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4 Reasons Why Airplane Seat Reclines Are Disappearing

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Unless you are flying first class or business class, your airplane seat is probably not as comfortable as you want it to be. While some airlines boast more legroom or wider seats in economy, most leave passengers wishing for something better. That is why the fact that airplane seats could become even more uncomfortable is unwelcome news for some travelers. The ability for economy seats to recline is slowly slipping out of favor for many airlines.

Airplane seats on an airplane before takeoff

These days, passengers have become accustomed to airlines adding more creature comforts to retain their business, not taking them away. Delta just announced the addition of free wi-fi on flights, JetBlue will begin offering access to the Peacock streaming service this spring, and the EU is paving the way for passengers to use 5G mobile on flights. So why are airlines taking away the ability to recline in economy? As recently reported, there are four chief reasons why the recline is on the decline.

a side view of an airline seat with a recline button

Fewer Disruptions

Anyone who has flown economy before likely has an opinion on the long-standing controversy of whether or not it is acceptable to recline an airplane seat. A recent survey of the most annoying types of passengers ranked passengers who recline as the 7th most obnoxious behavior.

There are several different types of “recliners”. There are the polite ones, who check with the person behind them before leaning back. Then we have the reckless recliners. The ones who throw their seats back so fast they can knock off the entire contents of the tray table behind them onto an innocent person’s lap.

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passengers on a plane have food on their tray tables

Have you ever been behind a multi-recliner? Someone lucky enough to have a whole row to themselves who chooses to recline every seat so they can lie down in comfort? And finally, there are the up-and-downers. These passengers can’t make up their minds and spend the whole flight changing their seatback position, constantly causing the person behind them to have to readjust.

an airplane passenger looks unhappy as the seatback in front of her reclines

Inevitably, flight attendants are called to mediate arguments between passengers who become upset with each other over a reclined seat. When seats don’t recline, there are fewer disruptions, and flight attendants can focus on keeping passengers safe, fed, and comfortable.  

Less Maintenance

In order for a seatback to recline it must contain a mechanism that allows it to do so. Referred to as kinematics by seat makers, the moving parts are more likely to break than a seat without them. Whether it is from wear and tear or passenger abuse, the parts are susceptible to breaking and needing repairs. These repairs cost airlines time and money for something that is not essential to passenger travel.

Interior of commercial airplane with passengers in their seats during flight.

A Lighter Load

Speaking of cost, the inclusion of hundreds of mechanisms that allow seats to recline increases the weight of the aircraft. Simply put, the heavier the plane, the more fuel it needs to fly. By lightening the aircraft’s load, airlines can potentially save money on fuel.

abstract blurred of seat in the airplane low cost concept.

The Advent Of Pre-Reclined Seats

The final reason why airplane seat reclines are disappearing is that there are more choices when it comes to seat design. Newer, lightweight seats are built so the backrest is slanted in a more comfortable position than a standard upright seatback. These “pre-reclined” seats are more commonly found on short-haul flights on low-cost airlines but are gaining ground on other carriers.

People traveling by airplane

Designs will continue to evolve as engineers come up with innovative ways to modify the weight, size, and features of airline seats. They are attempting to strike a balance between cost savings for airlines and passenger comfort. A well-designed row of seats can make room for additional seats on the plane, and with the industry currently experiencing record-breaking travel, every seat counts.    

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Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.


Tuesday 10th of January 2023

I recently flew Frontier from Orlando to San Diego. Everything was seamless and on time both directions. But the non-reclining seat I had was almost torture. My back was killing me. I swear it leaned more forward than actually straight up. Would still fly Frontier again though!