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Don't ban reclining seats, ban jerks on planes

By Mel Robbins
updated 2:37 PM EDT, Thu September 4, 2014
  • Mel Robbins: Airlines repeatedly have diverted planes over conflicts about reclining seats
  • She says accommodating bad passenger behavior only encourages it
  • She says passengers should deal with reclining seats, just show courtesy to each other
  • Robbins: Passengers who get flights diverted should be fined, put on no-fly list

Editor's note: Mel Robbins is a CNN commentator and legal analyst. She is the founder of, a news and entertainment site for women, and author of "Stop Saying You're Fine," about managing change. She speaks on leadership around the world and in 2014 was named outstanding news talk radio host by the Gracie Awards. Follow her on Twitter @melrobbins. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- In a little more than a week there have been three, yes three, planes diverted because passengers have thrown hissy fits over reclining seats.

The latest incident involved a woman on a Delta Air Lines flight, Amy Fine, 32 of Boca Raton, Florida. Fine was napping on her tray table when the woman in front of her reclined the seat. According to Aaron Klipin, who witnessed the whole thing, Fine started screaming at the woman and then began yelling and cursing at the flight attendants, saying something to the effect of, "I don't care about the consequences; put this plane down."

Mel Robbins
Mel Robbins

I guess she also didn't care about the consequences for the person in front of her when she put her head down at the back of that person's reclining chair.

And now here's the crazy thing: Delta complied and diverted the plane.

Are the airlines to blame for recliner rage? There's certainly reason to point the finger. In recent years, airlines have shrunk the size of the seat (to 17 inches in coach!) and the legroom, and hit us up with charges for everything from luggage to in-flight meals and entertainment. Tighter seats are made worse by packed flights. Last year 83.1% of domestic seats were occupied.

What will make airliners safer?

Ironically, this Delta incident occurred in the rows where passengers pay extra for more legroom. Perhaps seats just shouldn't recline at all.

What are the most annoying habits on airplanes? A series of seat recline skirmishes has passengers talking about the aggravations of air travel. Click through the gallery of 20 top irritants. What are the most annoying habits on airplanes? A series of seat recline skirmishes has passengers talking about the aggravations of air travel. Click through the gallery of 20 top irritants.
20 rudest things people do on planes
20 rudest things people do on planes 20 rudest things people do on planes
Airlines phasing out seat-back screens

I have a different point of view. The problem isn't the seats. The problem is people. As my husband just commented to me, "What the $#@% is wrong with people these days?" The answer -- entitlement is alive and common courtesy is dead. We all hate to fly. It's frustrating to be packed into a plane like a bunch of sardines, but we are all in the same metal tube packed in together -- can't you be a little bit nicer?

Opinion: Stop the insanity of reclining airplane seats

If the airlines have to change their business practices so that passengers show some courtesy -- the list for the ways to do it is long. Start by making it free to check bags and charge extra to carry anything larger than a purse or briefcase on the plane. That'll prevent rude people from pushing to the head of the line to race for overhead storage.

The reason planes are so packed right now is because it's still cheap to fly. And if legroom is that important to you, cough up the cash for a better seat. Because if you cut the number of seats, you have to increase the price to fly -- so any way you slice it, you are paying a premium for space.

There's also no debate that when the jerks win we all lose. And don't kid yourself. These jerks are winning. When you divert a plane and make everyone on board miss his or her connections or arrive late simply because you want to take a nap -- that's insane. And worse, in the Delta incident passenger Fine got zero punishment for her bratty behavior. She should have been arrested as soon as that plane landed. She should be fined the maximum civil fine of $25,000 by the Federal Aviation Administration. Neither of these things has happened.

In life, you train people how to treat you. And all too often, we as a society train the jerks to keep on pulling these stunts. Maybe the woman in front of you was tired too and needed to recline. Next time someone reclines, instead of dropping four-letter bombs, just drop your own seat back -- you'll find that most people can handle it.

Besides if you are so on edge that a reclining seat throws you into a rage -- you shouldn't be on a plane, you should be on a no-fly list.

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