ATLANTA — Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian added a bit of fuel to the great seat recline debate that has fired up Twitter.
Appearing on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” Friday morning to announce Delta’s plans to go carbon neutral, Bastian was pressed to comment on “recline gate,” a viral story about an American Airlines passenger who reclined her seat to have the man sitting behind her punch her seatback in retaliation.
With a little over a minute to go in the 13-plus minute interview, Bastian was taken off message. He tried to steer clear of the issue, trumpeting Delta’s superior seat pitch, more seats, more space and so on.
When pressed about what the etiquette is, Bastian replied, “I think customers have the right to recline. We’ve been testing reduced recline … But I think that the proper thing to do is if you’re going to recline into somebody, that you ask if it’s OK first,” then adding, “I never say anything myself, though.”
After being pressed again about whether he thinks the etiquette is to ask the person behind if you can recline, Bastian replied, “If someone knows there’s a tall person behind them, and they want to recline their seat, I think the polite thing is to do is make certain it was OK. I never recline, because I don’t think since I’m the CEO of the airline, I should be reclining my seat. And I never say anything if someone reclines into me.”
Last year, Delta retrofitted its Airbus A320 jets to reduce the recline of the coach seats from 4 inches to 2 inches and the recline of first class seats from 5.5 inches to 3.5 inches. The move was made in an effort to protect customers’ personal space and to minimize “disruptions to multitasking in-flight,” an airline spokeswoman said at the time.
TMZ shared the Bastian segment on Twitter, with many heated responses, including one from filmmaker Judd Apatow, who tweeted, “Hey @Delta— no! You want to create a situation where we all have to negotiate and fight with each other? Are you mad? We pay to recline. How about massive discounts when the people behind us say no?”
Bastian was on the CNBC program to tout that “starting March 1st, Delta Air Lines will become the first airline to go fully carbon neutral on a global basis.”
He also discussed his company’s Valentine’s Day tradition of profit sharing, to the tune of $1.6 billion, and Delta’s decision-making around coronavirus.