To Recline Or Not

When I opened up the paper this morning I was struck by a question some people think is far more important than Russia or the Middle East. It’s a question occupying a lot of minds across the world. Apparently. I am sure you are busting to know what it is. Ok. Here it is: Should airline passengers travelling in cattle class be allowed to recline their seat?

This is a serious question. And it got pretty serious on August 24 during a flight from New Jersey to Denver. An argument over a reclining seat quickly escalated into an emergency diversion to Chicago and two passengers being escorted from the plane by police. In the days that followed, two other flights had to be diverted after violent arguments over the same issue. So no way was this was a one-off.

Here’s what went down. I should point out that this never happens in the pointy end of the plane. Wealth has its privileges. In this case plenty of legroom.

On this particular flight from New Jersey to Denver, one of the passengers has what some people might describe as a pathological obsession with people who exercise their right to recline their seat. I did say their right. Let’s set the record straight. Reclining your seat is not illegal or against airline policy. It’s not yet enshrined in the US constitution but I think you get the idea.

And here’s where everything started going pear-shaped. Once the plane reached cruising altitude this particular passenger who hates seat recliners undid his tray table, unpacked his laptop and then installed a device called a knee defender that physically prevents the passenger sitting in front of him, a woman, from reclining her seat.

Like I said airline passengers who recline their seats is this guy’s pet hate. The knee defender, by the way, was a Christmas present from his wife. Many airlines prohibit the use of the knee defender but the device itself is not illegal. And in its quaintly American way the knee defender comes with a courtesy card that tells the passenger trying to recline their seat that they have been blocked. Now this particular passenger has used this device many times but never gives out the courtesy card for two reasons. He doesn’t want a confrontation and secondly he uses what he thought was a foolproof solution. He installs the knee defender immediately after boarding the plane. The passenger in front tries reclining their seat a few times but gives up believing their seat is broken. It’s worked well in the past but, unfortunately for him, not on this occasion. What he didn’t count on was the woman sitting in front of him verbally complaining to the flight attendants that her seat appeared to be broken. Realizing the game was up the owner of the knee defender fessed up. The flight attendant asked him to remove it, which he did. That should have been the end of the story but it wasn’t.

The passenger in front of him clearly riled by what happened blasted the seat back sending his laptop flying no pun intended. That was a red rag to a bull. It was the turn of the passenger with the knee defender to complain to the flight attendants. But he was told the woman in front had every right to recline her seat and he would just have to accept it. I think it would be safe to say he didn’t take their advice very well. He pushed the woman’s seat forward and reinstalled the knee defender. Her response was to stand up in her seat and throw a cup of soda over him. A flight attendant stepped in and quickly moved the woman to another part of the aircraft before it got really ugly. In the meantime, news of this skirmish found its way to the cockpit and the Captain in the interests of public safety decided to make an emergency diversion to Chicago where police were waiting to escort both parties off the plane. Neither party is facing criminal or civil charges.

Apparently the inventor of the knee defender later waded into the debate accusing the airlines of wanting to wish the problem away. His solution is for airlines to redesign passengers seats so that they recline into a shell away from the passenger sitting behind or better still allow his device to be used. Of course he would say that.

The passenger who got kicked off this particular flight for using the knee defender flies more than 75,000 miles or 120 thousand kilometers a year so that might explain why he is a little sensitive over the issue of reclining seats. He later told reporters that he personally never reclines his seat. And while acknowledging the rights of the woman sitting in front of him to recline her seat he said it was just plain rude. He also said he was ashamed and embarrassed by what happened and admitted he could have handled it better. Really.

Now here’s my solution apart from banging some heads together. If you want to recline your seat, better still if you hate someone reclining their seat in front of you don’t complain. Put your money where your mouth is and cough up for business class. You’ll be doing everyone a favor.

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