Frequent fliers may have witnessed it in person. We’ve all at least seen the shaky phone video footage online. You know the scene: Enraged passengers in the narrow aisle of an airliner hashing things out with obscenities, sometimes even violence.

Who knows what started the skirmish. And that’s the point. People are so on-edge during packed flights that it doesn’t take much for a confrontation to break out within the passenger ranks. Could suddenly shifting a seat back send a fellow flier into a rage?

Delta's Gamble

Credit: Angel DiBilio/Shutterstock

At least one U.S. carrier, Delta Airlines, is figuring that scenario into its plans to reduce the distance a seat can tilt back. It’s a step British Airways and a handful of budget air fleets have already taken.

Delta is underway with its effort to quell passenger flare ups by limiting lounging, having seat that don't recline as far as many passengers are accustomed to.

Coach passengers on Delta’s Airbus A320s will have a mere two inches to recline, a reduction of two inches from the four allowed before the change. First-class passengers will also feel the squeeze, going from a luxurious five-and-a-half inches of relaxation to a measly three-and-a-half.

However, less than 10 percent of the airline’s fleet will be affected, just 62 planes. Only planes that fly shorter routes will have seat adjustments curtailed. Delta’s international flights have fully adjustable seats, with no plans for that to change in the near future.

Industry Issue

Credit: Aureliy/Shutterstock

The seat-back issue isn’t limited to Delta. Spirit Air, easyJet and Ryanair are among budget operators that have already dealt with the seat-slant problem by disabling the reclining function completely. And British Airways last year announced that seats on 35 of its new Airbus A320 and A321 airliners would remain stationary when they go into service, all in an effort to aid passenger comfort and avoid air combat. (A guide to seat-pitch angle for various air carriers can be found at Airlinequality.com.)

In the case of Delta, it’s not, as one might imagine, about squeezing in more seats. The Points Guy quoted Delta’s Director of Onboard Product and Customer Experience, Ekrem Dimbiloglu, who stated that Delta is not adding “a single seat” to the new A320 configuration.

By law, emergency exit-row seats can’t tilt. Neither can seats that abut bulkheads or the back of the plane. Limiting or completely eliminating the recline feature in other rows doesn’t make space for additional seats. Reducing recline simply saves on maintenance for the airline and preserves the miniscule amount of leg and face room passengers have. By reducing recline and actually preserving the little bit of precious personal space into which passengers are currently crammed, airlines hope to avert screaming matches over back-of-the-seat bumping.

Balancing Comfort and Conviviality

Credit: Have a nice day Photo/Shutterstock

Does that require airlines to simply take away seat-reclining privileges, making an already less-than-comfortable flying experience even less luxurious? It comes down to two mindsets: passengers who believe reclining is a right, and those that resent seatbacks suddenly slanting into their space.

Delta and other airlines, by opting to remove or reduce the reclining function, are not-so-subtly siding with the non-reclining crowd. By doing so, they are also betting everyone else will eventually get over it and get used to sitting upright, at least on short to mid-range flights — for now.

In announcing the use of stationary seats on its new Airbus models, for example, British Airways officials said the move came in an effort “to ensure everyone in the cabin enjoys a comfortable journey."

Of course, the issue isn’t a new one. In a 2007 TripAdvisor online travel forum, one user posted that she was unaware of fellow passengers’ displeasure with her reclining ways. The reclining function was there, she wrote, for a reason. The forum banter went back and forth on the issue, even 12-odd years ago.

It remains to be seen what will happen on long, international routes where passengers traditionally recline and snooze much of the flight. On shorter trips, though, if the current trend continues, there may not be anything to argue about for much longer. This seems like a fair trade-off in trying to return some essence of sanity to the often-frustrating flying experience — though you may disagree.