It used to be that a standard coach seat got about 32 inches of space. But airlines have crammed in more seats. Airlines are filling higher percentages of their seats on planes, meaning more battles for overhead bin space and elbow room. There are few empty seats to spread out into.
Even before the latest airline seat squeeze, reclining the seat meant crashing into the space of the person behind you. Now it's darn near impossible to work on a laptop in a standard coach seat if the person in front of you reclines. Even before conditions got tighter, laptops sometimes got broken when the person in front reclined with force, cracking screens.
Some airlines recognized that and restricted how far the seat reclines. Southwest Airlines at one point reduced how far its seats would travel back. Delta has installed seats where the bottom cushion pivots forward when you recline, reducing the distance the seat back travels and protecting knees a bit. In Delta's Economy Comfort rows, however, the seats are set for increased recline.
Airlines make the rules on this, not individual passengers. If airlines sell you a seat that reclines, it's your right to recline. That doesn't mean you must. If you do, the remedy for the person behind you is to recline to reclaim lost space. But that doesn't help if one person wants to work and the person in front wants to sleep.
It takes a certain chutzpah to use devices to block the person in front from reclining. Most airlines don't allow them. Using them is like parking your car across two parking spaces—you claim something for your benefit at someone else's inconvenience.
What should afflicted coach passengers do? Ask.
When you want to recline, turn around and tell the person behind that you're going to recline. Then do it slowly. It's a simple courtesy, and can prevent someone from getting bonked on the head.
Read more at http://online.wsj.com/articles/airline-seat-battles-be-kind-dont-recline-1409780915
From your Certified Travel Expert, Leslee Richards