Travel Etiquette : Your Seat Is Not A Rocking Chair

Personal space is at a premium for passengers on flights, especially in economy class. While many will debate whether or not passengers should recline in their seats, the fact is seats recline and are intended to recline (on most planes).  Yes, there is proper etiquette for reclining your seat, namely … do it slowly … and if you feel yourself crushing the person behind you … stop.

My etiquette pet peeve regarding reclining seats (although I do have a pet peeve for those who slam their seat back as hard and fast as they can) is people who constantly rock in their seat, especially when it is reclined.

Economy airline seats do not recline very much, and a passenger constantly rocking their seat as hard as possible will only move the seat a little further back for a fraction of a second. Since rocking repeatedly and aggressively in a seat does nothing to further a passenger’s comfort I have yet to understand why some passengers persist in causing the person behind them significant discomfort.

Using an airplane seat as a rocking chair not only irritates the passenger behind you, but very often it causes them pain as the seat slams into their knees and runs the risk of potentially damaging their laptop … should they have one open.

If you find yourself rocking in your airline seat, or pushing your seat into recline rapidly, and feel the resistance of someone’s handing stopping your seat do not push harder … stop … then maybe recline slower and/or realize your rocking may be physically hurting the person behind you.

Airplanes are a confined environment that passengers can’t escape and its an environment that can breeds flaring tempers … especially on long flights … so be courteous and remember what your Mom taught you as a young child … “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

Below is a photo of my knees being slammed by a passenger who seemed to think their seat was a rocking chair.

Happy Flying!


  1. How about the person who grabs the top of the seat in front in order to hoist himself up and out of his seat.

  2. I can’t say I’ve experienced the “rocking chair” phenomenon. What annoys me the most are people who don’t return their seats to the upright position while they go touring the cabin to stretch their legs and use the bathroom.

  3. Along the same lines – the “reverse rocker” – the person behind you who constantly pulls on the back of your seat and continually gives you whip lash as the headrest is drawn back like a catapult and slammed into the back of your head repeatedly.

    This is probably the only seat-related behaviour that I bother to address with the offender. But, I’m quite short, so I don’t have to worry about getting my knees slammed.

    Hooray for status and first class upgrades where, generally, you don’t have to deal with this.

  4. I say make rapidly reclining a seat so that it threatens to break the knees or laptop in back of you a capital crime.

    However, I’d let off “rockers” and some of the others mentioned a bit easier for the time being. Their just punishment will come in the hereafter and it won’t be pretty.

  5. Now you’re using ‘meets resistance’, catchy phrase right? “Hi, I’m sitting in directly in front of you on this plane. I am going to recline my chair then rock it until the back of my chair ‘meets resistance’. Your knees. I’ll probably drape my long hair over the back of my seat and flail it around the whole trip also. Have a great flight”.

  6. Deb,

    Hope you don’t mind the long draped hair being caught in the tray table when its placed into the upright and locked position.

    Happy Flying!


  7. Actually Fish, that reminded me…

    The one time I went ballistic on someone was when she let her grimy sticky-handed child reach from the row behind and grab a handful of my hair. Of course, due to lollypop or whatever it was, the kid’s hand was then glued to my hair. Lots of it ripped out, and I ended up having to get a hair cut.

    The woman was so frightened she didn’t even try to say “oh, he’s just a kid”. No one could believe the woman let her kid do that! She definitely did the walk of shame. Serves her right for not keeping her kid under control.

  8. That’s why Cathay Pacific introduces shell seats in Economy! But no….people would rather have more recline than less legroom.

  9. I am amused at the type of inconsiderate passenger that sits down and immediately rams the seat back as far as it will go, even during boarding.

    Then during the flight, this same passenger will lean forward in the seat rather than reclining as he/she seemed so terribly in need to do.

    If one is lucky, the inconsiderate will get up during the flight. Slowly push the seat back into the upright position. Almost 100% of the time, the inconsiderate never notices the change.

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