I’m Stumped
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I’m Stumped

Reclining Airplane Seats are Killing America

As you likely know, airplane seats are rather compact to put it kindly. The amount of physical contortion required to do something so simple as taking your phone out of your pocket while sitting on an airplane requires a set of qualities mostly reserved for world class gymnasts and acrobats. And if you drop something on the floor? Just forget about it, because man, it’s gone.

Incredibly, despite a confined space that makes sarcophagi seem roomy, airlines have seen fit to give passengers the illusion of control and comfort by allowing them to “recline” their seats thereby taking precious inches away from the already hopelessly constrained space behind them.

Most people give no thought to reclining their seat on an airplane. After all, they paid for their seat, they have the ability to recline, they have a right to pursue their personal comfort and if anyone doesn’t like it, they can just recline their own seat. There is no thought given to the unseen person behind. No concern for that person’s comfort. And even if there was, the likely response would be, “well if they don’t like it, they can recline their own seat.” Nevermind that they may not want to. Never mind that they may be at the back of the plane where they cannot. Nevermind that you may have just jammed their seat tray into their chest or lap-sitting toddler.

And that is who we are as Americans when we are at our worst. We are airplane travelers reclining our seats. We are obsessed with our own rights, our own privileges, our own comfort and we mostly give no thought to how those things might impact someone else. We keep the consequences of our actions out of sight as much as possible and defiantly declare that if anyone doesn’t like it they have the same rights we do, so they can just deal with it.

But some people need the space our selfishness takes up. Some people can’t make more space for themselves. Some people are hurt when we abruptly slam backwards to take more for ourselves without seeing that it is taking something from someone else.

And I love this analogy because it seems so benign. Everyone reclines their seat. It is just a few inches. We are all just scrapping for enough comfort to survive 3 hours in a sardine can with strangers headed to some other city.

But the ugliness of our society will not be washed away by grand gestures and massive policy changes. It will have to begin with a change of heart and mind that impacts the daily, seemingly benign decisions of our everyday life. What is that for you? What is your seatback? Is it a mask? Is it a word that offends? Is it a tradition that you like?

If our focus is on ourselves, we recline our seat and pay no mind to who is behind us. We focus on our rights, on our needs, on our own comfort and everyone suffers. But if we focus on other people we keep our seatback up. We let an unseen stranger have a couple more inches of comfort. We sacrifice just a bit for someone else. Then it doesn’t matter quite so much what our rights are and the question moves from “what can I do” to “how can I make it better for you?” You may lose some personal comfort, but you will accomplish the highest possible calling of humanity: to improve the life of someone else.

When you are making a decision, even and maybe especially those small things that we do everyday, consider whether exercising your own rights or privilege might be taking away something precious from someone else. That could be their time, their money, their sense of physical or emotional safety, their sense of belonging, their sense of trust, or even just their access to joy and happiness.

And if you happen to be one of my many friends who desire to follow Jesus, ask yourself to what life are you called? Is it to seek, protect and assert your rights? Or is it to seek, protect and advocate for others?

Just because you have the right, doesn’t make it right.

Before you lean back, consider the person behind you.


These are my musings on politics, religion, parenting, and the hard work of trying to be a decent human.

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Joshua Stump

I am a Dad, a husband, a son, a brother, a follower of Jesus, a lawyer, a songwriter, and just generally someone with a lot of strong opinions about stuff.