Right to recline: who is in the wrong in viral video of American Airlines passenger hitting woman's seat?

Social media users cannot agree when it comes to the etiquette of an economy seat

A picture of a man's damaged laptop has reignited the divisive travel debate: to recline or not to recline. Getty Images 
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Travel etiquette is a much debated topic, and the politics of the recline seem to be the most divisive issue at 35,000 feet. This week, a video of a man punching a fellow passenger's seat when she chose to put her seat back has gone viral and Twitter users cannot decide who is in the right.

Wendi Williams, was flying American Airlines from New Orleans to Charlotte, when she started to film her fellow passenger. The video did not stop him nudging her chair.

"He was angry that I reclined my seat and punched it about nine times - HARD, at which point I began videoing him and he resigned to this behaviour," Williams explained of the incident on Twitter when posting the video.

"I was returning from a teachers’ convention. The man asked me, with an attitude, to put my seat up because he was eating. I did," Williams explained in a separate Tweet.

"I then reclined it again when he was finished. At that point, he started hammering away at me. That’s when I started videoing and tried to call the flight attendant".

Replies to Williams have been divided, to say the least. With the loudest shouters seeming to side with the male passenger.

"Reclining your seat when you are flying coach is literally the most selfish inconsiderate thing a person can do. It literally ruins the travel experience of the person sitting behind you. You are just as bad if not worse [than] him," replied one Twitter user.

"Why were you so inconsiderate? Reclining airline seats is such a dud move. I admire his resilience. Why would you share this video when it puts you in such a bad light?" said another.

While some were on Williams' side.

"I’m 6’2”, travel extensively, and always pay for the extra leg room. This boy is in the wrong, that’s assault. All the people tweeting 'you should have asked to recline first' - I have never seen someone ask if it’s okay. This is why I don’t fly American anymore too," one supporter said.  While another added: "This behaviour is not acceptable, no excuses".

Delta Air Lines chief executive Ed Bastian has even weighed in on the debate.

"The proper thing to do is, if you’re going to recline into somebody, you ask if it’s OK first," Bastian said during a CNBC interview. "I never recline, because I don’t think it’s something as CEO I should be doing, and I never say anything if someone reclines into me."

In a separate thread, another blogger Allie Beth Stuckey has offered up her "objective, final list of airplane/airport rules", which includes no no flip flops, pungent food or reclining.

Off social media, however, people seem to be more inclined to recline.

According to a YouGov survey, which quizzed 1,219 adults in the United States, 69 per cent of respondents agreed that it's fine to recline.

Generation X – people born between 1965 and 1981 – were the most relaxed about seat recline with 36 per cent of those surveyed happy for travellers to do so. The youngest travellers, Gen Z – those born after 2000 – were the least in favour of reclining, with only 23 per cent of respondents happy for people to lean back.