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It’s a sign of our air-rage times: three separate planes forced to divert in the space of two weeks when cramped passengers went ballistic over someone reclining their seat. In one episode, two undercover air marshals subdued and handcuffed the irate traveler in question. In another, a woman swore at the reclining passenger in front of her and screamed for the pilot to “put this plane down.”

The dust-ups don’t shock Robert Mann, a former airline executive who now runs an airline-industry analysis company. “August is the highest load-factor month of the year for a North American carrier, and it’s not surprising to me that the highest frequency of incidents between passengers occur in that month,” he says. “It’s like rats in a maze. At a certain point they start eating each other.”

But these weren’t random outbursts. Each had a very specific catalyst: the reclining seat, that guilt-inducing, grumble-generating inflight personal-space prerogative. The incidents have sparked wide debate about whether passengers should opt to recline at all.

“There is a simple solution to save us from our worst selves: Get rid of reclining seats,” opined CNN commentator Maria Cardona. A poll of 1,000 passengers on the travel search engine Skyscanner found that 91 percent of them would support eliminating reclining seats on short-haul flights altogether. Over on air-travel forum, many commenters echoed this sentiment: “The recliner [in last week’s incident] was 100% wrong. I really hope this will be the end of reclining seats.”

At this moment, none of the big U.S. legacy carriers—American, United or Delta—have any public plans to install non-reclining seats. But, says Mann, “If the airlines collapse the pitch much more”—pitch being the industry term for legroom—“then [eliminating reclining seats] is going to have to become a consideration.”

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