Video of man punching the back of airplane passenger’s seat sparks debate: ‘The seats are made to recline’

Kerry Justich
Viral video of a man punching the back of woman's seat on airplane sparks a debate about reclining on flights. (Photo: Wendi Williams/Caters News Agency)
Viral video of a man punching the back of woman's seat on airplane sparks a debate about reclining on flights. (Photo: Wendi Williams/Caters News Agency)

A viral video on Twitter has the internet divided over airplane etiquette, after one passenger showed the man behind her punching the back of her seat, allegedly because her seat was reclined. Now, people are debating who was in the wrong and whether it’s necessary to ask permission before reclining on a plane.

Wendi Williams is the woman who posted the video after she sat in the second-to-last row on a Jan. 31 American Airlines flight from New Orleans to Charlotte and faced aggressive behavior from the man seated behind her. According to Williams’s Twitter posts, she had been reclined in her seat until the man — whose name hasn’t been reported — asked her to lift her chair up while he was eating a meal. She complied and later returned to a reclined position while he watched a movie on his phone. Then, Williams wrote that he started punching her chair.

She began videotaping on her phone while calling over a flight attendant to hopefully resolve the issue. Matters became worse, she says, when the flight attendant reprimanded Williams and offered the aggravated passenger an alcoholic beverage.

After allegedly trying and failing to resolve the issue with American Airlines quietly, Williams posted a snippet of the video that she had taken of the “angry” passenger, which has since been obtained in full by Yahoo Lifestyle.

“Here’s a great jackhole!” Williams wrote in a tweet to Bravo’s Andy Cohen. “The other jackhole is the @AmericanAir flight attendant.”

Williams also claimed she plans to escalate the incident by calling the FBI to press charges against “the man who mistook me for a punching bag.”

But the thousands of people who have responded to Williams’s tweet don’t necessarily agree with her. Instead, they’re divided into those who think the man got too aggressive, and those that find she was in the wrong — especially considering that the man had the aircraft’s last seat against a wall and wasn’t able to recline.

Those that came to Williams’s defense pointed out that the aircraft and its seats are made to recline.

Elaine Swann, a lifestyle and etiquette expert, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that Williams was in the right by exercising her ability to recline, which is not only a part of the chair’s function, but also encouraged by airlines on every flight.

“The seats are made to recline, that’s why the button exists. In addition to that, the flight attendant on every single flight says, ‘Sit back and relax and enjoy the flight.’ So not only has the airline crafted the seat for this particular type of use, you’re also invited to do so by the flight crew,” Swann explains. “So every person is within reason. There’s nothing that says you should not recline your seat. Doesn’t matter.”

She goes on to say that the heated debate is a result of people empathizing with the man, who is occupying one of the worst seats on the aircraft. “That seat brings anger and angst toward most people. They’re looking at where he was sitting and recognizing that that is literally one of the worst seats on the aircraft. And so they’re sympathizing with him from that perspective,” Swann says. “Then they’re twisting it and saying because his seat doesn’t recline and he’s all the way back, then the person in front of him should do something differently.”

Still, Swann maintains that there is no exception that takes away a passenger’s right to recline. She additionally condemns the male passenger’s behavior.

“This guy was utterly rude, and actually quite aggressive and a little bit scary,” she concludes. “Doesn’t matter where you’re sitting. If your seat has the button and it can move back, then your seat goes back That’s it, period.”

American Airlines provided the following statement to Yahoo Lifestyle:

We are aware of a customer dispute that transpired on American Eagle flight 4392, operated by Republic Airways on January 31. The safety and comfort of our customers and team members is our top priority, and our team is looking into the issue.

And while Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian recently told CNBC that he “never” reclines and suggests that “The proper thing to do is, if you’re going to recline into somebody, you ask if it’s OK first,” American Airlines simply asks for respect from all passengers on its flights.

“We believe that our passengers should always be respectful of one another,” a representative for the airline tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Williams did not respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment.

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