An Open Letter to WestJet

I sent this letter to WestJet customer service a couple of days ago. Evidently, they’re still pouring over it. Feel what you wish, but my take is that there is a prevalent, albeit not necessarily the most serious, lack of passenger etiquette when it comes to putting one’s seat back: especially for those in the front rows.

For those of you that don’t know of, or fly, WestJet Airlines, Canada’s second largest carrier, they do not have a first class or a business class section, therefore anyone can technically sit in the front row and anywhere there on back. The front row, however, is restricted from booking in advance because it is generally held in case someone in need of physical assistance or of limited maneuverability or sheer size (usually height) would benefit from a little extra space.

Dear WestJet,

I frequently fly your airline. In fact, I enjoy the consistent customer service, lack of delays, and quality of both your staff and planes. I find value in your prices, though I always source seat sales (mostly so I can book additional flights), and I enjoy the variety of destinations you serve, as well as the number of flights to these destinations. I fly with you probably 6 to 8 round trips a year, if not more. You’ve got the computer, you check it out. This year, I’ve already flown to Hawaii, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, and New York on WestJet.

But I have a beef. I am sorry, I know it is something that is prevalent throughout the industry, but yours is the airline I choose, and you apparently care [“WestJet Cares” is their motto].

I am sick and tired of courteously following your suggestions whereby I check in the day before (I am anal-retentive to a ‘t’ and almost always web-check-in right on 24 hrs before my flight), select my seats as far forward as possible (routinely row 2 or 3), arrive early and board the plane only to have the person in the front row, the person with the greatest volume of personal space and the greatest amount of leg room, inevitably put their seat back. This behavior is disgraceful, and dammit if I’m not tempted to speak to them each and every time. Clearly this is a confrontation you would like to avoid.

I understand that everyone is provided the opportunity to put their seat back, but I know there are courteous people out there, myself included, who won’t put their seat back at all during a flight. However, if the person in front of me puts theirs back (and it’s never someone tall either), I feel like I must, because, for among other reasons, I can’t view my little TV from so high above. Neither am I comfortable. In fact, it’s almost claustrophobic.

My appeal to you is that you please consider this a valid problem, and that you consider passenger etiquette as an item for improvement and development. Frankly it drives me crazy, because there isn’t a precedent for reclining in the front row, and it is nothing short of selfish. I travel often enough, on some of your longest routes, and it just plain sucks that someone who adheres to your standards and plays by your rules gets so royally screwed by the passenger that weasels his way into the front row. And I am aware of the game that I need to play if I want into the front row, and believe me, I will start playing it.

My suggestion would be to prevent the front row seats from reclining, or perhaps restrict them so that they only go half way.

For my fellow passengers out there, please don’t recline your seats, simply as a matter of courtesy. If you must, perhaps because you’re 6’4″, or your have a bad back, or the person in front of you has reclined, at least check with the person behind you first. Be polite.

Best regards,


About the author cdub

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  1. I would have never thought this to be a problem, but I am not usually in need of extra space, so I lack that perspective. Do their chairs recline an extra amount, or is it like this for you on all airlines?


  2. It’s like this on all airlines. Some have more space than others, but I think all economy seats recline to the same degree. I’m picking on WestJet, because for all matters of service, value and consistency they are always reliable. In fact, I’ve had significant problems with the ‘other’ national airline (losing my bags for 3 months, 5 hour delays on a 1.5 hour flight, that sort of thing) so WestJet is sort of my default.

    Is it a problem? Well, to some no, to me yes. It just drives me crazy. It’s not a desire for extra space, rather the opposite. I’m sure you can relate as to how little you end up with when the person in front puts their seat back. And when that person is sitting in the front row and is already enjoying greater space than the rest of the passengers, well, to me that’s just downright rude, because it makes me have to put mine back for comfort, which inconveniences the person behind me.

    To me I guess it’s nothing more than an inconsiderate invasion of space, and when it’s done to add space and comfort for the person ahead of me, at the expense of mine, it bothers me. The space provided by airline seats is sufficient when the seats are up, but they do seem to recline quite a bit, which eats into my space, to the degree that I can’t access my seat pocket magazines without difficulty, and I can’t watch the little TV without putting my seat back.

    I would relate it to, I don’t know.. Imagine having coffee with friends, and someone is sharing a couch with you. Imagine if that person wants to put his or her feet up, taking up much of the couch, and you feel that to be comfortable, you need to shove up against the arm. Or if you’re sharing a car’s back seats and one or two of your friends feel like spreading their knees, and therefore you have to crunch yours together… That kind of thing. Just bugs me when people do that, especially for 4 or 5 hours at a time.


  3. No disrepect, but you’re kidding, right?

    The seats are MEANT to recline for the comfort of EVERYONE. There’s little enough space as it is, I can’t imagine taking away the one bit of relief available. Granted, everyone should be in the upright position during meals, for the comfort of the person sitting behind them. But otherwise, I never begrudge the person in front of me reclining their seat. Really, if it bothers you that much, you should upgrade to Business or First Class.


  4. Karen,

    I think you’re misconstruing my argument. I am appealing on behalf of “EVERYONE.” I am asking for leniency on the front row exclusively. The second row through row 29, go nuts. The front row already has tons of room, so no need to put the seat back there, in my opinion.

    Should I wish to fly BC or FC, I will, but the appeal of WestJet is that everyone is equal, which further strengthens my complaint.

    Thank you for your comment.


  5. So should I relieve the stress on my back or my broken leg by resting my chest on my knees?

    Maybe you could stretch out better in the overhead compartment.


  6. Easy there, Tiger. You make it apparent that you’ve never sat in the front row on a WestJet airplane. Broken leg? Tons of space! But try sitting in row 2 with a broken leg… Then have your volume of personal space halved when the person ahead of you puts their seat back.

    BTW I did allude to circumstances where such needs may arise. Re-read the second paragraph.

    Look, I’m not saying that all seats shouldn’t go back, just the first row, as one solution to the lack of passenger etiquette on airplanes. While the advent of leather and adjustable headrests are great comfort innovations WestJet has adopted, the seats aren’t designed with an enormous amount of comfort to begin with. They’re meant to cram as many fare-paying passengers in each plane as possible.

    What I am trying to get at, is that by you putting your seat back, you infringe on my space at my expense. Doesn’t seem fair. That’s as though if my reading light lit up the seats around me and made it hard for people to sleep on a red-eye. Shouldn’t we be considerate of others?

    Case in point: a flight from Toronto to Calgary two weeks ago – I get an aisle seat in row 3. The young (and highly mobile) woman (as determined by her dexterity in putting a big and heavy carry-on in the overhead), probably measuring 5’5″, throws her seat back the moment the wheels leave the ground. Subsequently, I can’t put my tray down because my knees are in the way, and I can’t see my TV because they don’t swivel that high. This time I politely asked her to compromise and put it back half way. She accepted. What’s wrong with a little neighborly consideration before hand?

    I appreciate your comments, and by virtue of stimulating conversation I am acknowledging them, but please try to offer something in them. Leave the inflammation for other sites, please.


  7. To cap it off, let me try to paraphrase my argument:

    I don’t want more space that I deserve (as the business class comment suggests). I want what I pay for, which is the same space that everyone else has – except for the person in the front row who puts their seat back.


  8. I have been trying to get some one at the Westjet office to answere my phone call for FOUR DAYS, I would like to TALK to some one at Westjet, how do I do this with all the 1-800, numbers on 60-120, min; hold is there another number available that I can even PAY, to get into a Westjet customer SERVICE my times on the telophones are limited, so I am not able to sit on the phone open line for over an hour each time. PLEASE reply to this email A S A P, as I am running out of time. Regards , C.A. Lenney


  9. Please reply to my email. C A lenney


    1. Hoping you don’t think I work for WestJet. I have no idea how you can get in touch with them, beyond the methods you’ve already tried. But your story is truly alarming. Good luck.


  10. While I appreciate the gist of your argument, in practice I wonder how they can implement a restriction of reclining fairly. Let’s say they do restrict recling on the first row as you suggest, now the unfair advantage has been propagated to the second row as they can’t be reclined into but yet they can reclined into the next row, so if you are seated in the third row, you might feel cheated of your space again. So clearly the only way they can ensure fairness across the board is by restricting recling across all seats, doubt that they will do it without invoking great resentment. I do agree however that not enough people pay attention to basic flying curtesy, but then I have the same beef with people riding on the bus, not giving up seats for elderly and children. Sad of the lack of common curtesy…


  11. what do import and export other then people and what other companies do you work with and trade with. please give me a lot of detail


    1. I don’t quite understand the entirety of your comment, but I agree with the last part – I should disclose that I have no connection whatsoever to the airline industry; rather I am a fairly frequent traveler, spending on average 1 week per month abroad, taking, I would estimate, about 10-15 round-trip flights per year.


  12. cdub,
    Just found this post while getting ready to book a WestJet flight and staring in disbelief at the seat map! So it sounds like you can get into the second or third row pretty reliably if you nail the 24 hour check-in, is that true? What exactly does it take to get into the first row? A doctors note at the airport or something along those lines? Do they ever confirm front row ahead of time with a doctors note?


    1. Hi Mike,

      Well, about what, 2 years ago, WestJet began offering the opportunity to purchase seat selection for an extra $10 or so. Once that took effect my impression is they offered up row 2 and beyond for purchase, saving row 1 for disabled or reduced mobility passengers. Of course if you choose not to pay for your seat selection (as I never do), I am convinced those seats are not always booked up despite what it looks like online during online check-in, so ask about availability when you drop your bags off (but make sure you do it before they print off your luggage tags!). As for row 1, it has never been offered for advanced check-in. But hey it never hurts to ask at the check-in counter, even if you’ve already booked your seat. Often times there aren’t any reduced-mobility passengers on flights and those seats are ready to be filled with nice people who think of those behind them and don’t readily put their seats back, like you and me. As mentioned, row 1 is always held in case a passenger with reduced mobility requires far forward seating.


  13. I completely agree with you. I’ve been in a situation where it’s not someone with disability or height — a couple of teenagers and their father, actually — and they fully reclined onto (practically on the lap of) my very tall husband. It’s the rude behaviour of the individual, but I do think Westjet should do something to mitigate it. Thanks for writing your letter.


  14. I tend to go along with pretty much everything that was in fact posted in
    “An Open Letter to WestJet | c d u b . c a”.
    I am grateful for all of the tips.Thanks for your effort,Elden


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