In the latest round of First World Problems that receive way too much attention from the chattering classes, there’s the debate over the knee defender device and reclining in seats on airplanes. Naturally, given my penchant for devouring an amount of media and social media well above the average, I’ve seen people I know weigh in on the topic on both sides.
My colleague Mark Hemingway even was called out in the New York Times for his view that recliners are monsters. (To be fair, I, while tall, am not as tall as Mark is. And we all know where most tall people stand in this debate.)
I almost exclusively fly Southwest Airlines for obvious reasons — it’s the best airline in the world and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong. Southwest is not nearly as guilty as its counterparts, both budget and mega carriers, who charge customers for what used to be randomly-assigned or luck-of-the-draw benefits. Like aisle seats, party row seats (remember those?), emergency exit row seats, and snacks. Some, like Spirit Airlines, charge you more to bring a carry on item, since it increases departure times and reduces time-in-air.
I don’t like flying United, not because I don’t respect their efficient ways of making profit from things (I do), but because I just enjoy Southwest airlines that much more. And their wifi always works for me. And I don’t get charged for wifi that doesn’t work. When flying United alone — my wife is #TeamUnited — I will opt to pay for a bigger seat. Because I am tall and I have what parents describe as “ants in my pants.”
I need room. And, I’m willing to pay to get that room.
Some find this concept abhorrent. (Usually they’re net neutrality proponent types whose sense of neutrality and “fairness” disappears when talking about bike lanes, bus rapid transit lanes, or car pool lanes.)
When it comes to short domestic flights, I’ll admit reclining is annoying. But it’s an annoyance I can deal with. On long-haul flights, pretty much everyone reclines and it’s not a problem.
Barro’s NYT piece opens with a nice discussion of economics, but he loses me at property rights. I don’t think a plane ticket is a guarantee of property rights, since the airline can pretty much move you around without your consent. (And, let’s not forget loud children, people who violate your space, and the “talkers.”) A ticket is sort of a guarantee to get from one place to another, except when it isn’t.
As such, I don’t agree with his contention that you should pay each other directly for reclining or not reclining. Or when he turns it into a war on tall people.
If this is such a problem that has requires a national debate (hint: it isn’t!) I have a solution that both sides will probably hate, which is why I’m inclined to think it’s a good one.
Here it is, in its simplicity: If you don’t care, you get a discount/pay normal price. If you do care, you pay.
— Jim Swift (@bomble) August 27, 2014