I live in fear of my laptop getting crunched on an airplane. How many times have I been working away when the person in front of me suddenly reclines, threatening to trap the top edge of my laptop and break my screen? I thought my 11″ MacBook Air would save me, but even its super-short screen had a near miss a few weeks ago.

I can think of three ways to change this pervasive problem:

  1. Redesign the spatial relationship between airplane seats, video screens and tray tables…without changing the inches of legroom between seats. (I’m guessing that legroom is not something we’re going to win on.) I’ll throw the design question to my pals at Emily Carr to see if anyone has an inspiration.
  2. Get airlines to build it into their briefing videos. “Before reclining your seat, please warn the person behind you.”
  3. Model the behaviour: From now on, when I’m traveling, I’m going to turn around and let the person behind me know that I’m about to recline my seat — even if they’re not using a laptop. Why would I warn a non-laptop user? Because these are the very folks who need to be habituated to the idea that the person behind them might need forewarning. My warning will include both words and a gesture (hand tipping back) in case there’s a language barrier.

Since (c) is the only ready available option, that’s where I’m going to start. I would love to see other geeks embrace the practice of warning their fellow travellers, too, because it will only work if it scales. But if thousands (better yet, hundreds of thousands) of business travellers get in the habit of signalling that they’re about to recline their seats, maybe this will catch on and become a new norm of air travel.