HOW TO – Prevent airplane seats from reclining (updated)

Evan from F.A.T. figured out this air travel hack: put a big zip tie between to traytable supports to prevent seats from reclining. And to the poor dude sitting in front of Evan, don’t take it personally, it’s to fight unjust legroom cutbacks. I wonder if the two poeple sitting there next to each other could defy this trick by reclining together!

[Editor’s note: This appears like a DIY version of the “Knee defender” – But, this isn’t nice or very Maker-ly, I’m not going to remove the post since there is now a healthy discussion about it along with my apology, sorry folks – pt]

42 thoughts on “HOW TO – Prevent airplane seats from reclining (updated)

  1. jason says:

    so instead of punishing the airline that put the seats so close to one another this guy punishes a fellow passenger who’s just trying to be comfortable? this guy sounds like a selfish douche and i’m surprised you’d put this “hack” on your site.

  2. TheH@ says:

    I wonder if after Evan stops the Motherfu#%s from reclining if he then ever plays the Motherfu#% himself and reclines his own seat? That way he could screw-over two people at the same time.

    If I noticed this or one of the commercially available products that do the same thing on my seat and the passenger behind me declined to remove it when I politely asked, I would certainly be afraid that, at the first sign of turbulence, my ice cold beverage might fly out of my hand and over the back of my seat.

  3. Shoeless Joe says:

    Counter-hack! If you notice the passenger behind you has done this to your seat, no need to throw a drink. Just politely inform your flight attendant, who can not only correct the problem, but can have the idiot who prevented you from being able to fully use your seat arrested upon landing. Welcome to the No-Fly List, Evan, you motherfu#%.

  4. jasony says:

    Actually, I’m surprised that Make would put it on since it is of questionable legality. It seems like “tampering with an aircraft” might not be on the FAA’s list of approved behaviors. I agree that stopping someone from reclining (which is a sort of douchie thing to do) isn’t really a safety issue, but the FAA might see things differently.

    Care to take that risk, Make?

  5. Master of the obvious says:

    So many problems:

    1. You could never get that giant zip tie onto a plane, and furthermore you’d probably be tackled in security when they found it.
    2. *loud zipping noise*
    3. When dude tries to recline his chair its gonna pull on his neighbor and their gonna figure it out.
    4. They’ll both recline at the same time when they realize your an ass.

  6. says:

    how incredibly rude. Most things on Make seem to be about making the world better or whatever, but this is just a selfish trick. Hope we don’t start seeing “how to slash someone’s tires” or “how to yell ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater” on Make too.

  7. meh says:

    Some observations:

    This is a pretty rude thing to do. If you want more legroom, pay for it. Don’t take it out on someone that is probably just as uncomfortable as you are.

    No problems getting a huge plastic zip tie through security, just hope they don’t find it and ask you WHY you have it. Repeatedly. While you miss your flight.

    MAKE loves posts that get lots of comments, because most of their posts don’t get any at all. Comments == emotional involvement by their readers. Get enough people pissed off enough to comment, or even click over to your site… Well it can’t hurt your ad revenues.

  8. PeterP says:

    This is just a stupid thing to do. If it’s that important to you, pay for business class. It’s like the TV-B-Gone – selfish, passive aggressive, and ultimately ineffective at achieving your goals. If your so terrified of your fellow man that you can’t politely ask them not to recline, I feel sorry for you.

  9. Mcheese says:

    As commented before, this whole line of posts don’t seem to fit with this blog. Culture Jamming is not making anything worthwhile. It’s just some jerks with nothing better to do and no respect for others.

  10. swild says:

    this stupid trick end up on the Make: blog?

  11. The 'Moticon says:

    You can’t fly with zipties and/or duct tape on your person anyways since 9/11 in the USA since they can be used to restrain people. If the TSA catches you with it they’ll most likely take them away.

  12. John Daniels says:

    Last time I flew I didn’t need any ‘hacks’ to stop the guy in front from being able to recline – my knees did the job just fine.

    Not that I was being a ‘Motherfu#%’ – I just had the misfortune to fly in economy while in possession of legs.

  13. Aud1073cH says:

    I see from the video, this doesn’t completely prevent the seat ahead from reclining, but only limiting, and the seats don’t recline very far anyway.

    I make sure to get an aisle seat because, although I can technically fit, my knees rubbing the back of the seat in front of me for 3-5 hours is uncomfortable.

    When the fasten seat belt sign is illuminated, and the beverage cart isn’t bringing refreshments, I can get a little comfort by simply swinging my legs into the aisle. Although the armrests along the aisle are locked, to prevent this behavior, the little latch hidden underneath near the elbow is easy to release, and the armrest can be raised just like the others. “I’m sorry stewardess, my knees are chafing. – Oh, my mistake steward.”

  14. AirRage says:

    If I saw some douche behind me do this I’d make sure to spill my drink on them as I got up to go to the lav…what are they going to say, “He did that on purpose because I placed a ziptie on his seatback”.

    Make, you should remove this entire post as it really doesn’t fit with the site or is this the new direction of the site…how to make life more miserable with home made gadgets.

    Dumbass I hope you get your ass beat soon.

  15. Eric M says:

    This is tampering with an aircraft, and you can be arrested for it. At the very least a flight attendant will tell you to remove it, and they can arrest you if you don’t. The flight attendants are specifically trained to look for these types of things, because if the person in the chair ahead of you pushes back too hard, it will break the chair/tray.

  16. justDIY says:

    What’s next Mr. Torrone, how to steal cable?

  17. And so it starts says:

    won’t take long for it to sink into obscurity if this is the kind of article that Make finds it should post. Well, it was nice while it lasted.

    So long, perhaps I’ll see if this site still exists next year or so.

  18. Dissident says:

    Of course the legality is in question.

    I gotta say though that it is a dick move to try this. As a frequent traveler I approve of the motivation.

    After having many flights where the person in front of me, even though they have been asked politely no to, feels the need to recline into my lap. LEaving me with no place for my drink, no space for my laptop or Zune.

    Personally screw them.

    It’s a matter of time before some aiport kiosk starts selling a simple piece of plastic to do the same thing.

    You guys need to lighten up.

    I personally go into a coughin fit into their hair if they recline into my lap. It’s uncouth but it gets the job done. Usually.

  19. Anonymous says:

    This is now a federal crime, anyone tampering with an aircraft in any way is subject to arrest, prosecution and/or jail, be prepared to be sitting on a federal detention facility and spend thousands of dollar in legal fees, not to mention that if you do this your name will be on the no fly list for a long, long time.

  20. Anonymous says:

    I am most disappointed with MAKE. While I once valued MAKE as a source of new ideas and interesting projects, it has devolved to junior high-level art “projects”
    and self-promoting hippie-fests. Any original or thought-provoking items seem to be re-posts from Hack-a-day (nice way to let someone else do your work, Phil).

    Now we get anti-social posts like the one above, or the TWO posts from the jerk with the pedicab. Perhaps Philip Torrone identifies with these social misfits. If that is the problem, he should grow up. Or maybe O’Reilly should hire an adult as editor.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Totally agree, Make’s just sliding on down the slope. First it was endless articles about some ‘steampunk’ type hot-gluing surplus useless gears to a PC case.

    Now it’s a stream of emasculated ‘me first!’ geek stories. First the endless whining about the homebuilt pedicab, and now some righteous ass tampering with airline seats.

    I fly, regularly, for business, and no, I’m in economy class (self employed). It’s not the airlines, it’s not the TSA, it’s self-important passive-agressive types like you who’d rather zip-tie someone’s seat in place rather than speak up (with a little politeness, thank you) that really make flying hell.

    If this happens to you, people, report it, get the ass on the no-fly list and maybe taking the train, or Greyhound, will teach them a little humility.

  22. HOW TO – Prevent airplane seats from reclining (updated) Becky Stern says:

    @justDIY et al: Phil doesn’t make all the posts on here, and he doesn’t approve all the other author’s posts before they go up. Don’t blame him for our hijinks! =] If anything, now y’all know to watch out for this prank when flying with redheads on board. ;] Personally, I’m so small I can curl up into a little ball in any transport seat and be pretty comfortable, but Aud1073cH’s suggestion for how to hack the aisle armrest into a vertical position seems like it might help in the legroom department.

  23. Jason says:

    You can bet I’ll remember this sort of foolishness when it comes time to renew my subscription. Which, by the way, STILL hasn’t arrived in the mail even though I’ve been able to read it at Barnes and Noble for a week.

  24. Tre says:

    I’d love to see some citations on zip ties not being allowed on planes… I have ALWAYS traveled with a small collection zip ties (some rather large), twine, etc. I use them to lock my bags among other things (keeps honest people honest – but if it’s cut and there’s no TSA limited liability paper inside…) – I travel more frequently than most – and through several major airports (including the very anal Logan airport).

    As far as federal offense yap yap yap… Perhaps. This is in the same category as destroying a single penny in a science experiment. Sure, it’s technically illegal – but it’s not worth spreading a limited resource to recover a single penny (or, in this case, a 20 cent zip tie). I don’t think anyone can argue that locking your seat upright poses a safety threat to passengers in the event of an emergency (locking your seat in a reclined position, absolutely).

    I’m gonna go out and say – Make is not declining… But it’s readership sure is. Some of these comments/arguments – as bad as some of the crap I’ve heard in PTA meetings.

  25. Jack of Most Trades says:

    I ever find this stunt pulled on me, I’m gonna give the geek behind me a lesson in the Modulus of Elasticity of a Nylon tie-wrap. At 6’3″ and 280#, I doubt the cable tie would last long.

    And would playing with the “hidden” latch on the aisle armrest constitute “tampering”? Don’t forget, we’re dealing with the TSA here…

  26. ionymous says:

    What, are you an 8 year old trapped in an adult body?

    Wouldn’t you feel like a totally douche when someone discovers you did this?

    If you wouldn’t be embarrassed, thing of all the other people you embarrass… family… friends. Who would want to be associated with the jackhole that forced an airplane to land because he’s wanted a few more inches of room.

    Actually, I’m not even sure what problem you’re trying to solves. When the chair in front of you is reclined, how much usable space is actually lost? It’s never bothered me.

  27. justDIY says:

    @Becky; Since Phil has been with the magazine and the website for a long time, he’s earned the title of senior editor. As a senior editor, I would think one of his objectives would be to uphold the journalistic integrity of the publication and by extension, the publication’s website. Publishing a sophomoric hack such as this degrades the integrity of the publication and insults me as a reader.

    I don not see how this entry fits at all within the scope of “Technology on your time” – it is better suited for publication on a civil disobedience website or some other such garbage.

  28. Anonymous says:

    While you are comparing the defacing of a single penny with the tampering of an airplane seat it makes absolutely no sense!, have you ever considering an emergency while the seat is tied with the zip? what if the passenger seating on that tampered seat was to suffer a heart attack? and for some reason they could not get him out of the seat because some moron tied them together, one thing is that you travel with small zip ties another is if try to board with those big ones industrial grade, I guess you kind of like the idea from my point of view…

  29. Junkick says:

    It’s okay everyone, it was all a big mix-up! Apparently some people from “Make Cry Babies Magazine” were accidentally redirected to “Make Magazine” (thus the inrush of whiny babies in the comments).

    Sorry for the confusion. Please go back to your padded rooms and sippy cups.

    -President of the Internet

  30. The Oracle says:

    @phil – wow, nothing for me to say here. I guess it only goes to show makers are more in-line with me than with you ;)

  31. peon says:

    If I can’t manage to get one of those extra leg room seats, I end up having to ask the person in front of me not to recline his/her seat, since it would crush my legs. I’ve never had a problem with that.

  32. Phillip Torrone says:

    @The Oracle (and everyone else) — i’m not going to remove this post, but i wouldn’t have posted it. it’s not the type of posts i like to see on MAKE and becky has seen each one of your comments so i suspect there won’t be any more like this.

    this post seems mean to a specific person and there’s not a lot of value in it, artistic, social or anything else – that’s just my opinion.

    no one is perfect, i’m sorry if this post angered some of you – there are tons of posts each day, tens of thousands each year, once and awhile one might cross a line and we get better each time we hear from everyone, so thanks for voicing your comments.

  33. Ron says:

    I fly a lot. I’m 6’4″ tall. I wear a size 50 coat, 38 waist. I don’t get to choose my accommodations, my company does that.

    When we all get seated, I ask the person in front of me to let me know before they recline their seat. I need a little warning to rearrange my appendages. I let them know that my feet may protrude into their seat space. I offer to trade seats if they’d prefer.

    No one has ever refused. Many forgo the option to recline their seats — very kind of them, but I couldn’t ask that.

    I think one time someone forgot to warn me, and got the knees in their back for it. Not by intention, just by geometry.

    Once someone did take me up on my offer to trade. Honestly, most people are very gracious if asked politely. They (maybe) realize that I didn’t get to choose my height any more than they did.

    I never recline my seat: one, it wouldn’t be fair, and two, the stupid thing catches me across the bottom of my shoulder blades. If I reclined it, my head would hang down into the face of the person behind me. Not very comfortable physically or socially.

  34. roper says:

    1st, I have to agree with others that I don’t look on this suggestion favorably, primarily because I like the golden rule. I also have to agree with Ron (and others) that if you simply ask your fellow humans for consideration, they are usually happy to comply.

    However, I have to admit that I simply avoid the whole situation. And before people start talking about how much my solution must cost, the airplane cost less than some new cars, the operating costs are also not that expensive.

    My solution? In 1999, I got a private pilot’s license and purchased a 1975 Piper Cherokee. I have a lot more fun flying myself, it really is not that expensive – if my sweetie is going along, it actually can cost less than airline tickets – and although we are travelling slower (125 mph) – by the time one calculates all the extra time one spends flying via airlines (TSA time, airplane transfers, layovers, picking up luggage), we often get to our destination as quickly as an airline. But, bottom line, it’s just a lot more enjoyable.

    Our next adventure? Building our own airplane.

    Well, that’s my two cents.


  35. samurai1200 says:

    though i agree that this isn’t very makerly (i mean, it’s a single zip-tie, woopdie doo), i think the lot of you are hypocritical, when you KNOW you cut someone off on the road every day without giving it a second thought later. so suck it.

    but yeah, make could do without these sorts of posts. if i didn’t see it had 34 comments, i wouldnt have even stopped to watch.

  36. Another voice Name Email Address Title Comments Another voice says:

    Yes, this is asinine, but people here need to calm down. It’s an idea for achieving a goal, not an endorsement of that goal by MAKE itself. Consider it research for counterintelligence: figure out a way to prevent this. Most of you hit the right one: confront the zip-tier and escallate to crew as necessary.

    The wrong answer is to advocating this guy’s incarceration for an obnoxious behavior. Not only is that an asinine overreaction, that kind of knee-jerk reaction is what leads to the misapplication of regultions and laws meant to protect us all (viz., criminalizing tampering with aircraft) to severly punish people you disagree with (viz., equating this prank — and it is a prank — with unbolting the plane’s landing gear). I can hardly believe that anyone here would even suggest that such an equation has a place in our society much less champion it.

    Finally, let’s not all blindly kow-tow to the TSA Airport Security Gods here: there’s nothing I can find, on the web at large or on the TSA site, that in any way could be construed as prohibiting zip ties, ropes, lines, tapes or even handcuffs in the passenger compartment of an aircraft. I’m sure some combination of the above could be flagged and blocked under the “screener’s judgment” catch-all rule (or perhaps be covered by a rule that remains SSI), but just because something’s useful doesn’t make it banned. Come on guys, follow the rules but don’t “self-censor” what you carry-on beyond what’s explicitly banned. TSA screeners are low-paid actors, not your lords and masters.

    I personally prefer to see clever ideas and projects here, not water-down “family-friendly” safe posts. While this post may not be very useful, nice or sophisticated, it is an idea I hadn’t thought of. Let’s enjoy MAKE for the new things it shows us, not try to censor it to fit our personal tastes.

  37. Slack says:

    Doesn’t this cost you the use of your tray table as well as the person next to you? That doesn’t seem like a very good trade to me.

  38. Ugaprof says:

    There seem to be quite a few people here whose moral compasses have been demagnetized. Especially those who whine about “crybabies” whenever anybody objects to their selfish schemes.

  39. pruk says:

    Last time i got bothered with someone in front of me with reclining their chair, i tapped him on the shoulder and friendly asked him. He understood and put it normal right away. That way he wont find that his seat is tampered with, and knocks you in the head.

  40. FYOUreclyingjerks says:

    This is the best idea I have heard. I travel all the time and usually get behind the douchbag jerk off that puts its seat back making me uncomfortable. Since I am a considerate human being considering the comfort of the person sitting behind me I never put my seat back, and think that those that do are total jerkbags. Thanks for the great tip I will use this from now on. And all the losers that claim they will spill a drink on me go for it and you will have a knee in your back the rest of the flight and be getting kicked and bumped the whole flight. Ha Ha thanks again for the awesome idea… Keep up the good work and post many more of these travel ideas.. Thanks

    1. repoed2 says:

      Flying is usually uncomfortable in one way or another, so I usually don’t mind when someone in front of me reclines-HOWEVER, i will say something to people who recline their seats as far back as possible-lord knows why, but some airlines have seats that recline so far back that all knee space is gone and the tray table is useless-I’ve only encountered one douchebag who was enough of a jerk to do that, but he spilled his food all over himself (a greasy, burning hot chicken-calzone type thing, his ice cold drink, and a salad with ranch)

      I NEVER recline my seat-the guilt is too much for me-lol

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Becky Stern is a Content Creator at Autodesk/Instructables, and part time faculty at New York’s School of Visual Arts Products of Design grad program. Making and sharing are her two biggest passions, and she's created hundreds of free online DIY tutorials and videos, mostly about technology and its intersection with crafts. Find her @bekathwia on YouTube/Twitter/Instagram.

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