Air passengers are often guilty of many disagreeable behaviours.

Flinging their legs over arm rests. Kicking off their sweaty shoes and creating a biohazard. Hogging precious overhead compartment space with more carry-on bags than they're even allowed to bring on board.

But deploying the reclining function on their seats? No way. That's not a mile-high crime. Reclining is perfectly permissible and I am unapologetic about doing it.

Yet it appears mine is a controversial opinion.

The vicious debate over whether or not people should recline aircraft seats resurfaced today with news swimming champion Grant Hackett allegedly groped a passenger on a Virgin Australia flight from Adelaide to Melbourne because he was angry they had tilted back their seat.


Reclining seats have been the flashpoint for many nasty in-flight encounters in recent years.

In October last year, a man allegedly choked - choked - a woman after she tilted her seat back on a flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco, forcing the plane back to the gate at LAX.

A woman in 2014 threw a hissy fit on a Delta Airlines flight from New York City to Palm Beach when the woman in front of her reclined, while also that year, a Miami-to-Paris flight was diverted when a similar incident broke out.

In a really infamous case also in 2014, a passenger resorted to using a Knee Defender device to stop the person in front reclining on a flight from Newark to Denver. Chaos inevitably ensued.

The thing is, I don't understand why this is even up for debate.

Of course people can recline their seats. The seats are designed for it. There isn't a single aviation law against it. Cabin crew are totally for it.

Why shouldn't passengers enjoy one of the few comforts available to them on a flight?

I've heard the arguments against seat reclining, all of which will predictably arrive like a tsunami in my email inbox - along with a few personal insults, as is customary - after this piece is published.

Anti-recliners say their flight is made infinitely less comfortable when the person in front is almost totally, obnoxiously, horizontal, and being tall makes things even worse.

I'm of average height by most standards, and even I can understand that. But I don't know, dude. Book a seat in the front row. Aim for an exit row seat. Sit alongside the aisle and stretch out sideways. Splash out on business class. Or you could just recline your own seat and pass the problem along.

Airline seats are designed to go backwards. Don't punish us for using the feature. It's like being given bathroom facilities and told not to use them.

Plus, if this is a question of comfort, let's face it - if you're asking me to keep my seat upright when I don't want to, especially on a difficult long-haul flight, you're essentially expecting of me the same sacrifice you're unwilling to make yourself.

Should we go ahead and ban passengers in window and middle seats from getting out to stretch their legs? That's annoying too, right? No. Of course we shouldn't.

But don't be a jerk about it

All that said, the right to recline does not come without the expectation of a certain degree of courteousness.

On a flight, I try to indicate to the person behind me my intention to recline before I do it - not that I've ever had an objection - and I always ease my seat back gently. Passengers who unexpectedly fling themselves backwards are, I agree, the worst kind of people.

You really only need to partially recline to get comfortable. I will go fully back if the person in front of me does, like a domino. Even if I don't really feel like it: it's nice to remain proportional.

The dreaded full recline should reasonably expected of passengers on long-haul flights when the crew declares night-time and people start going to sleep.

Full reclines on short domestic flights are a bit ridiculous, though. I'm not totally unreasonable.

But the point remains that as long as seats allow for people to recline - and passengers aren't violating the instructions of cabin crew - they're allowed to, and they should.

Also, if you have a problem with my tilted seat, bring it to my attention like a civilised person and you may be pleasantly surprised to discover I will, actually, happily move it forward for you.

Don't kick me in the back, pull my hair, or resort to psychopathic tactics like using the Knee Defender.

By reacting like that, you are proving yourself to be exactly the kind of person who deserves to be made to feel less comfortable.

And for the record, nipple cripples as a retaliatory manoeuvre are definitely out of the question.

Don't hate the players, hate the game

But guys, wait. Maybe we're all victims here. While we wage war over flip-flopping backrests, airlines aren't making it any easier for us.

More and more seats are being crammed onto passenger aircraft and the leg room is far from ideal for most people, especially in economy.

Skyscanner recently compared the leg room - or seat pitch - on six popular carriers flying in and out of Australia: Air New Zealand, Emirates, Etihad, Qantas, Singapore Airlines and United Airlines.

It found all airlines had seats with a minimum seat pitch of just under 79cm, except Singapore Airlines, where the smallest seat had around 81cm of leg room.

Most of Qantas' fleet had a seat pitch of just under 79cm, Etihad went up to 81.3cm, Singapore Airlines and Emirates went up to 86.4cm, Air New Zealand was 89cm and United Airlines was the most generous at almost 94 centimetres.

Still, those are some pretty cramped quarters. Maybe the reclining person in front of you is just trying to escape their own bad situation?

Meanwhile, airline seats themselves are literally shrinking.

This month, a bill in the US that would have set size standards for airlines seats was voted down, meaning there's no end in sight for the ever-shrinking seat trick.

As New York senator Chuck Schumer, an advocate of seat-size regulation, put it in a recent news conference: "The average passenger feels like they're being treated as a sardine. Squeezed and squeezed and squeezed."

It's little wonder we're fighting so hard for a few extra centimetres of personal space.

So instead of the poor snoozing soul in the row ahead, maybe we should redirect our rage at airlines and aviation regulators and demand seat pitch standards that are more comfortable for more people.

Perhaps we should have a conversation about establishing upright zones on planes, similar to the quiet carriages observed on some train services, so we can choose either to sit upright or flop around to our hearts' content.

In the meantime, as long as seats can recline, don't expect people to not do it.

However my esteemed colleague, technology reporter Matthew Dunn, could not disagree with me more.

This is what he has to say on the matter.

'The only thing you are doing is showcasing your self-entitlement'

- A retort, by Matthew Dunn

Grant Hackett might have taken things one step too far with a midair nipple cripple after a dispute over a seat being reclined too far, and I'm standing by his side.

While I am not suggesting people remain completely upright, I am a firm believer that aircraft seats do not need to be reclined to maximum capacity during flights.

Pro-recliners always have the argument that it's their right to fully recline and it's the only way to get a sleep.

This is just preposterous.

Fully reclining is not going to make your flight any more comfortable than if you just went part of the way back.

The only thing you are doing is showcasing your self-entitlement in believing you are the most important person on the plane.

I am not a small child, so having someone reclining their seat to maximum capacity only makes an already uncomfortable flight even less enjoyable.

Sure, I could recline my seat all the way back in an attempt to escape temporary prison, but I wouldn't want to ruin the flight for the person behind me.

The system would only work if everyone was required to put their seat back at the same time, but this isn't the current practice.

People need to wake up to themselves and learn to more courteous, otherwise they might find some knees politely bumping the back of their seats from Sydney to LA.

See how much sleep they get when that happens.

And don't even get me started on short haul recliners.

Debate on this article is now closed.