I enjoyed reading the replies to this tweet, since it's a lower stakes issue that has all the contours of broader ethical debates. Granted, what triggered the tweet was not low stakes:

There are passionately held beliefs on both sides (see replies to the original tweet for more). As with any argument, different principles lead to different conclusions. One principle with many adherents is that the rules follow directly from the design of the airplane:

But this could still screw over the person behind you. So maybe reclining is bad, based on the fact that it harms more than it helps?:

These views, by the way, are similar to what a travel industry analyst says to the NY Times: "Airplane etiquette is you only recline when necessary, and if you must recline, just put the seat back a little bit to get the comfort you need without encroaching too much on the person behind you."

Another principle: the person in back of you could have "property rights" over the area directly behind your unreclined seat:

But reclining may also be justified based on the consequences:

Many other variables. Long haul vs. short haul:

Dimmed lights:

Meals:

Height:

If the replies are at all representative, this issue is in a bad state where a significant share of people have opposing beliefs about what's right and when. So we should expect to see more conflicts between passionate passengers.

One potential solution is that the airlines try to coordinate everyone. An announcement could say "Our policy is that passengers should feel free to recline. Just check to make sure you do not spill the drink of the person behind you." This should douse the passions and lead to less conflict. A grumpy person being reclined on should feel less empowered; the loudspeaker announcement is common knowledge.

Another thing airlines could do is sell reclining and non-reclining tickets. Then everyone knows what they're getting---another way of making the policy more explicit.

This is not to say that either policy would be the best. Maybe an "asking equilibrium" is optimal, so that people can forge personalized agreements. "Is it alright if I recline?" "Sure, let me move my drink" or "Yes could I have a few minutes to finish eating?" or "I'm sorry but actually no, I'm extremely tall." I worry that this system would disadvantage nice people though.

This seems like an issue where kind and reasonable people could disagree. With no (clear) connection to other ideological commitments, perhaps it's a useful exercise for understanding the other side. 

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The debate is whether the space occupied by a reclining seat "belongs" to the passenger in the seat, or the passenger behind the seat.

In all these debates (I've seen many), advocates for either view are certain the answer is (a) obvious and (b) corresponds with whatever they personally prefer. (b), presumably (and to be charitable), because everyone else must surely prefer whatever they prefer. Tall people tend to be sure the space obviously belongs to the passenger behind. People who can't sleep sitting upright think it's obvious the space belongs to the passenger in front.

The lack of introspection or understanding of how someone else could see it differently is what really amazes. Each viewpoint seems utterly obvious to its adherents - those who disagree must be either inconsiderate and selfish, or whining, entitled and oblivious that they enjoy the same rights as other passengers.

This seems like a model for many other disagreements of more import.

Why are we so blind to the equal weight of symmetrical opinions? 

Why are we so blind to our bias toward rules that benefit ourselves over others?

8Dave Lindbergh5mo
For what it's worth, I think the answer is completely obvious, too, and have killer logical arguments proving that I'm right, which those who disagree with me must be willfully ignoring since they're so obvious.
7[anonymous]5mo
Maybe people assume a fair world that gives more weight to larger suffering, and people also assume their suffering is by default larger than the other person in these situations. (For instance, the tall person feels their suffering is larger than the averaged out suffering of the person reclining.)

There's a wonderful Econtalk segment on this issue: https://www.econtalk.org/michael-heller-and-james-salzman-on-mine/

The authors wrote a book on property rights in everyday life, and how they differ from legal property rights. The example of airline seats is a case where, if you survey people, they give basically 50/50 answers about who "owns" the airspace in front of an airline seat, and therefore whether reclining the seat is appropriate.

Their belief is that it is actually in the airline's interests for this to be ambiguous. This is because when paying for an airline seat, people naturally assume that they will have the right to both recline and the right to not have the person in front of them recline. The airline doesn't want to mediate this conflict, because they want to continue to sell seats to people who optimistically believe they will have access to both. So the airline has no desire to give a clear pronouncement either way, because that will lower the perceived value of a seat.

8jmh5mo
I find myself wondering about the up votes here. Nice to have a link to the subject and econtalk should at least have some generally reasonable arguments being made. In this case, however, I am skeptical. Does anyone really think the price of an airline ticket would change more and a $1 (and so not change at all) if that was clarified (thought I agree it's a case of incomplete contract specification in the rental of the space)? What is the trade off here? Pass up the plane and not go where you planned to, or take alternative transportation that will add hours, days or even weeks to the time in travel?  I don't buy the claim being made that the airline is some how maximizing the value (in a molochinan? way) of the seat here with that unspecified, or poorly specified (they do advertise that ability and mention the need to return the seat to its fully upright position for takeoff and landing), status of reclining the seat.  I would change my mind here if some investigative reporter or airline industry insider published some internal documents/communications stating that is why they don't make more about when and where a seat can be reclined.
9Ben5mo
Based on the passion people show on twitter (main thread) maybe an airline that was explicitly anti-recline might drive away a few customers (or more likely get hate on twitter from a few people who weren't customers anyway). Similar for pro-recline. I suspect the answer is that, for most airlines, its more like no-one even knows whose job this is. eg. Cabin crew breaks up an argument, wonders if an airline policy is a good idea. They assume some person in head office might be thinking about this. Back in head office they all fly business class and are unaware of the issue entirely. Not only is no one thinking about it but the airline doesn't even have channels of command/communication about who would decide that policy, or decide to have a meeting to pick a policy.
4Matt Goldenberg5mo
  There's an assumption here (about the fact that people are making that natural assumption), but I don't know where it comes or if there's any evidence for it.  It seems more like the type of thing you'd think of when making clever economic arguments for a podcast than a real assumption people would make.

If I pay for a plane ticket, and get a seat that reclines, then I’ve paid for the ability to recline, and that means that I’m reclining. If that creates problems for other passengers, they should address that complaint to the airline, because that’s what the problem is: a conflict between the passenger (who wishes to not be inconvenienced by the reclinability of others’ seats) and the airline (which chooses not to provide enough room between the seats, or otherwise design the seating, such that this problem wouldn’t happen).

I as another customer have no responsibility to ensure that your customer experience is satisfactory (so long as I am not breaking either any applicable laws, or the airline’s terms of use / equivalent). The airline has that responsibility. If they shirk it, that’s on them—not on me.

Blaming other passengers for the fact that your service is unsatisfactory is simply displacement of one’s own sense of powerlessness as a customer.

Far more honest to admit that you are powerless—that you are getting far less of the surplus value of the transaction than you could be, and that you can do nothing to affect this.

One customer has no responsibility to ensure another customer's experience is satisfactory. One could also point out that a customer (traditionally) has no responsibility to ensure that the staff are satisfied.

But I would say that one human being should consider how their actions might impact on other human beings - even if they happen to the customer. If I am in a restaurant it is possible for me to notice that my loud speaking is annoying to another person and tone it down.  By all means recline your seat, I don't care. But please don't adopt the general policy that when you are the customer you can suddenly stop thinking about how your actions might effect others.

9Said Achmiz5mo
This is all very well as a general heuristic, and certainly being considerate of other people is a good thing. But when we find ourselves in a situation where we have paid for some good or service, but then, having done so, are informed that if we actually gain possession of the good / enjoy the service—which we have already paid for!—then we’re bad people… then we should immediately be very suspicious. Because what this indicates, quite reliably, is that this is a situation which has either been deliberately engineered, or deliberately prevented from being resolved, by parties that benefit from this outcome—most obviously, of course, that would be the provider of the good/service, which certainly very much prefers to receive money, but provide nothing. And so it is in this case. The airline benefits from this situation, as I have noted above. This entire problem could be fixed! It doesn’t have to exist at all. But it does, and the reason why it continues to exist is, in large part, the public perception of it as a moral problem, rather than an economic problem. And so the bottom line is this: when we are told that reclining our seat on an airplane possibly makes us bad people, we are being cheated out of something that we paid for. The beneficiaries of this fraud are the airlines. And the people who make the moral claim are the airlines’ accomplices. I, for one, do not care to comply with a moral demand, made by accomplices to a fraud of which I am the victim, that calls for me to participate in my own defrauding. Such a demand calls not for acquiescence, but for spite. Reclining one’s seat and thereby inconveniencing someone who believes that reclining makes you a bad person, is not only not morally blameworthy—on the contrary, it is a positive good. You are thereby doing your part to punish defectors (a prosocial act, without question), and helping to move society toward a state where everyone agrees that reclining a reclinable airplane seat is your right. Th
7[anonymous]5mo
If it is common knowledge that you will be socially punished for reclining, you are no longer being deceived when you buy the seat. The deception only takes place if you buy the seat thinking there will be no social punishment but actually there is. (Assuming the airline doesn't literally write in print "you have the right to recline" - I've never seen an airline specify this in the contract explicitly) Ultimately it's hard for the airline to sell you the right to be free of social punishment, that will tend to be adjudicated by the public separately.
2Said Achmiz5mo
I am not buying “freedom from social punishment”, I am buying “the airline provides me the benefit they advertise”. If they allow this “social punishment” to deprive me of that benefit, then now it’s not “social punishment” anymore, but action by the airline. And if the “social punishment” does not in fact prevent me from reclining, then what you wrote is just irrelevant.
2[anonymous]5mo
Agree with your first para, iff the airline is in fact explicitly specifying that they are selling you this right. Second para yes you can legally choose to ignore the social punishment if the airline has sold you the right. The social stuff may still be relevant to determining morality, which is related but distinct from immediate legality of it.

Many airlines offer extra legroom seats for a few extra dollars. It's informative that despite how much people complain about airline seats, very few are willing to pay 10 dollars extra to avoid the issue. Airlines listen to people's wallets, not their mouths.

6gbear6055mo
In my experience, paying for the extra seat room often gives you a seat that doesn’t actually have more legroom, or actually have less (!!) legroom. when the payment is so disconnected from the actual experience, it becomes useless as a signal.
6Vitor5mo
Exactly. The worst transatlantic flight I ever had was one where I paid for "extra legroom". turns out it was a seat without a seat in front, i.e., the hallway got broader there. However, other passengers and even the flight attendants certainly didn't act like this extra legroom belonged to me. Someone even stepped on my foot! On top of that I had to use an extremely flimsy table that folded out of the armrest. Since most of us aren't weekly business flyers, this is a far cry from a free market.
9Jiro5mo
This is related to something I've often pointed out: the reason why airline customers won't pay money for better service or amenities is that prices are hard to hide, and quality of service is easy to hide.
-1M. Y. Zuo5mo
I don't think it's possible to hide seat width or legroom once on the plane. Or even on a spec sheet, since airplane seats aren't just randomly bolted wherever based on gut feel. The real issue is duplicity in the sales process as Vitor mentioned.  Case in point many airlines such as Air Canada are getting rid of several rows of economy seats on all their wide-body planes for premium economy seating, where the difference is large enough to be noticeable by everyone. And Air Canada is pretty sizeable so if 15% of their customers are willing to pay for it, and assuming half are private travellers and half are businesses downgrading from business class, then that suggests there's sold demand among roughly 7.5% of their customer base. This suggests the vast majority  of the remainder only complain in words not via their wallets.
4Jiro5mo
I think it is, and the post I was replying to showed an example of that. Sure, if you personally experience "the extra legroom was only because of space that the crew and passengers were encouraged not to treat as mine", you know about it. But it's certainly not mentioned if you go to the airline's web site and get told that the seat has extra legroom. Any airline policies about how the crew is permitted to use the room, and how the crew should let passengers walk into it, won't be advertised, or even written down. And it's impractical for consumers to coordinate enough that an airline policy of treating their extra legroom seats this way becomes widely known.
1M. Y. Zuo5mo
Well the extra legroom wasn’t hidden in Vitor’s example, it just wasn’t as much as the full aisle, since the full aisle is not meant for the exclusive use of the passengers behind it even though the pictures and maybe even the wording would suggest that, especially for those unaware of legal requirements or airline policy. But that’s standard practice on every airline as far as I know. Once someone has experienced that once there’s no need to coordinate anything because it’s not like any airline in the future will actually give over an aisle for exclusive use as legroom.
4Jiro5mo
It was hidden in the sense "finding out about it ahead of time when comparing airlines would be very difficult". No airline's web site is going to say "$X for extra legroom, but the plane is set up so that people will walk over it".
1M. Y. Zuo5mo
Presumably everyone making ticket purchasing decisions has some form of long term memory and can remember the concept of non-exclusive aisle space. So anyone who's experienced this once would not likely be misled again going forwards. If you mean that first time customers could be confused and misled, sure, but that's true for every industry and deceptive advertising laws are the usual recourse, if there's sufficient motivation to challenge the practice. The only coordination needed is within the prosecutor's office or whatever organization is responsible for it.  I'm not sure why airline travellers in general need to coordinate around this.
4Jiro5mo
My point is that even for first time customers, it's hard to do the same thing for prices. Prices are far more transparent than legroom. (Airlines try their best to make prices non-transparent too, thus bag surcharges, but it doesn't work very well.) And I'm pretty sure that the airplanes don't get caught for deceptively advertising legroom. Suing the airline for misleading you about the legroom has tremendous overhead, and if there is some consumer protection agency to force the airlines to stop doing it, they obviously haven't. Even if prosecutors did do this, there are degrees of deception. It's possible for an airline to provide a service that's poor quality, but not so poor quality that it amounts to deceptive advertising, so the airline won't get prosecuted. Even in this case the airline could claim that they did provide legroom, even if the customer didn't like it much. The problem is still that the lack of quality is not transparent. It's difficult to find out that the service is low quality without actually getting on the plane (or undergoing a trivial inconvenience [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/reitXJgJXFzKpdKyd/beware-trivial-inconveniences]), but prices are out in the open.
-1M. Y. Zuo5mo
What you wrote may be the case, but how does it imply that airline customers in general should coordinate? It’s a huge group of people so the likelihood of efficient coordination is about zero.
2Jiro5mo
All I said about coordination is that it's impractical!
-1M. Y. Zuo5mo
But clearly we've both established that the degree of impracticality is not equal in all instances. i.e. some types of coordination may be more practical than other types.    Coordination problems of a similar kind have been resolved in other industries, automotive, utilities, telecom, shipping, rail, etc., to an extent that we no longer think about it much.  Going back to the original point before the elaboration of our views regarding coordination problems, it is not possible to hide seat width or legroom once on the plane.
3justinpombrio5mo
An internet search suggests that extra legroom tends to cost $20-$100, typically in between, which matches what I remember seeing. Have you seen it for $10? If so I need to pay more attention next time and shell out the $10!
4Yair Halberstadt5mo
easyJet offers them from 8 pounds, and in the past they haven't been much more than that in practice (but might have changed now) https://www.easyjet.com/en/terms-and-conditions/fees [https://www.easyjet.com/en/terms-and-conditions/fees]
3Said Achmiz5mo
Yes, true enough. Note, however, that it is also to the airline’s benefit, to have their customers argue with each other, blame each other, rather than collectively turn the blame on them. Were the latter to happen, they might lose money (most likely, by means of competitive pricing of extra legroom, on the part of other airlines).
3[anonymous]5mo
Idk if any airline has explicitly declared that they are selling you the right to recline, and I don't think you can implicitly assume it based on social conventions because the social conventions are under debate. And even if the airline has explicitly sold you the right to recline, you could argue for moral reasons that this may (or may not) be the optimal configuration of society. This could either mean voluntarily being extra considerate of the other person, or using social incentives to pressurize other passengers or the airline to change their policy.
-1Said Achmiz5mo
The seat is reclinable and the airline does not communicate to the passengers any rule against reclining it. That means that the passengers have indeed bought the right to recline. The “social conventions” are of no importance whatsoever to that point.
-2[anonymous]5mo
I mean, I basically just disagree that you can assume from the two lines of info you state, that you do in fact have the legal right to recline. Social conventions in general play a role in determining legality when the actual legal contracts are poorly specified. IANAL though, perhaps someone can make an argument for social conventions not mattering much here - but then that argument needs to be made first.
2Said Achmiz5mo
That passengers don’t have the legal right to recline is quite an extraordinary claim. (I do not recall seeing it previously in this discussion, nor in similar ones.) I should like to see some very solid evidence for it. I definitely don’t think there needs to be any positive defense of legality, absent some evidence of illegality. I have never heard anything about reclining being illegal before.
1[anonymous]5mo
Hmm I think we're not going to get much further without someone with sufficient legal knowledge offering an opinion. We may just have to leave it at that.
3justinpombrio5mo
EDIT: I no longer endorse this model. Say that flights are on average 80% full, 20% of passengers are tall and will be miserable for the whole flight if they're reclined into, 50% of passengers want to recline, and planes are shaped like donuts so that every seat has a seat behind it. If passengers behave like you, then 8% of passengers are miserable in exchange for 50% of passengers getting to recline. If passengers instead ask before reclining (or unrecline if asked to), then 0% of passengers are miserable and 42% get to recline. The passengers pick between these two situations. The second situation is better than the first. Should airlines not allow seats to recline, or increase spacing between seats by (say) 12% and thus increase ticket prices by (say) 8%, because passengers like you insist on choosing the first situation over the second?
1Said Achmiz5mo
First: you assume that if someone in front of me reclines then I am miserable, but if I don’t recline when I want to then I am not miserable. This is a bad assumption. It is entirely unwarranted. In other words, why do you say that “0% of passengers are miserable and 42% get to recline” is better than “8% of passengers are miserable in exchange for 50% of passengers getting to recline”? You would have to show that the disutility of having the person in front of you recline, exceeds the utility of reclining (or, equivalently, the disutility of not reclining). You have certainly not done so. Second: have you thought about this problem for five minutes and attempted to find a better solution? Here’s one, just off the top of my head: arrange the passengers such that all the recliners are grouped and all the tall people—who are non-recliners, right? surely they wouldn’t be so hypocritical as to hate when the person in front of them reclines, but recline themselves?—are grouped. That way, with a donut-shaped plane (why are we assuming this, again? but never mind that), there will be at most one (1) tall person who is miserable the whole flight (if the non-tall person in front of him chooses to recline, which is not guaranteed)—but the number of people who get to enjoy reclining is unchanged. This is clearly superior to either of your two scenarios. (Airlines can implement this by selling reclining and non-reclining seats; they could even price-discriminate, perhaps.) But third, and most importantly, such a naive utilitarian approach to this problem is entirely misguided. Why do you compare only these two situations, and do not include, say, the situation where everyone reclines, customers get angry at the lack of room, and competition forces airlines to provide better layouts? Or the situation where people stop flying as much (because they hate having to not recline, and also hate it when people recline in front of them) and instead take more trains (or whatever)? Or…
3justinpombrio5mo
Wow, this got heated fast. Partly my fault. My assumptions were unwarranted and my model therefore unrealistic. Sorry. I think we've been talking past each other. Some clarifications on my position: * I'm not suggesting that one only reclines if one is given permission to do so from the person behind them. I'm suggesting cooperation on the act that is controlled by one person but effects two people. If reclining is a minor convenience to the person in front, but would crush the legs of the person behind, it does not happen. If the person in front has a back problem and the person in back is short, reclining does happen. * None of the blame goes toward other passengers. The blame all goes to the airlines. If you want to recline but don't get to, that's the airline's fault. If you don't want the person in front of you to recline but they do, that's the airline's fault. They should make better seat arrangements. I would preferentially fly on an airline that didn't stuff me in like cattle. I'm all for protesting with you about this. If you disagree with this, would you agree that if airplanes were naturally occurring rather than being engineered, then the decision of whether to recline should be a conversation between the two people it effects? If so, what breaks the symmetry between the two effected people, when the situation is engineered by the airline? EDIT: Or, to get at my emotional crux, if my very long legs would be smooshed if you were to recline, and reclining was a minor convenience for you, would you say "ok, I won't recline, but let's be angry at the airline for putting us in this situation", or "nope I'm reclining anyways, blame the airline"?
4Elizabeth5mo
Or "pay me to not recline such that it more than covers the loss of utility for me". I think this might be more expensive than you think it is, because ability to sleep with less discomfort is very valuable, and many airline seats punish people for being <5'10''.   
2Said Achmiz5mo
The problem with this is that it creates an incentive for both people to claim that the magnitude of their inconvenience / discomfort / etc. is the greater one. (See Vladimir_M’s comments on this classic post [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/9thqSN8HDLM3LTxK5/offense-versus-harm-minimization#8HkAaPAn5yHvcCASo] for a thorough discussion and analysis of this phenomenon.) No. The same problem arises in this case also. The problem with this question is that your scenario description is only coherent from a god’s-eye view of the situation. From my point of view, the scenario is “reclining is a minor convenience for me, and the person behind me claims that it would be a major discomfort for him if I were to recline”. But if my predictable reaction to such a claim is not to recline, then this means that you had a clear incentive (with no apparent downside) to make the claim, which in turn means that I cannot trust your claim. At the very least, it seems very likely that you’d exaggerate your claim, if not outright fabricate it. (And, of course, all of this is if we take a utilitarian approach to the matter in the first place.) There are, at most, two Schelling points here, if we assume that the airlines change nothing about their business practices: (a) everyone reclines whenever they feel like it and are able to do so, and (b) nobody reclines ever. But there is no clear way to get to (b) from where we are, and I personally prefer (a) to (b). (Of course, I even more strongly prefer not to have to have the sort of customer experience where I have to deal with such a choice, and this is just one of the many, many reasons why I don’t fly these days.)

It's fascinating and predictable that the math/econ oriented sections of the commentariat pretty universally go to property rights and prices as the solution, rather than kindness.  Some other groups are at least considering other allocation mechanisms (tall or mobility-limited get more consideration than average).  

The intuition that it must be legibly equal (everyone has same allocation of space, regardless of any consideration except price) is not universal at all.

I think airplanes and airports are extra hard mode for kindness. Everyone in coach is miserable, constrained, and neglecting their physical needs. They've been dehumanized by the TSA and quite possibly gate agents, have been carrying heavy things for hours, and are stuck in a container that is uncomfortable-at-best for anyone of any height.  And the people wanting accommodations have been through the same ringer, so they don't ask nicely for a favor, they demand the other person stop being an asshole (or in this case skip to kicking and shaking the seat). I don't think this is a good opportunity to expand the kindness frontier.

I also think tall people have asserted without proving that their suffering is greatest here. Lots of people have back or hip problems that are improved by reclining. Lots of people can only sleep while reclining and sleep is a very big deal (even during daylight). Some of those people are tall and care more about reclining than leg room.  It is not at all obvious to me that more kindness leads to less reclining.

4Dagon2mo
Fully agreed, but I think that hard-mode is where kindness is most important.  Everyone IS suffering, and the total amount of suffering CAN be higher or lower depending on our decisions, and on our mechanisms for negotiation and understanding.  Honestly, I'm sympathetic to defined property rights being the fallback resolution, in the cases where the involved people can't agree on a better equilibrium.  I'm just saddened at the state of humanity that this is the first-best option brought up, rather than actual discussion and empathy. > I also think tall people have asserted without proving that their suffering is greatest here. Yup, that IS the downfall of Utilitarianism as a philosophy.  Interpersonal utility comparisons are impossible, so reducing net suffering is undefined.  That shouldn't prevent us trying, even if we recognize that it's not objectively or universally correct. Personally, I'm quite tall and suffer knee pain in coach seats, even if reclined, but much worse when the seat in front of me reclines.  My solution is to harm the environment a bit more and waste money on business-class tickets, but that's not available to most (or to me, sometimes).  Even so, I'll gladly discuss how much it helps me and how much it harms the other people to recline or not.  MOST of the time, I'm willing to stay upright, and able to convince the person in front of me to do so.  I have not needed to resort to pushing or loudly saying OW OW OW OW until the person in front sits up (or the flight attendant rules for or against me), but I'd consider it if it came to that. Compounding this are the status games hardwired into humans.  A lot of people feel better about their own suffering if others are also suffering.  This really sucks.

Something clicked for me as I planned Christmas travel.

I find long distance air travel unpleasant. I've spent the money that can be spent improving it but it's still just pretty bad. I get through it with a healthy dose of dissociation. This works fine under the current system, but it means I will lose contests of suffering because I've cut off knowledge of the suffering from my forebrain. Just the request to register my pain levels increases my experience of pain. If the deal is that I have to be completely in touch with the pain and empathetic to others' pain and be socially graceful to everyone while I'm explaining that pain (because if I'm rude I'll lose no matter what my pain level) while simultaneously being convincingly hurt and do math about who is actually suffering more, knowing that both people are incentivized to play their suffering up? But if I opt out of the game then I get to hurt a bunch more and recovering will take longer and maybe the other guy wasn't even suffering that much, which is why he was having such an easy time talking about it? And whether I win or lose, I'm going to have a much worse flight because the dissociation spell is broken. 

I would hones... (read more)

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1[anonymous]5mo
Your response is still based on kindness, does not mention property rights and is therefore the less common form of response on lesswrong. Which is what Dagon is pointing out and I agree with him.

As a note a lot of budget airlines (at least in Europe) don't have reclining seats. That can be a decent reason to fly with them.

3Dave Lindbergh5mo
Or not to fly with them. Depending which side of this you're on.

I wonder if this discussion didn't take a wrong turn when it focus on the "who owns the space" and sought to resolve things via some property rights type of approach. I think the question of ethics here are very likely orthogonal to property rights.

In terms of the rights, well that is not a problem -- they belong to the airline[1]. If the airline is doing a bad job of communicating what bundle of rights are leased that cannot be resolved by point out property rights.

But I think more to the point is the conflict here is about non-pecuniary externalities and... (read more)

I don't quite understand the perspective behind someone 'owning' a specific space. Do airlines specify that when you purchase a ticket, you are entitled to the chair + the surrounding space (in whatever ambiguous way that may mean)? If not, it seems to me that purchasing a ticket pays for a seat and your right to sit down on it, and everything else is complementary.

There are three separate issues here.

One is - Is it appropriate for any person to recline their seat? 

The other is - If you are a non-recliner and a seat is reclined unto you, what is the appropriate reaction?

The last is - If you recline unto a non-recliner and they ask for you to put your seat in the upright position, what is the ethical response? 


For the first question, one way I can think to test this would be to examine the differences in total leg-room volume when everyone is not reclined against when everyone is reclined. 

If I had more... (read more)

3Said Achmiz5mo
More likely that they’ll ignore you, and if you do something that intrudes upon them despite this, they’ll complain to a flight attendant. That interaction is unlikely to resolve in your favor (and quite rightly so).
5Magnus5mo
My experience is the contrary. People find it quite tough to ignore someone speaking to them directly.  Furthermore, I never suggested doing anything that intrudes upon them. My advice is to restate your case a few times and aim for compromise. This is only as intrusive as the recline itself. It's also worth noting that while you're not trying to be annoying, the recliner is likely to perceive you as such. You are not being intentionally annoying, though. This is something that ought to have been mentioned, admittedly.  Regarding the flight attendant comment, you have nothing to loose here but a short moment's embarrassment, if that.
-1Said Achmiz5mo
On the contrary, you can be kicked off the flight. Airlines have done it for less. [https://www.stuff.co.nz/travel/10306004/Man-kicked-off-flight-for-complaining]
2ViktoriaMalyasova5mo
Well, the article says he was allowed to reboard after he deleted his tweet, and was offered vouchers in recompense, so it sounds like it was one employee's initiative rather than the airline's policy, and it wasn't that bad.
4Said Achmiz5mo
Yes, but did the airline punish the employee? Did they publicly announce a clear and unambiguous change to their policy that would ensure no such thing would happen again? Of course not. (Also—vouchers, hah! The vouchers were for $50, which is what? One-tenth the cost of a plane ticket? Less? Pocket change. A triviality.) As for “allowed to reboard after he deleted his tweet”—you say this as if it makes it better, but in fact it’s totally outrageous. For an airline to police a customer’s—not an employee’s, but a customer’s!—speech like this is an egregious abuse. The man apparently plans never to fly with that airline again, which is completely understandable. That airline deserves to go out of business entirely for this sort of behavior. The message they send, after all, is clear: if you behave in a way that an airline employee even slightly dislikes, you can be kicked off a flight you paid for. Yes, they might later give you some irrelevant vouchers for trivial amounts of money. That changes nothing.
1[comment deleted]5mo
1Magnus5mo
That man was removed from the plane because he Tweeted about the gate agent he was arguing with, publicly mentioning her name and the gate she was working at. Duff Watson, the man in that article you linked, mentioned the staff person's name and location.  That's not really a fitting comparison to what I am proposing. That cannot be used to say "But there is a single example of this occurring" ( i.e an instantiation ). I am proposing a common sense, applicable solution in the case that someone finds themselves unable to perform certain tasks on a flight because the person in front of them is reclining.  Also, they can complain to the airline as well. There you go. The two are not mutually exclusive, nor did my original post explicitly advise against this.
-4Said Achmiz5mo
Yes? And? Why should that result in expulsion from the flight? You have totally missed the point of my link/example, which is that airlines can and do kick you off a flight for things that seem like very innocuous, harmless things—things that you never imagine would result in your expulsion. Can you predict with any great certainty that you won’t get kicked off a plane for harassing a fellow passenger? You absolutely cannot. (Are you tempted to claim that your proposed actions don’t constitute harassment? And you’re probably right: your actual actions, as perceived by you, probably can’t be called harassment by a reasonable person. What about your actions as reported by the other passenger, as those actions are perceived by said other passenger? Are those actions harassment? Sure they are, once the other person says “the person behind me angrily demanded that I not recline; they spoke to me in a very threatening tone of voice; I feel very unsafe sharing a flight with this person”. Then the flight attendant asks you: “sir/madam, did you speak to the passenger in front of you about not reclining their seat?”; you say “yes”; now you’ve admitted to doing what you’re accused of. Would an airline kick you off for that? Easily, and don’t even doubt it.) As well? As well as what? The recliner complaining is what I was talking about. (Or do you mean that the person behind the recliner should complain? But what would be the complaint? “The person in front of me reclined their seat”? They have a right to do that. The flight attendant would judge you to be the troublemaker, for that complaint. In other words, you lose if you complain, and you also lose if the other person complains about your attempted resolution.)
-8Magnus5mo
  1. If you are tall, put your feet (instead of your bag) under the seat in front of you.

  2. Every flight I've taken (circa 2000-2014) was either at 95%+ capacity, or was a 1 hour commuter leg with a half-full plane #misleadingAverages

It's mixed use. During daytime / meals / working it's seat up. During night / light's off, recline. Maybe they should repurpose the no smoking sign to "Recline".

0Said Achmiz5mo
And who decides when it’s “working” time? Does nobody ever work on planes when other people around them are sleeping?

I'd say, a reclined seat in front of you is a tiny inconvenience at most, just let it go instead of making up your own etiquette, pretending it's the only right one and arguing about it with others. 

1Dave Lindbergh5mo
The problem is that people have different levels of utility from reclining, and different levels of disutility from being reclined upon. If we all agreed that one was worse/better than the other, we wouldn't have this debate.
-2Said Achmiz5mo
This seems clearly false, given that at least some of the arguments [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/fo4LYBHCpcoYptBfN/the-ethics-of-reclining-airplane-seats#8Edjdx7hhdcGjdWB4] given in this debate even in this very comments section do not depend on the relative utilities involved.
4Dave Lindbergh5mo
Sorry for being unclear. If everyone agreed about utility of one over the other, the airlines would enable/disable seat reclining accordingly. Everyone doesn't agree, so they haven't. (Um, I seem to have revealed which side of this I'm on, indirectly.)
0Said Achmiz5mo
Hmm, but seat reclining is enabled… and yet not everyone agrees. So if everyone agreed… what would change, exactly…? I’m not actually sure why it would change in any event. Let’s say that everyone agreed that the disutility of not reclining exceeded the disutility of sitting behind a reclined seat. But… that wouldn’t make everyone into utilitarians. Despite agreeing on the result of that comparison, people would still prefer not to sit behind a reclined seat, while also preferring to recline when they wanted to do so. So… it doesn’t seem to me like universal agreement, in the way you say, would change… anything, really?
-1Timothy Underwood5mo
It's pretty bad if you are tall anf it's a cramped leg room.
7shminux5mo
It is bad if you are tall, regardless of reclining. I guess an aisle seat or an emergency exit row offers a bit of a reprieve without extra cost. There is also business class, for those who can afford it.
1[comment deleted]5mo

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