Step 2 is the hard part.

Matt Ginzton writes here.

Travel Mysteries: Ok to Lean Your Airline Seat Back?

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I’ve been learning that the issues surrounding when you’re allowed and expected to recline your airline seat are a lot more complex than I’d previously realized.

First lesson was last May on a flight from Hanoi to Seoul, on Asiana (a South Korean airline). This was a 4 hour redeye leaving at 11:20pm and arriving at 5:20am after a 2 hour time difference — so in Hanoi time it was from 11:20am to 3:20am and in Seoul time it was from 1:20am to 5:20am — pretty well the middle of the night by any definition.

As soon as we reached cruising altitude I reclined my seat and tried to sleep„ only to be awakened about 15 minutes later by a flight attendant asking me to sit upright so she could serve the meal. Now, first of all, I wasn’t expecting a meal on this middle-of-the-night flight and this seemed like a weird time to eat. Second of all, on flights in the US some people sleep and others eat and there’s no assumption that by reclining your seat you’re intruding on the space behind you. Third, this less-than-4-hour period was the closest thing I had to a bed that night, so I wanted to sleep; finally I’d just been woken in the middle of the night and was cloudy-brained and peevish. I said no thanks and tried to go back to the sleep, but the flight attendant was insistent: “now is the time for eating.” “OK,” I replied clumsily, “but when is the time for sleeping?” After going back and forth on this a few times, the fight attendant said “well, if you don’t want to sit upright, that’s ok” in a voice clearly implying it wasn’t ok, then returned to the passengers behind me and said something in Korean which I’m sure was an apology for foreigners who don’t know how to act. I sat there in a Walter Sobchak frame of mind (“I’m staying here, I’m finishing my coffee”) for about 5 minutes, but confused and feeling like a jerk and outnumbered about 300 to 1, decided finally to sit up and read since I wasn’t going to sleep anyway.

Now, maybe everyone else on the flight lived in or near Seoul and was going to go home and sleep and didn’t care about sleeping on the flight; I didn’t have that option in my future — just a 12 hour layover that was going to be unpleasant without sleep. But whatever. I chalked this up to strange local customs I didn’t understand, and went on with life, until…

Then this week we flew from Salta (northwest Argentina) to Buenos Aires on a flight leaving at 6:30am, also a time where I’d rather sleep than eat airline food. Again, I reclined my seat as soon as allowed and went to sleep. This time the flight attendant didn’t wake me, and I was asleep so I didn’t notice, but Vanessa said the passengers behind us were complaining and getting what looked like apologetic shrugs about clueless foreigners from the flight attendant.

So — anyone else have experiences like this or know what the various customs and expectations are around the world?