As reclining-airline-seat rage sweeps the nation, it is time for some real talk. Sure, it's fun to fantasize about smashing those rude seat-reclining travelers who smash our knees. But the actual villain in all this is clear: the airline industry itself.

In economy class, no one has very much room. Everyone feels squeezed. Some people respond to this by reclining their seats, to get more space for themselves. Others feel even more squeezed when those in front of them recline, and get upset. The recliners and non-recliners fight amongst themselves. Meanwhile, the airline companies smile and pocket their record profits.

Why are reclining airplane seats such a touchy subject? Because space on airlines is already too tight. And why is space too tight? Because the airline industry has, for the past several years, been quite deliberately squeezing more seats into the same amount of space. The airlines know that smaller seats not only increase their profits by giving them more seats to sell on each flight, but for another reason as well: "Pressure in economy cabins also lets airlines upsell coach passengers." In other words, airlines are purposely increasing the misery level of coach passengers in order to entice them to spend more money on larger (human-sized) seats.

So we have airlines making very healthy profits by not only nickel-and-diming passengers with fees for the most modest conveniences, but also by making the majority of seats small enough to be uncomfortable to the average passenger. It is little wonder that passengers, wracked with claustrophobia, become possessed with air rage. Here is a simple solution: pass a law requiring a minimum amount of space for all airline seats. (In the past three decades, the standard seat width has shrunk from 18 inches or more to 17 inches or less.) The space need not be luxurious. It just needs to be adequate for human beings to occupy for a number of hours without going insane. If there were slightly more space, reclining the seats would not be a big deal.

What we need, in other words, is a bit of class consciousness among airline passengers. Your fellow passengers, annoying though they may be, are not the root of the problem. The root of the problem is the close quarters. The root of the problem is the airlines. We should stop fighting one another and start fighting the motherfucking airlines. Do not be a dupe for corporate profiteers. Unite!

Some free market warriors may object that such regulations will force airlines to sell fewer tickets, thereby raising ticket prices. So be it. You could say the same thing about all regulations. That does not mean regulations are a bad idea. Mandatory seat belts and air bags raise car prices. Laws against child labor raise labor prices. Yet we accept these things happily, because we believe in human rights. Likewise, we believe in the right of air travelers to not be miserable as a general rule. The fact that airlines are making record profits is a sign that they are more than able to absorb some necessary costs, like retrofitting planes to be fit for human occupation.

We would even be willing to phase in these regulations slowly, to allow for broader investment in nationwide mass transit to mitigate the impact of higher plane ticket prices. As long as we knew that relief was on the way, our fellow asshole passengers would be easier to tolerate.

Place every member of Congress in the economy section of an airplane and fly them in a holding pattern over Laguardia. I bet you'd be surprised how fast they would come around on this issue.

[Photo: AP]