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Viral video revives debate on flight etiquette and shrinking space

Viral video revives debate on flight etiquette and shrinking space
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A short video which went viral on Twitter has reignited an old debate on in-flight etiquette, and the fight over precious space on airplanes as seats get tighter.

A passenger travelling on an American Airlines flight from New Orleans to Charlotte shared a 45-second video over the weekend, showing a man sitting behind her in the last row pushing her seat after she had pushed it back in a recline position.

She claimed he had been repeatedly punching her seat before she started recording.

The video has been viewed millions of times and provoked a mixture of reactions, from those condemning her for being inconsiderate to those supporting her right to recline her seat.

But Gabor Lukacs, a longtime flight observer and passenger rights advocate, said the latest incident is simply symptomatic of a larger issue with the airline industry: space is increasingly becoming a scarce commodity on planes.

“When I see this video I see first of all a problem created by the airlines to begin with,” said Lukacs, founder and co-ordinator of Air Passenger Rights , a Canadian non-profit network advocating for the rights of airline travellers.

“The reason that a person feels invaded in their personal space in that situation is because the seats are too close to each other, the airlines are cramming too many seats on an airplane and there’s a problem of shrinking space for passengers on board.”

For the past few years, airline companies have been squeezing in more seats to increase profits, which resulted in legroom and seat spaces shrinking.

A report presented to the United States senate in 2016 showed that the average airline seat width had decreased from 18 inches (about 45 centimetres) in the 1990s to 16.5 inches (42 cm). Average legroom has shrunk from 35 inches (89 cm) in the 1970s to 31 inches (79 cm) today.

Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal called for the Federal Aviation Authority to put a moratorium on space shrinkage in airplanes and establish new safe standards to protect passengers’ health. He said the status quo should not continue.

“We require minimum cargo space for travelling animals, yet inexplicably and inexcusably have no such measure to protect human passengers,” he wrote in the 2016 report. “A sardine may in fact enjoy greater protections than the flying public today.”

As of last December, Senate Democrats leader for the FAA to wrap up its study on these proposed changes.

Lukacs applauded Americans for trying to establish regulations for the safety and protection of airline passengers. He said there has been no similar discussions or consultations in Canada.

He said it is within the passenger’s right to recline their seat if they wish, but everyone should be considerate of those sitting behind them. And it’s not OK to take one’s frustration out on a fellow passenger, he said.

“There’s no question that what this guy is doing is inappropriate,” he said of the passenger apparently punching the reclining seat in front of him.

He said the airline should treat such behaviour as “unruly” and should have the person arrested if necessary.

Katherine Fan, who writes for the travel magazine The Points Guy, said the general etiquette is not to recline your seat during takeoff and landing or during meal services.

“It’s also a nice gesture to first turn around and politely indicate to your fellow traveller that you’re about to recline your seat, then do so gently with as much control as you can,” she wrote in an email to the Star.

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Fan noted, however, that the airlines are ultimately responsible for the tensions among economy class travellers as cabins have become increasingly compact.

“On some airlines, the seat pitch — the distance between one row to the next — is so tight that even the slightest seat recline can compromise a traveller’s available leg room,” she added.

American Airlines said it was aware of the dispute that took place on American Eagle Flight 4392, operated by Republic Airways, on Jan. 31.

“The safety and comfort of our customers and team members is our top priority, and our team is looking into the issue,” the airline said in a statement to the Star.
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