In the kerfuffle over what Grant Hackett reportedly did or did not do on a plane from Adelaide to Melbourne, one thing has been overlooked. Reclining is your right. Well it is. In fact it's more than a right. It's a privilege. Anyone who declines your recline is swine.
When you purchase an airline ticket you buy three things:
- You buy the right to travel from one terminal with overpriced coffee to another;
- You buy the right to tune out to the safety announcement in much the same way as you ignore your team leader at weekly meetings when they speak of silos and synergies and optimising the paradigm;
- And you buy the right to recline. Actual fact. The 12 inches of space behind your headrest? It's yours, all yours, and it's not a triple Olympic gold medallist's (or anyone else's) to dispute.
The Huffington Post Australia declined to ring an airline ettiquette spokesperson for this story because a) there's probably no such thing and b) even if there is, it's only because they can't get a real job and c) we don't need some flaky expert to clarify the bleeding obvious, which to paraphrase John Howard, is that it's the seat recliner who decides whether to recline their seat and the manner in which they recline it.
There are blogs that say otherwise. There are people on the internet who argue you should look over your shoulder first or maybe ask the person behind you if they mind. Pish posh. Because let's be honest here -- airline travel is second only to war in terms of brutal and selfish things which humans have invented.
From the minute you miss the cheapie fare booking online a second after the sale started, to the fight for parking at the airport, to stuffing your bag in the overhead locker before smelly backpacker stuffs their totally-not-cabin-baggage-sized backpack in there, the entire airline travel experience is the most cut-throat thing imaginable.
When you finally sit in your seat and buckle yourself in, you don't have much to show for all that trouble. You've got bad food, bad radio programs narrated by washed-up broadcasters, and no personal space. But the last one you can do something about. Not much, but a little. So as soon as you're airborne, you recline your seat. You press that metal button and steer the sucker as far back as it'll go.
And then you sigh. Briefly. Far too briefly.
And then the dude behind you gives you a nipple cripple, or so the story goes.
Is anyone entitled to do this under any circumstances, anywhere? They are not. Does reclining a seat on a plane warrant such a response? For all the reasons mentioned above, it does not. Especially when you're in business class.
The real villain here is not the recliner but the reclinee. Cop the recline and inflict the same discomfort on the person behind you. This is the unspoken but widely accepted rule. It's not the sort of behaviour your mother taught you, but I bet she's the first to recline her seat on a plane just like any other sensible person.
If she's anything like my mother, she'd have made a right old mess of the nipple-crippler too.