Footage of a man punching the back of a woman’s seat as she tried to recline on a flight has permeated the internet – prompting the always controversial topic of airline etiquette to come to the fore again.
The video at the heart of the debate comes from Wendi Williams, a US woman who says she reclined her seat during an American Airlines flight, only to have the man start punching the back of her headrest.
So she started filming.
The man, who has his tray table down, is watching something on his phone and doesn’t even look up as he keeps knocking his closed first into Wendi’s seat.
@BravoAndy Here’s a great jackhole! He was angry that I reclined my seat and punched it about 9 times – HARD, at which point I began videoing him, and he resigned to this behavior. The other jackhole is the @AmericanAir flight attendant who reprimanded me and offered him rum! pic.twitter.com/dHeUysrKTu
— wendi (@steelersfanOG) February 9, 2020
The story goes that he was shoving it even more violently before she started filming, but also that when she first kicked back in her chair, he had a drink out on the tray table, which subsequently spilled on him.
Now Wendi is appearing on US breakfast shows and wants to press charges against the man, and is calling for the head of the airline attendant who told her to stop filming the incident, gave her a ‘passenger disturbance’ card, and her co-flyer a free drink.
- Related story: The on-board behaviour that can get you booted
All of this could have been avoided if both passengers had just been respectful to each other, an American Airlines rep told TMZ.
Finder.com’s travel expert Angus Kidman agreed, and said it was a fairly controversial approach to the problem from both parties.
“Emotions are heightened when you’re on a flight – you’re nervous, excited, tired or sad,” Mr Kidman told The New Daily.
Etiquette expert Zarife Hardy says it’s symbolic of a wider societal attitude.
“I think it’s quite disgraceful people are treating others like that on public transport,” said Ms Hardy, of the Australian School of Etiquette.
“People are treating these places as their lounge rooms, when they’re not.”
Our experts disagree on the seat-reclining situation.
Although Mr Kidman says it’s a no-go zone during take-off and landing, plus meal service, other than that it’s free for all.
Ms Hardy said there’s absolutely “no need” to recline on a short domestic flight.
And if you’re flying international, it’s good manners to at least wait until the first meal has been served.
- Related story: Are these seats the way of the flying future?
“If you do want to recline, have a look behind you … ask (the person behind), if you have to,” she told The New Daily.
“Just have your manners on.”
Mr Kidman did have one caveat: If you’re wanting specifically to recline (or not be reclined on) for health reasons, the onus is on you to seek emergency exit aisle or extra legroom seating.
The most common in-flight annoyances
Finder.com conducted research into the most irritating aeroplane behaviour two years ago, and recliners didn’t even crack the top three bad behaviours.
But No.1 did have to do with seats.
Yep, kicking the back of the seat in front is the top pet hate for Aussie flyers.
Ms Hardy says most of the time, the kicker is a child – that’s forgivable and understandable.
The problem comes when the parent doesn’t take action.
“Obviously, sit and wait if the parent is doing their best to rein them in.
“But if the parent is reading or has headphones in, I would turn around and address the adult, not the child, and just say, ‘Sorry, your child is kicking my seat. Would you mind?’,” she suggested.
“It’s about tone and the way that you say it.”
No.2 is bad body odour.
We’re crammed closer than ever, thanks to seat shrinkage in pitch (the distance between one seat’s headrest and the one in front) but also in the size of the actual seat.
This is a tricky one to tackle, Ms Hardy said. If it’s a domestic short-haul flight, you will just have to suck it up and deal with it as best you can.
On a long-haul flight, she suggested pulling aside a flight attendant and gently (and privately!) explain the situation, and ask if there were any seats you could move to.
Japan Airlines was the talk of the aviation town last year when it announced a plan to stop passengers being seated near children and babies.
If Finder’s research is anything to go by, Aussie travellers would love the idea.
Crying babies and noisy children are our third most-hated form of in-flight entertainment.
It’s not until No.4 that Australian flyers list seat recliners as the people they don’t want to encounter on a flight.
Even then, they only flag it as an annoyance if someone does it during meal service or a quick trip.
Mr Kidman said airlines were, a lot of the time, doing the work for us in solving this pet peeve.
Some will ask all seats be put upright as a meal service is about to begin.
Others just don’t serve meals at all, which means the whole situation goes away.
No.5 is a tricky one, and occurs in all modes of public transport – it’s not just limited to planes.
With the coronavirus outbreak fierce around the world, it does strike a particular chord with travellers at present.
Coughing and sneezing openly – without even making an effort to cover one’s mouth – rounds out the top five naughty behaviours, as voted by Aussie flyers.
“Again, it’s not something that you can scream and yell at someone to stop doing,” Ms Hardy said.
“If it’s one cough, just let it go.
“If it persists, you can indicate to them with your body language, by turning your head or body in the other direction.
“The other thing I do, is I always carry those small packets of disposable tissues … You can offer them to someone, that gets the point across and helps them out.”
Airlines are also trying to screen out passengers with symptoms of the virus. If in any doubt, the Australian Government’s Smart Traveller website warns:
“Keep a distance from sick people, especially if they have a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing.
Wash your hands often with soap and water. Carry hand sanitiser with you and use it often.”