Delta Air Lines has begun cutting the recline of the coach seats aboard its Airbus A320 jets from 4 inches to 2 inches, to protect the “personal space” of passengers and allow people to work uninterrupted on laptops.
The airline insists the change won’t have any effect on legroom and says it will not be adding additional seats to the planes, which typically fly short-haul domestic routes. The recline depth of A320 first class seats will be reduced from 5.5 inches to 3.5 inches.
Countless air rage incidents have been triggered by people reclining their seats, with some planes diverted and others making emergency landings after fights broke out. In 2015, a man aboard a Southwest Airlines flight allegedly tried to choke a woman in front of him after she reclined too far back for his liking.
One-time presidential hopeful and current Utah senator Mitt Romney was attacked by a passenger on a 2010 flight after he asked the man to move his seat back to the upright position for takeoff. The following year, a United flight was escorted back to Dulles airport in Washington, DC by fighter jets when a fight broke out over a reclined seat. The plane was forced to burn off about $50,000 worth of fuel before it could land.
Gadgets like the Knee Defender, which prevent the seat in front of you from reclining, are not illegal, but have been banned by most airlines. In one incident involving the $22 device, a flight was forced to land after a passenger who couldn’t recline their seat thanks to the Seat Defender being used by the passenger in the next row back threw a cup of water in his face.
Drugs and/or alcohol contribute to 33% of all air rage incidents, according to the International Air Transport Association. Unruly passengers can face federal charges, including fines of up to $25,000.
Delta says the update to its seating arrangements is only a test, and will consider expanding it to the rest of its domestic fleet based upon passenger feedback. One Mile at a Time notes that business travelers in particular may appreciate the ability to work on a laptop unimpeded.
The airline does not currently have any plans to change seats on longer international routes.
“This is not a push to add seats to the cabin or find a way to reduce the pitch of the seats,” Ekrem Dimbiloglu, Delta’s director of onboard product and customer experience, told Skift. “It’s about ensuring an optimal experience.”