane cabin is an odd mix of private and personal space in which we tend not to acknowledge, let alone talk to, the strangers around us.