DEAR MISS MANNERS: As a tall, heavy person, I know that modern economy airline seats are tight and that the couple inches lost to a reclining seat can feel massive. But I have never thrown a fit like the woman behind me on an international flight (10 hours, with time change, overnight).
The moment I leaned back, she screamed about losing all her space and tapped my arm, asking me to sit up. I apologized (which I now regret, because I wasn’t really sorry) and said that I wished to sleep. She insisted that I sit up, and when I pointed out that the man in front of me had laid back to sleep as well, she said, “And that’s my problem?” To which I really wanted to say “yes,” but held my tongue, saying instead, “That is how the airlines designed the plane.”
I went back to trying to sleep, only to have her discreetly kick/hit the back of my seat for the next two hours! I was so upset I didn’t know what to say. I thought it was my right to lean my seat back. And when I gave up trying to sleep, I sat up (unlike the man in front of me). Did I act correctly? Was there something else I should have done?
GENTLE READER: Yes. Told on her.
Your assertion about how planes are built is correct, and it leaves the discomfort to be dealt with by passengers trying, against all odds, to stay out of one another’s way. But kicking and screaming is not the way to deal with this.
You should throw the problem back on the airlines by asking its representative, the hapless flight attendant who is not at fault, to mitigate the unpleasant situation: “Excuse me, but I am afraid that using the recline function is causing this woman discomfort. Is there anything to be done?”
Miss Manners fears that what is most likely to be done -- moving the complainer to a space with more room, or at least a different person to complain to -- is rewarding bad behavior. But at least it would no longer be your problem -- and you could get some much-needed sleep.