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Airline passengers should ask before they recline, Delta CEO says after seat-punching video

The Delta chief's comments come after a viral video of an American Airlines passenger repeatedly punching the seat of a woman in front of him after she reclined.
Ed Bastian
Ed Bastian, chief executive officer of Delta Air Lines Inc., speaks at CES 2020 in Las Vegas.Bridget Bennett / Bloomberg via Getty Images

The CEO of Delta Air Lines, Ed Bastian, weighed in Friday on the debate sparked by a viral video of a passenger on another airline repeatedly punching the seat of a woman in front of him after she reclined it.

Bastian said passengers "have the right to recline," but that they should ask the person behind them before they do so, particularly if the passenger behind them is tall.

"I think the proper thing to do is, if you're going to recline into somebody, that you ask if it's OK first and then you do it," he said on CNBC's "Squawk Box" after being asked about reclining etiquette.

Bastian's comments come after an American Airlines passenger took a video of a man punching the back of her seat when she decided to to recline. The footage went viral and sparked debate over whether to recline your seat in the tight quarters of economy class.

The passenger, Wendi Williams, posted her video on Twitter, which showed the man behind her on a flight from New Orleans to Charlotte, North Carolina, repeatedly punching her seat after she decided to lean it back.

"Here’s a great jackhole! He was angry that I reclined my seat and punched it about 9 times — HARD, at which point I began videoing him, and he resigned to this behavior," Williams tweeted Feb. 8 with the video.

"The other jackhole is the @AmericanAir flight attendant who reprimanded me and offered him rum!" Williams added, later noting that the airline reached out and asked for her to send a direct message to the company.

"You clearly want me to do this quietly through a DM," she said. "I’m done being quiet! I’ve had extensive neck surgeries - my cervical spine is completely fused ... I’ve lost time at work, had to visit a doctor, got x-rays, and have (had) horrible headaches for a week," Williams wrote on Twitter.

In a statement obtained by NBC News this week, American Airlines said a team was "looking into the issue.”

Bastian said Friday that Delta is trying out a reduction in the degree to which seats can recline.

"We've been testing reduced recline and seeing a response on that," Bastian said. "We actually have a fair amount of our fleet on reduced recline as a result of that."

As for the Delta CEO, who is tall himself and often travels in coach, he said he avoids reclining altogether.

"I think if someone knows there's a tall person behind them and they want to recline in their seat I think the polite thing would be to make certain it was OK," Bastian said. "I never recline because I don't think it's something, since I'm the CEO of the airline, that I should be reclining my seat, and I never say anything if someone reclines into me."