That whole spiel that flight attendants ramble through at the beginning and end of the journey needs a modification. Switch the directive about ensuring that seat backs and tray tables are in the upright position to the front end and modify it thusly:

“Ladies and gentlemen, please keep your seat backs in the upright position during the entire flight, unless you have permission from the person behind you to lean back.”*

Airplanes have gotten smaller, much tighter, and we’re down to an average of 31 inches between seats. When passengers lean back, it’s not a reach to say they are invading the (now more precious) space of the people behind them.

It’s next to impossible to use a tray table or read a newspaper when someone has reclined more than a couple of inches, which also results in quite a few knees getting embedded into the seats.

Cramped passengers should try to avoid using those knees as “weapons,” because that would be as rude as what the reclining rube is doing.

Look, we’re all already stressed just from the hassles involved in getting to and through the airport and into our seat, which is ostensibly a place where we can catch our breath and unwind a bit — maybe even catch a few Z’s in an “upright position.”

Most of us are willing to give up an inch or three of space, but common decency (which seems to becoming uncommon) dictates that passengers settle this among themselves.

Anyone who truly needs that much space should consider flying first class.

* Except for redeyes. Everyone should be reclining on redeyes.

Travel editor Kerri Westenberg will return next week. Send your questions or tips to her at, and follow her on twitter @kerriwestenberg.