News and Commentary

Delta Airlines CEO Says Passengers Should Get Permission To Recline Seats
Photographer: Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Have airline companies become so fattened within their ivory tower of monopoly rule that CEOs can no longer grasp the meaning of customer service? The latest reaction from Delta’s top brass Ed Bastian regarding the viral story about a rude American Eagle passenger slugging the reclined seat in front of him indicates that may be so.

Earlier this week, a 45-second video clip went viral on social media, showing a man passive-aggressively punching a woman’s reclined seat ahead of him while aboard an American Eagle flight, picking up millions of views and thousands of retweets.

The clip intensely divided the internet, with some people sympathizing with the man, believing that the woman had acted rudely by reclining her seat in the first place, given that the person behind her was in the final row. Others believed the man mishandled the situation and should have raised his discomfort with the flight attendant instead of acting so aggressively. Weighing in on the situation Friday was none other than Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastian, who said that passengers should now learn to ask permission before reclining in their (bought and paid for) seats.

“I think customers have the right to recline,” Bastian said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “I think the proper thing to do is if you’re going to recline into somebody that you ask if it’s okay first and then you do it.”

Bastian added that he never reclines, believing it unbecoming of a man in his position to do so.

“I never recline, because I don’t think it’s something as CEO I should be doing,” Bastian said. “I never say anything if someone reclines into me.”

People on social media roundly mocked Ed Bastian’s suggestion that passengers now have some unwritten duty to ask to recline their seats from now on.

“Guys: the blame for lack of cabin/reclining seat-related comfort is the airlines. Not your fellow passengers. Blaming them is like blaming the steerage passengers on the Titanic,” tweeted Clare Jeffery of Mother Jones.

“Dear Delta CEO, if you put a recliner on a seat, people should be able to use it (and not have it slam into the person behind them). If you don’t want people to recline, don’t include it, but if you include an amenity, nobody should have to ask another passenger’s permission,” tweeted entrepreneur Carol Roth. 

“No, this a cop-out by Delta. I expect my fellow travellers to extend that minute extension of the seat for comfort and health reasons. I don’t get angry at them, I get angry at Delta, and other airlines, for outfitting their aircraft as if we are cattle,” said one Twitter user. 

People were especially incensed over the fact that airlines have done nothing to fit their planes with spacious accommodations. In fact, as noted by the New York Post, airlines have been looking into efficient methods of further tightening their already tight seating spaces in the hopes of cramming more butts into the seats:

In October, it was revealed that FAA researchers were recruiting volunteers for a study into whether tighter space on planes decreased passenger safety.

However, prior to news of the study, the FAA ruled that shrinking seats did not impact consumer safety — which prompted a federal judge to respond, “That makes no sense.”

In 2017, researchers at NYU and Cardozo School of Law published a study that examined whether fighting over reclining seats could be prevented by charging passengers to recline.