The great debate: Should you recline your seat while on a plane?

Pushing back your seat while in economy: totally normal behaviour or the height of rudeness?

Whether or not to recline in economy seems to be a divisive issue. Courtesy Etihad
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This week, we debate the right to recline on planes, The National's weekend editor Katy Gillett says the ability to tilt the seat back is there for a reason, while assistant features editor Sophie Prideaux, as a long-legged person, argues why we should all stay upright.

Katy Gillett: Last week, a video of a man punching a fellow passenger's seat when she chose to recline went viral. Social media users were divided on who was in the right. One Twitter user wrote that reclining your seat when in economy was "literally the most selfish, inconsiderate thing a person can do. It literally ruins the travel experience of the person sitting behind you". I think that's an overreaction.

Sophie Prideaux: Firstly, let me just say that punching someone's seat is a complete overreaction and extremely aggressive. But I do agree with the sentiment of that Twitter user. I'm not a recliner and, as a long-legged person, I find it frustrating when people sitting in front of me are.

Perhaps they should segregate the cabins into reclining and non-reclining sides, then we would all know where we stand (or sit)

KG: Perhaps as a rather short-legged person I'm coming from a place of privilege here, but I totally disagree. The seats recline, so therefore we can recline. The day the aviation experts stop making it possible for us to lay back a little is the day I stop pushing that button.

SP: Reclining may make your flight more comfortable, but what about the person sitting behind you? Long or short-legged, reclining your seat cuts down an already limited level of comfort for somebody else and I don't think that's fair. If everybody on the plane reclined the same amount, then fine, but then they should have designed the cabin that way.

KG: In my defence, I tend to check out who's behind me before reclining. Obviously if the seat is empty, I'll go all out, but if someone is there I might only recline halfway (unless it's a child, because they're small). I personally don't mind it when the person in front reclines, because my seatback screen is adjustable – so the level of brightness is not affected – and as long as I'm reclined then I have the same amount of space I did when we started.

SP: Exactly, it works if you are reclined, too. But not everybody does and someone, somewhere is going to lose out. I have in the past been forced to sit with my knees wedged up against the chair in front of me for eight hours and had to eat my meal with very little space. Even if I reclined, it wouldn't have changed my leg room situation. Perhaps I am too polite, but I would be a hypocrite to recline given that I hate it when it happens to me.

KG: But that's the point. If the person in front of you reclines, then you recline and the person behind you reclines, then you will all have the same space you all started off with. It's just a little more diagonally proportioned. If you stretch out your legs, I don't really see how the angle affects you.

SP: Sitting with your knees folded is a more natural position, especially for long periods of time, and it's very difficult to do that when the seat in front of you is tilted back – especially if you are tall.

KG: Perhaps I am not polite enough, but I think we need to take all the small comforts we can get while on the plane. I definitely think everyone should push their seats back up during mealtimes. We can all also check how uncomfortable the person behind us is in the first place, before reclining. Better yet, we could even ask them if they mind if we recline. Would you try doing that next time you fly? If they say they don't mind, then you don't have to feel guilty and you are more comfortable. It's a win-win.

SP: Yes, that's a fair point. And if someone asked me, I would of course say yes, even though I know it's going to make my own journey more uncomfortable. Perhaps I need to get over my reclining reservation, but I have always found flying to be much less stressful if everybody, myself included, stays upright.

KG: Flying is generally uncomfortable and infuriating (unless you're relaxing in Etihad business class, like the woman pictured below), but thankfully the seat recline is not something I get particularly irritated by. What annoys me is people not following simple rules, such as turning off their phones or staying put in their seat during take-off and landing. I don't like it when anyone runs around or when they encroach on my space with their bag or behind while I'm in an aisle seat. It'd be great if everyone covered their mouths and noses when they coughed or sneezed. Also, if you're a stranger and are sitting next to me on a flight, let's not talk to each other until we only have about 20 minutes left in the journey.

On business class, whether or not to recline isn't an issue. Etihad
On business class, whether or not to recline isn't an issue. Etihad

SP: See, we all have our travelling peeves and it looks as though your list is much longer than mine. I'm happy for a chat with another passenger, or to hop up and down to let people out for the bathroom or to stretch their legs, as long as I have space for mine when I'm sitting down.

KG: So it all just boils down to the fact that you're too polite and I'm too grumpy, then, ha! Or, airlines simply need to give us more space in the first place and we wouldn't have this air of tension every time we board a flight.

SP: Wouldn't that be great? Perhaps they should segregate the cabins into reclining and non-reclining sides, then we would all know where we stand (or sit).