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Are we witnessing the beginning of the end for reclining plane seats?

Annabel Fenwick Elliott
Farewell to the lean - istock

US airline Delta has waded into contentious territory with their decision to limit how far passengers can recline their seats. It begs a couple of questions: why, and will other carriers follow suit?

Delta, the world's second largest airline, is adjusting the lean-back function on some of its Airbus A320 jets from four inches to two, in order to protect the “personal space” of guests.

This will be the case not only in economy, but for its first-class passengers too; reducing the recline depth on these seats from 5.5 inches to 3.5 inches.

It is not, Delta insists, with the aim of squeezing more seats in but rather a test to see whether it will make for a better passenger experience all round.

Delta operates more than 5,400 flights daily, and counts 62 A320s among its fleet. These are short-haul aircraft, the majority of which are used for domestic flights of no longer than two hours. The cabin adjustments started over the weekend and will take around two months to complete.

Delta's A320 cabin Credit: delta

Will this limit legroom?

No, Delta assures us. “It’s really not at all a gateway to reducing your legroom. That is not the intent here,” Ekrem Dimbiloglu, director of onboard product and customer experience told The Points Guy.

“If we were adding seats, or something else, the cynics would be correct. But this is really about more personal space.”

Too many laptops have been banged by abrupt recliners, he remarked, and it can make it more difficult for passengers behind to watch the seatback screens. There are no plans to alter the seat pitch on Delta’s international flights, currently set to recline up to four inches.

Is this a welcome change?

That depends entirely on who you ask. Telegraph Travel has in the past covered the recline-or-not-to-recline debate, with some suggesting passengers are perfectly entitled to recline their seats and others claiming those who do so are downright selfish.

More than 21,000 readers voted on our poll, and the results indicating mixed views across the board. Forty per cent maintained that reclining is ‘always rude and should be banned’, 30 per cent said it was fine, but only on long-haul flights, and 24 per cent said all passengers should be afforded the privilege no matter what. Only five per cent said they didn’t care either way.

Scott Mayerowitz, executive editorial director for The Points Guy, told us: “It’s hard to believe that any airline taking away something from passengers today could be a good thing. But, if you take Delta at its word, this might make for a more comfortable flight for some.

“Anybody who ever tried to work on a plane only to have their laptop screen slammed by the seat in front of them will rejoice at the change.”

He added: “Delta has tried to differentiate itself from other airlines with a theory that some frequent passengers will pay more for a slightly better experience. That’s why, for instance, it is keeping seatback TVs when other airlines are ripping them out.

“At first blush it is hard to see how this could benefit passengers, but given Delta’s recent track record, maybe it will turn out to be an improvement.”

What’s the policy for other airlines?

Airlines that have axed the recline function altogether include budget carriers serving short-haul routes, such as Allegiant Air and Spirit in the US; and easyJet and Ryanair in the UK.

Last year, however, British Airways joined them, announcing it would fit non-reclining seats on 35 of its new Airbus A320neos and A321neos that are scheduled to arrive over the next four years.

On flights lasting up to four hours in duration, the seats will be pre-set to a “gentle recline”, the airline stated, which is the same way Spirit describes its pre-reclined seats, so as “to ensure everyone in the cabin enjoys a comfortable journey.”

Could more airlines follow Delta’s lead?

This remains to be seen. As far as airlines are concerned, seats that don’t recline are lighter and therefore cheaper, as well as being easier to maintain. But as we’ve seen, the jury is out when it comes to the preference of passengers.

Writing for Skift, Brian Sumers weighed in: “A few other full-service airlines might add pre-reclined seats, but it’s probably not going to become a trend soon.

“Many larger US and European airlines have added seats to planes in recent years, and while they have noticeably shrunken legroom on many planes, they’ve kept recline. British Airways might be an outlier for a while.”

What’s your view?

Tell us your stance in the comment box below: would you like to see more airlines axe the seat recline function? Even on long haul flights? Or are you a firm believer in every passenger’s right to lean back...

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Could more airlines follow Delta’s lead?

This remains to be seen. As far as airlines are concerned, seats that don’t recline are lighter and therefore cheaper, as well as being easier to maintain. But as we’ve seen, the jury is out when it comes to the preference of passengers.

Writing for Skift, Brian Sumers weighed in: “A few other full-service airlines might add pre-reclined seats, but it’s probably not going to become a trend soon.

“Many larger US and European airlines have added seats to planes in recent years, and while they have noticeably shrunken legroom on many planes, they’ve kept recline. British Airways might be an outlier for a while.”

What’s your view?

Tell us your stance in the comment box below: would you like to see more airlines axe the seat recline function? Even on long haul flights? Or are you a firm believer in every passenger’s right to lean back...

Inspiration for your inbox

Sign up to Telegraph Travel's new weekly newsletter for the latest features, advice, competitions, exclusive deals and comment.  

You can also follow us on TwitterFacebook and Instagram

Where do you stand on the recline-or-not-to-recline debate? We want to hear from you in the comments section below.