Washington Post writer, Michelle Singletary, recently posed the question “If you pay good money for an airline ticket, should you be free without guilt to recline your seat?” As a very frequent flyer, it’s a thought-provoking question. Recently, a United Airlines flight was forced to make an unscheduled stop because two travelers had differences of opinion as to the answer to that question. A tiny gadget called a Knee Defender, a pair of plastic wedges that lock a seat in position so that it can’t be reclined, caused a huge ruckus.

Though the Federal Aviation Administration does not ban the offending $21.95 gadget, every major airline prohibits its use. But, just because something is “legal” doesn’t make it right, does it? Some argue that when you purchase an airline ticket, one of the things you’re buying is the right to use the seat’s reclining function. Such “Prorecliners” go on to say that passengers who don’t enjoy having someone reclining into their personal space should pay more money to upgrade to a better seat. Ms. Singletary states that another way to look at it is that people feel entitled to do what they please because they’ve paid for a service without considering the comfort of others. Common Courtesy – a lost art.

Courtesy is defined as excellence of manners or social conduct; polite behavior in Webster’s dictionary. Courtesy, it seems, is not so common any more, and not just on airplanes. Sadly, even the simple act of saying “please” and “thank you” aren’t that common. In our hurried world, we merely don’t take the time to be courteous to those around us. Doors aren’t held open, hats aren’t tipped. So, is it any wonder that we feel entitled to recline our seat into someone else’s lap?

Aren’t the tiny spaces of the economy section of the airplane and the line at the grocery store perfect opportunities to practice showing courtesy to those around us? Maybe, just like the “Pay it forward” phenomenon of years past, one courteous moment will give rise to another and another. Perhaps, the few inches that I give up by not reclining my seat, will add up to more leg room for others. We are in this tight metal box together for a short time. Let’s make the best of it and maybe courtesy will become common once again.

Randel C. Goad – Mandt Faculty Supervisor