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Airplanes Will Eliminate Reclining Seats From Coach, Aviation Expert Says

"Tighter seats have made reclining unfair to fellow passengers," he notes.

To recline, or not to recline? That is the question, and one that's been hotly contested in the aviation world for decades. Be it on social media, your family group chat, or among your fellow passengers, the discourse surrounding reclined seats is complex. But now, airlines have seemingly found a way to squash the debate for good: Eliminate reclining seats from coach entirely.

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Also known as economy or main cabin, coach is the most basic flight class, and its amenities vary drastically from more expensive neighboring seats (premium economy, business, and first-class). While other cabins may offer full meal services at no extra charge, coach tickets typically only get you a mini snack. Similarly, coach seats don't offer as much cushion or comfort—albeit, passengers have always, for the most part, had the option to recline.

Coach seats have undergone different designs over the years, many of which feature minor (or major, depending on who you ask) tweaks to a seat's reclining capabilities. Now, passengers are starting to take notice, and aviation expert William McGee warns that this phenomenon isn't going to stop anytime soon.

"This trend has been occurring for several years now, and I think it will continue," McGee, a senior fellow for aviation and travel at the American Economic Liberties Project, told Condé Nast Traveler.

Just like your car, reclining seats require tuning up, which can lead to big-budget repairs if the mechanisms wear down and break. Not to mention, there's the added weight that comes with those mechanisms. A heavier plane requires more fuel, and if an airline is trying to reduce fuel costs, eliminating recliners can be a simple solution, McGee pointed out.

"Lighter seats are what the airlines want, because with the cost of jet fuel they are always looking to reduce weight onboard," he said.

While major U.S. carriers like Southwest Airlines, American, and United haven't banished reclining seats from coach just yet, they have made extreme changes. In 2019, Delta reduced its economy seat recline options from four inches down to two inches on short flights, The Sun reports. Meanwhile, Ryanair and British Airways now have "pre-reclined" seats on select aircraft.

"The simple fact is that US airlines have been degrading their economy class products for many years now, slowly and gradually, but permanently as well," McGee said. "Think about it: as recently as the early 2000s, an economy ticket bought you a much more comfortable seat that reclined and offered several inches more legroom pitch and width."

RELATED: The 6 Worst Things You Can Do to Your Seatmate on a Flight.

McGee also projects that the disappearing act will cut down on in-flight incidents and positively impact passengers' and flight attendants' overall flying experience.

"The airlines have pitted passenger against passenger in the 'right to recline' wars and it's led to discomfort, fist fights, arrests, and overall misery. When reclining inconveniences and disturbs the passengers behind, then it's problematic," McGee explained. "There's no question this can be good news for air travelers."

Should airlines eliminate reclining seats from coach completely, passengers who want to recline on their flight will have to fork over even more money. International carriers are beginning to offer "fixed-shell" seats in premium economy that allow travelers to recline up to "seven or eight inches," Condé Nast Traveler reports.

"Will some passengers miss recliners in economy class? Undoubtedly," McGee quipped. "But many more will be grateful they don't encounter a broken laptop or hot coffee spilled on them when the passenger in front decides to slide back."

Emily Weaver
Emily is a NYC-based freelance entertainment and lifestyle writer — though, she’ll never pass up the opportunity to talk about women’s health and sports (she thrives during the Olympics). Read more
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