A Flight Attendant Weighs In On The Heated Debate Over Reclining Your Airplane Seat

Airplane seat reclining etiquette is a contentious topic. Unlike many other aspects of air travel — like when to buckle your seatbelt or how many bags you can bring onboard — the rules of reclining your seat are a bit fuzzier.

On the one hand, the seats are made with a reclining function, and flight attendants will often instruct passengers only to return to the upright position during specific periods, such as takeoff and landing. On the other hand, some fliers insist that reclining is a selfish act. An anti-recline TikTok video posted by @mafaldavidigal went viral and earned over 100,000 "likes" to date, while travel influencer @tfutchh claims her seat was shoved after she tried to recline it during a 10-hour flight.

To get a pro's take on the debate, Explore spoke exclusively with Christa Treat, a flight attendant known as @atravelingtreat on Instagram and @christatreat on TikTok. And spoiler: The airline worker says there's nothing impolite about leaning your seat back.

It's your right to recline your plane seat

When you're stuck in an economy seat, sleeping on a plane can be a challenge, and reclining your seat may be the closest thing you have to lying down. If adjusting your seat will help you get some rest, flight attendant Christa Treat says there's no reason to feel guilty. "I certainly agree with being able to recline your seat on an [airplane]. It's your right that comes with purchasing a ticket and being as comfortable as you can in a metal tube," the flight attendant explains. Moreover, Treat says that she would never ask someone to put their seat up, even if it means she has to accept a little less legroom.

The cabin crew member upholds the same view in most circumstances, such as when a tall person is seated behind a reclining passenger. "I think that everyone is allowed to incline their seat regardless of who is behind them," she shares. "Sometimes it's a little difficult if there is a car seat behind you or something like that, but as a flight attendant and passenger, most people understand it's their right to recline a seat." For those who require more space, Treat suggests considering an upgraded seat in a premium class.

Don't expect to feel comfortable on a flight

At the core of the seat reclining debate is comfort and the idea that one person must sacrifice their comfort for another's. But as Christa Treat notes, feeling comfy during a flight is hard for everyone. "I think getting comfortable on an airplane is almost laughable. You are in a metal tube 40K feet in the air," she says. In other words, expect to feel a little cramped and embrace the experience until you reach your destination. Treat adds, "Flying is just one of the small prices you have to pay to get to where you want to be, so I just encourage people to make the most of it and just do what you have to do."

If someone is reclining in front of you and you're short on legroom, know that you don't have to remain seated throughout the entire flight. "Sometimes people will stand up in the aisles and the galley to stretch and although that never bothers me, I always ask people to try and stay seated while the carts are in the aisle as much as possible," the flight attendant explains. "We can move quicker and be outta the aisle all together if everyone stays seated while we're doing our service!" Just make sure you never walk around a plane without shoes on.