Delta Airlines CEO Weighs in on Reclining Seat Debate, Says 'Proper Thing to Do' Is to Ask First

"If someone knows there's a tall person behind them and they want to recline their seat, I think the polite thing would be to make certain it was okay," Ed Bastian said

Ed Bastian
Photo: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty

A top airline executive is weighing in on the viral debate surrounding reclining seats in airplanes — and sharing the proper etiquette for those who wish to do so.

Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastian gave his thoughts on whether a passenger should or shouldn’t recline during a flight when asked on CNBC this week.

“The proper thing to do is, if you’re going to recline into somebody, you ask if it’s OK first,” Bastian told CNBC’s Squawk Box Friday.

And while Bastian said that he personally doesn’t recline his seat on flights, that doesn’t mean that customers shouldn’t.

“I never recline, because I don’t think it’s something as CEO I should be doing, and I never say anything if someone reclines into me,” he said.

“I think customers have the right to recline,” but he added that the “proper thing to do is if you’re going to recline into somebody that you ask if it’s okay first, and then you do it.”

“If someone knows there’s a tall person behind them and they want to recline their seat, I think the polite thing would be to make certain it was okay,” he further explained.

Bastian’s comments come on the heels of a national debate about reclining seats on flights after a woman’s video went viral of a man repeatedly punching her seat after she reclined her seat.

Passenger Wendi Williams, who was on an American Airlines flight from New Orleans to Charlotte, North Carolina, shared a 44-second clip on Twitter that shows a man striking her reclined seat over and over again with his fist.

“After much consideration, and exhausting every opportunity for American Airlines to do the right thing, I’ve decided to share my assault, from the passenger behind me, and the further threats, from an American Airline flight attendant,” Williams said in a tweet. “She offered him a complimentary cocktail!”

American Airlines
American Airlines plane. Scott Olson/Getty

Williams said that she put her seat in the upright position while the man behind her ate, but returned it to a reclining position afterward, which is when she said he punched her seat “hard” nine times, prompting her to begin filming.

The January 31 flight was operated by American Airlines’ subsidiary American Eagle.

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

Bastian said on CNBC Friday that Delta is trying to make the seats on their planes roomy, and that the company does “not see that issue” that was shown in Williams’ viral video.

“We haven’t reduced our pitch in our aircraft in years,” he said, referring to the space between seats. “In fact, we’ve been going the other way. We’ve been adding a lot more pitch and a lot more seats with more space on our aircraft… We ask all of our customers to do their very best to show respect to their fellow customers, and we want all our customers to have a great time when they’re here with us at Delta. We generally do not see that issue on Delta.”

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