Ban reclining seats on flights? I'm leaning that way...

When that seat lurches back, an old lady knitting is suddenly no sweeter than white van man
Click to follow

When 32-year-old Amy Fine boarded a Delta Airlines flight from New York to Palm Beach, Florida, last Monday, she was tired and wrung out by the recent deaths of her two beloved dogs. After take-off, she decided to snatch 40 winks, and leaned forward to rest her head on the tray table.

Meanwhile, the lady in front was making herself comfortable as she prepared to do some knitting on the three-hour journey. She reclined her seat abruptly, and so smacked a dozing Ms Fine in the head. The resulting shouting match ended only after Ms Fine swore at flight attendants and the captain made an unscheduled landing in Jacksonville.

That was the third such diversion in less than two weeks caused by conflicts between passengers on US flights over the disputed territory between knees and seat. Last Wednesday, an American Airlines red-eye from Miami to Paris was grounded in Boston when a 60-year-old Frenchman flared up at the reclining passenger in front. He was later taken to hospital and treated for high blood pressure.

And, on 24 August, on a United Airlines flight between Newark and Denver, a businessman keen to get some work done on his laptop attached a £14 plastic device called a "Knee Defender" to the seat in front, thus preventing his fellow passenger from reclining. After learning of his ploy, the woman in question threw water in the man's face. Both were thrown off the flight in Chicago.

The average economy-class seat is now just 31 inches from the seat in front. And when that seat lurches back into one's precious personal space, it is as enraging as being cut up on the motorway or jostled on the Tube. An elderly lady knitting is suddenly no sweeter than white van man.

Like Amy Fine, I was in the air on Monday, returning from London to Los Angeles. There is zero pleasure to be derived from a long-haul flight in economy class: sharing cramped loos and limited oxygen with 200 strangers, watching bad films on inadequate screens while drinking warm beer to wash down the rubbery food. Though I remain unconvinced that reclining in an economy airline seat has any appreciable effect on overall comfort, it is perhaps the only way to fool the body into sleeping, and thus avoid 10 hours of purgatory.

A sensible way to reduce air-rage incidents on short-haul flights would surely be to do away with reclining seats altogether. A domestic flight is to most Americans what an intercity train journey is to a British traveller – and the last time I checked, there were no reclining seats in second class on the East Coast Main Line.

A recent survey conducted by Skyscanner found that 91 per cent of passengers would like a ban on reclining seats. Ryanair has never offered them. Of all the perks Michael O'Leary has stripped from his airline's fleet, it might just be the one I miss the least.