The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 19 September

There’s a new wave of air rage in the skies – and it’s all about reclining seats. Here’s what not to do, says Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
There seems to have been a lot of dispute recently about whether you should recline your seat on a plane. I even heard that aircraft had to be diverted because of fierce arguments. What is your view of this etiquette tangle?
Corrie Powell, Burton-on-Trent

Dear Corrie,
Yes, near the end of August, just days apart, mile-high fury reached such a pitch that two planes had to be diverted – all because of reclining seats. On the first occasion, a man used a Knee Defender, a device costing $21.95 which jams the reclining facility of the seat in front. This was on a United Airlines ƒflight from Newark to Denver. The ƒflight attendant tried to get him to remove the contraption. Then the woman in the stuck-up seat (as it were) thought it wise to throw a glass of water over him. So the two passengers passed the time agreeably in unseemly brawling and the ƒflight was diverted to O’Hare Airport in Chicago, where the pair was removed by the authorities. The second eruption was on a ƒflight from Miami to Paris. This time the plane was diverted to Boston.

The first lesson of all of this is: don’t go mad on an aeroplane. But frustration as the back of the seat in front bears down upon you like some fatal medieval crushing machine is understandable. Business people complain that they are unable to do vital work on their laptops, there are reports of injuries to the person and damage to computers.

Even if there is no physical harm, the moment when the seat back slams down is always one of violation. The self-pampering individual in front, wriggling about preparing to sleep, cares for no one but themselves. Various suggestions for amelioration have been made: don’t recline at mealtimes; don’t let your children recline; look to see who you are reclining upon and what they are doing. If a giant working on a laptop, maybe reconsider. Don’t recline onto those themselves unable to recline, in the back row or in seats by an exit. Do not recline to the full extent. I would go further: absolutely do not tip back your seat on a short-haul, non-bedtime ƒflight in any circumstances. If you’re so tired or ill that you need to sleep in the daytime, you can surely do so while sitting upright.

On the other hand, I don’t defend the Knee Defender. Taking matters into one’s own hands in this way is dangerous and aggressive. It’s an unwise modern tendency, not just in this matter. I’m not surprised fights break out. If you’re the victim of a recline, appeal to the ƒflight attendant. Ultimately airlines must act – and perhaps now, if only to avoid any more expensive diversions, they will – to either remove the tilting facility altogether or impose strict rules as to its use.

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER

Society requires, somehow, that we must never be alone. The solitary person has to be stamped a reject, an unfortunate, a misfit. To be alone, most conspicuously in a restaurant (in a cinema it’s dark, you’re invisible) is an affront, an unwelcome reminder perhaps of the fate that awaits us all. But why must we never be alone?

My impression is that in France, gentlemen often dine alone in certain kinds of local restaurants. Perhaps they are widowed and need to eat. Or they prefer to concentrate on the cuisine undistracted by company.

A woman alone, of course, is less frequently seen. She fears being thought of as up to no good. This is ridiculous; solitude is what we need more of. But choose your restaurant wisely. You don’t want anywhere too cramped or you’ll overhear the conversation of your neighbours – although eavesdropping is one of the pleasures of solitude, up to a point. Avoid anywhere too hushed and formal. Jolly but peaceful is ideal. Sit at your table as if you were queen of all you survey.