Airlines May Not Offer Reclining Seats for Much Longer—Because We Can’t Have Nice Things

British Airways passengers will no longer have the option of reclining their seats on flights lasting less than four hours. Which is good news if you’re tired of having your tray table smashed into your stomach. Not-so-great news if you need that extra two centimeters of leg room.

The seats will not be ramrod straight. Rather, the seats will be “pre-reclined at a comfortable angle, meaning that the customers will not have to recline the seat themselves.” (No specifics about this “comfortable angle” have been revealed. Nor about the heavy toll to the passenger in having to press that recline button.)


British Airways reasoned that eliminating the recline function will eliminate air rage incidents, concerns over laptop damage, and just general poor airline etiquette. The move will also cut costs for the airline, presumably allowing those savings to be passed on to passengers. (Non-reclining seats are lighter, and thus more fuel-efficient.) British Airways defended the move, in response to criticism, saying the shift to pre-reclined seats will allow them to “be more competitive” and “offer more low fares” to customers.

However, the move also cuts the ever-shrinking pocket of legroom that passengers get onboard. Currently, British Airways offers 30 inches of legroom to its customers. By replacing the seats with non-reclining (or, as the airline frames it, “gentle recline” seats), the legroom goes down to 29 inches.

Last year, American Airlines announced that it was planning to reduce legroom to 29 inches on some of its new planes. The backlash from customers was so severe that the airline reversed course a month later. The backlash has also been swift with British Airways’ announcement, but so far there have been no moves to pivot back to traditional seats. (Although, they are planning to offer power ports at each seat and onboard WiFi!)

This is British Airways’ latest attempt to keep up with budget airlines. In January of 2017, the company did away with free alcohol and in-flight meals on short flights. It is also reviewing its policy of selling duty-free items onboard short flights.

The no-recline, er, gentle-recline seats will be on the airline’s latest order of 25 new Airbus A320neo and 10 A321neo planes. British Air confirmed that it plans to “remodify its existing fleet of 62 A320s and 14 A321s” based at London Heathrow with the new seats over the next five years.

British Airways is not the first airline to lock its seats into position. Airlines like EasyJet, Norwegian and Ryanair also have locked seats. But these are budget airlines—British Air, while trying to compete with them for customers, is not. Which is making airline passengers concerned: British Airways tends to be an industry trend-setter. For instance, British Air was the first to roll out the lie-flat seats in business class. Whether other airlines will follow suit remains to be seen.

In the meantime, cherish that extra inch. Who knows how much longer you’ll have it.

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