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Fights on Flights

Blanche DuBois may have always depended on the kindness of strangers, but it’s not an option on most airplanes these days. Manners at 30,000 feet are deteriorating, and strangers are starting mid-flight dustups over each others’ seats. You say you paid for a seat that reclines so why can’t you use what you paid for? Well, because it’s not that simple anymore.

Airplane, Unhappy Passengers, Sardine Can

First of all, it’s not your imagination: The airlines have shrunk the seat you’re sitting in as well as the legroom between seats in order to fit more paying customers on the aircraft. Delta even installed smaller toilets (excuse me?) on some of their planes in order to add more seats. What’s more, airlines have tried to disguise the shrinkage of personal space by making things like the magazine pouches on the seat in front of you thinner, tray tables smaller and seat cushions thinner.

No wonder tempers are flaring. We stand and wait close to one another in security lines, we take our shoes off, hold our hands over our heads and pose for scanned images. Then the TSA needs to open our luggage in front of everyone to check the personal items in our bags. Then we squeeze into the plane’s narrow aisle to fight for overhead-bin space.

Congratulations, airlines! You’ve turned humans’ fight-or-flight response into “flight and fight.”

What to do? Forget about even trying those little Knee Defender products — most airlines prohibit them. Keep cool and treat others as you’d like them to treat you. In economy, I always used to recline. But now if the flight’s under three hours or so, I don’t. If I need to sleep, I recline carefully, no slamming the seat back. On a long flight, I try to wait a while so people have had drinks and food and have settled in. Sometimes a neck pillow can help you rest without reclining.

>> Get travel discounts with your AARP Member Advantages.

They key thing to remember is that everybody feels pretty much the same. But turning against a flight attendant or another passenger accomplishes nothing. You could pay for a more expensive seat, choose an airline where the seats do not recline or go with another form of transportation altogether.

If in the end, however, if you still feel that the least expensive seat on a five-hour flight is the best choice, then grin and bear it (and consider the time and money you’re saving).

Illustration: Planet Flem/iStock


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