In the upright position

On a flight from Newark to Denver

A plane in the US had to be diverted and two passengers removed after one of them started a fight by using a banned device to stop the seat in front reclining.

The spat began on United Airlines flight 1462 because one passenger was using the Knee Defender, a $21.95 lock that attaches to a tray table and jams the reclining mechanism of the seat in front.

The male passenger, seated in a middle seat of row 12, used the device to stop the woman in front of him reclining while he was on his laptop, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Ok can I just say something here?

Those seats should not recline. If the person in front of you reclines the seat you can’t use the tray table at all, and you have the top of that person’s head pretty much in your face. Reclining was ok when there was some room between the seats, but now that you can barely squeeze yourself into them, they just should not recline, period. Reclining the seat unless you’re on the edge of death or something is just abominably rude. I never recline the seat, any more than I throw my garbage over the top of my seat into the lap of the person behind me.

So, I’m sorry, my sympathies are with the guy with the device.

A flight attendant asked him to remove the device and he refused. The woman then stood up, turned around and threw a cup of water at him, the official said.

Nope, not reasonable. The airlines shouldn’t be letting people recline those seats.

The Federal Aviation Administration leaves it up to individual airlines to set rules about the device. United Airlines says it prohibits its use, like all major US airlines. Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air take the reclining mechanisms out of their seats, leaving them permanently upright.

All the airlines should disable them. Period. We don’t get to lie down on the people next to us in the plane, so why should we be able to dump the back of our seat into the lap of the person behind us? It’s ridiculous.


  1. idahogie says

    I’m with you. Disable all the reclining seats. I’m 6’2″, and I fit into the seats barely — for a multihour trip, it gets uncomfortable. But when that seat comes back and presses against my knees — it’s miserable.

    The guy should have to deal with the airline for violating their rules. But the woman should be charged.

  2. says

    I wound up with a damaged kneecap one day, when the guy in the seat in front of me decided to violently recline his seat while I was asleep and my leg was crushed. When I woke up and screamed from the pain, he looked over the back of the seat and said, “sorry” so I guess it was OK.

    The problem with reclining seats is they are unpredictable.

  3. John Morales says

    Such plebs as don’t bother with first-class travel should be grateful for the low, low fares.

  4. says

    I find sitting in the seat when it isn’t reclined quite uncomfortable for any but a very short time.

    Now how much do you want to bet the guy with the lock had his seat reclined? I’ll take the “he had” side of that bet. And that’s what I think you’re defending when you say you’re with him.

    But by all means, let’s fight among ourselves and not fight the airlines.

  5. says

    When I was 18 I was hit by a truck, my pelvis was broken in several places.
    I am now crooked. I am uncomfortable in ANY seat. I wear out and break seats.

    I also have a vestibular disorder that makes travel a problem. I have taken buses and trains long distances (including from NY to CA) and it is literally disabling… I have been so sickened I’ve had to be carried on and off the vehicle… by strangers.

    So when I have to travel I fly. Get it over quicker is the best policy.
    I CAN’T sit in an unreclined seat for 6 hours.
    The seats recline… they are not barcaloungers, they recline from straight-upright to slightly less than upright.

    I have to move in the next month or so from CA to NY. I’m going to have to fly.
    I’m disabled, on disability, this move is costing me more than half of my yearly income (of a whopping $10k) and I can’t afford anything but JetBlue or Southwest.

    I will be reclining my seat. I HAVE TO to be able to make this move.
    Can’t use your electronic entertainment device?
    Such a shame.

    I’ll try not to have a vertigo attack on you and make it worse.

    Complain to the airline.

  6. idahogie says

    anthrosciguy: “Now how much do you want to bet the guy with the lock had his seat reclined? I’ll take the “he had” side of that bet. And that’s what I think you’re defending when you say you’re with him.”

    I’d take that bet, at a 1000:1 odds, too. You are way, way wrong. Your assumption that someone would put on that device, lay back in his own seat, and then put up a fight with the flight attendant — you don’t seem like a very good judge of human behavior.

    Jafafa Hots: I would have no problem with anyone who asked me in advance if I would mind the seat being put back. But that has never happened to me.

  7. PatrickG says

    I don’t have nearly the severity of problems that Jafafa Hots describes, but I can echo the general sentiment: flying in the upright position for more than an hour causes me pain. Not discomfort. Pain. Granted, this is exacerbated by the fact that being 6’2″ I can’t actually position my legs directly forward. Even when the seat is not reclined, I do not fit. I have to spread my legs, and inconvenience the people next to me. Just to fit. Reclining is something that relieves the pressure of this awkward position.

    I can’t help but wonder if your need to work (i.e. write, on a laptop) while flying is influencing you here. There will always be jerks on airplanes (they might even throw water! or arrest you!), but I do have to say your position is inappropriate.

    Pun fully intended.

  8. says

    Uh, I’m also 192cm, and the main problem with fitting in airplane seats was that the reclined chair in front of me forced me to move my knees down, this of course influencing my entire posture and pretty much forcing me to recline (thankfully on the couple of intercontinental flights I was on the last row, so I could recline guilt-free. On commuter ones I just dealt with it). I also don’t fit in cars and such. I would agree that perhaps airlines should be forced to provide more space between seats, though.

  9. says

    I’m 6’6″. If you sit in front of me in Economy, you can’t recline your seat by more than a tiny fraction, my knees will physically block you from doing so, just sitting upright. My expression of pain and the polite request to not recline would hopefully prevent the people from trying again. Although last time I had to debate the people in front of me on this – and I don’t feel like I need to debate the right not to get my knees crushed. I’m sorry for the people in front who are uncomfortable, but I’m uncomfortable too, likely even more so. If the person in front of me really needs to recline, like Jafafa Hots, then we’re either both going to have a miserable flight, or the airline crew should allow us to switch seats (which of course only makes us somebody else’s problem).

    By the way, I don’t recline my own seat either, seems only fair. Reclining the seat doesn’t do much for my comfort anyway: it doesn’t create more leg space, nor does it really solve the problem that the head rest is pushing my shoulders forward (so anthrosciguy’s bet may not be as safe as he seems to think it is).

    Fact is that the seats are simply too close together in modern airliners, especially if people are arguing that reclining is a necessity, like many seem to be doing here and elsewhere.

    But I’d like to add that this isn’t the only reason that air travel has become worse for me. It used to be that seats would be assigned only at check-in, and that airlines would keep exit row seats open for people who needed it. If I just got to the airport early enough, I could generally ask for and get an exit row seat (which don’t recline, but have lots more legroom). Now I can no longer do that, as you can now generally pick your seat when you book online – which also allows them to charge extra for exit row or bulkhead seats. Of course, these seats are always gone first.

    At least online seat assignment allows me to choose an isle seat, so I can turn my legs sideways somewhat, during at least some of the flight.

  10. soogeeoh says

    In practice, what would happen if for example Jafafa Hots or Patrick G got the seat in front of you?

  11. MadHatter says

    I have the opposite issue as Jafafa Hots. I was in an accident and broke my back in several places. Sitting in a plane for more than a couple of hours is painful no matter what, but I can’t recline my seat and be comfortable. So if the person in front of my reclines all the way I either put up with their seat in my face the entire flight (and you can’t even read a book easily, much less use an electronic device) or spend the entire flight in pain.

    Since I now live overseas this makes the long flights for visits home very painful, and sometimes leaves me hobbling for days afterwards. It is the airlines we should be pushing though. I was actually told after my accident to tell the airlines when I book tickets and they will do their best to put me in the bulkhead row. The big long-distance carriers have been great about it. I’ve never tried for shorter flights though.

  12. funknjunk says

    Wow, I find this post amazing, as I have the complete opposite feeling about it. I understand the perspective, and feel like people should communicate and do what’s best in the situation, but my feeling is the opposite. “My sympathies are with the guy with the device” .. you mean, the guy with a banned device (I was shocked that companies are even allowed to make such a thing) who didn’t bother to ask anyone to not recline or in any way communicate with fellow passengers? Myeah, If I were the person trying to recline, depending on how the situation unfolded, i’d be pissed. I imagine sitting there, not being able to get any more room, trying to recline, wondering why something’s not working, all the while, the asshole behind me is either snickering to himself for being oh so clever to buy a banned device to fuck his fellow human beings, or he’s hoping I’ll just give up. Which is what lots of folks do in lots of situations when they’re trying to take advantage, just hope you’ll give up. If any of the folks on this thread with health challenges (I have chronic back issues and repetitive motion stuff myself) were to ask me not to recline, I would comply. Stick a device on my seat? No frikkin’ way. Lobby the airlines, folks, don’t fuck your fellow human beings – why do I say this? Because chances are, the person in front of me is reclined – I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone not recline on a trip from Seattle to PA – if they’re reclined, that means I have to as well. If you prevent me, you’re fucking me. Also, the implication is that he needed to do that so he could work on his laptop. Fuck. That. Take a digital break, man.

  13. says

    I’m sorry for Jafafa and Patrick G’s situations, I really am. But the last couple times I flew, it was with a lap child. I’m sorry about their situations, but they don’t get to crush my child.

    I’m also claustrophobic. It’s hard enough for me to just get on an airplane. If I am on a plane, it is an emergency. I’m sorry for your situation, but you don’t get to take a deliberate action to make mine worse. If I can’t distract myself with novel or laptop, I’m going to start freaking out. If in addition to preventing me from distracting myself with a novel or laptop, you also take away some of the precious little space I have available, well….

    I will prevent you from putting your seat back. If you persist, I will kick the back of your seat until you return it to it’s default position. If that doesn’t work, I’m probably going to end up vomiting on your head.

    I’m sympathetic to your situation, but we start out with equal shares; you do not get to increase your own at my expense.

    The seats should not recline.

  14. says

    So, I’m sorry, my sympathies are with the guy with the device.

    Mine aren’t. For starters, he knew damn well in advance that he’d be sitting in a seat with limited room, with a seat in front of him that could recline. In addition, he brought a device to sabotage a piece of equipment that was not his, and which he had no right to tamper with.

    Also, he could just as easily have reclined his own seat (unless, of course, some other asshole behind him was using a similar device), and continued working with his laptop in his, you know, LAP. It’s a seat on an airplane he’s paying for, not an office space.

    Lobbying the airlines to space their seats further apart; lobbying the FAA to require airlines to provide more space; suing airlines for harm done by seats reclining in insufficient space; paying extra for more space…those are all valid responses to this problem. Depriving another paying customer of any part of a service he/she had paid in full for, is not.

  15. dianne says

    If there’s a clear medical issue like Jafafa’s, why not make an accomedation like maybe people who must recline for medical reasons can fly first class for coach fare? Then the airlines can make a decision based on what they think most of their customers would prefer, either allowing or forbidding reclining, without causing anyone injury.

    Full disclosure: I’m probably the only person on this thread who can sit in an airline seat comfortably. Being short has a few advantages.

  16. dshetty says

    So, I’m sorry, my sympathies are with the guy with the device
    It shouldn’t be. In most cases just speaking to the person in front will work plus you cannot just take away someone else’s privilege because it inconveniences you.

  17. quixote says

    There are two issues here. The small one, the situation we’re given by the airlines, means that, really, only a rude person would recline their seat unless they were otherwise in pain. And only a rude person would make a fuss about someone reclining who asked permission to recline because otherwise they’d be in pain.

    The real issue, the big issue, is that those farm animal cargo haulers known as airlines have made flying unbearable. What’s needed is less market force and more regulation. Which attacks (a small part of) the whole principle of social organization these days. So, much easier to keep the passengers taking out their anger on each other.

  18. says

    Ok can I just say something here?
    Those seats should not recline.

    It wouldn’t be hard for airlines to permantly fix the seat backs in place. If that isn’t done, at the very least people should ask the person behind if they mind the seat reclining, and not doing it if they do mind. It’s not difficult to do.

    This can be even more annoying on buses and trains where no one tells people to put the seat back upright again. I’ve seen and suffered jerks who recline the seats and then leave the train or bus, pinning in the people behind it.

  19. Ysidro says

    @Kevin, Youhao Huo Mao

    I’m sorry Patrick’s size makes him unable to fit in a seat interrupts your next great novel. Perhaps next time he’ll cut his legs off at the knees so he can fit into the cramped, livestock-like conditions the airlines impose on us.

    If you can’t tell, I’m against the anti-recliner in the OP (specifically because of his use of a banned device). I’m not against anti-reclining in general. I don’t like it, but I understand the need for some people to recline. Speaking to each other like human beings can solve a lot of issues. Apparently a lot of people just can’t handle it.

  20. funknjunk says

    @18 – The only drawback to this approach, is if the person in front of me is reclined and the person behind says “no” to my recline request, then the person in front of me has to comply with my “no recline” request for me to be comfortable. That’s a line of people who now need to agree on the great reclining crisis of 2014 …. Also, “only a rude person would recline their seat unless they’re in pain”? Really? Huh, don’t agree.

  21. says

    —-Depriving another paying customer of any part of a service he/she had paid in full for, is not.—

    You mean by reclining your seat back to take away space from me and deny me the use of the laptop tray?

    It’s an interesting bit of hypocrisy, isn’t it? You are claiming that by not allowing someone to recline into my space, I’m depriving them of service, even though their reclining back into my space deprives me of service AND space.

  22. qwints says

    A perfect example of companies getting people to blame each other instead of the company for awful service.

  23. says

    @soogeeoh in #9: like I said, they’d be physically unable to recline their seat more than a fraction, so if they need more, that’s not going to happen with me behind them. They could try crushing my knees until they give way, I suppose, in which case we’d have a problem, but I’d hope they’d be a bit more reasonable about it than that (I especially expect someone like PatrickG to understand the issue, as he claims he also gets his knees stuck against the seat in front of him, even if it’s upright). If they really needed the ability to recline, I’d definitely offer to get a flight attendant and see if we can switch seats or something. Beyond that, there’s not much I can do.

    @Kevin, Youhao Huo Mao in #11:

    So my desire to write some of my novel to distract myself is trumped by your need to have a reclined back.

    Actually, yes, pain trumps boredom. That shouldn’t be that hard. Who’s selfish here?

    @Raging Bee in #14:

    he knew damn well in advance that he’d be sitting in a seat with limited room, with a seat in front of him that could recline

    True. Just like she could have known in advance that she would be in a seat with limited room that might not be able to recline fully due to the needs of the person behind her.

    Depriving another paying customer of any part of a service he/she had paid in full for, is not.

    But it’s not as clear cut as that. Don’t passengers also pay in full for the use of their tray table? Or their leg room?

    @funknjunk in #20:

    if the person in front of me is reclined and the person behind says “no” to my recline request, then the person in front of me has to comply with my “no recline” request for me to be comfortable.

    Yup, that’s pretty much how it works, although in practice you might be able to compromise in reclining only partially so that you’re both mostly comfortable. How else would you expect it to work?

  24. freemage says

    This is clearly a case of competing legitimate interests, and the best route in such cases is communication (between passengers) coupled by accommodation (between passengers and airlines). For instance, suppose the airlines had both reclining and non-reclining seats, split down the center. Then, you could request a reclining or non-reclining seat, with the foreknowledge that the people in front of you would have the same sort of chair, and what that would entail.

  25. Kevin Kehres says

    Raging Bee is right. The current configuration of airline seats is that they recline. Therefore, someone has paid for the right to have their seat recline. Which means that another passenger does not have the right to block them from doing so; especially with some sort of secret agent device.

    I am another person who MUST recline or suffer tremendous back pain. I don’t recline all the way; just enough to get it out of the “fully upright and torturous” position. I make sure I’m not in the row in front of the exit row (which doesn’t recline) nor the furthest back row (which often doesn’t recline, either). I’ve paid good money for a seat that reclines. I’m entitled to the use of that feature of the seat.

    Anything that prevents me from doing so is theft of service. And a shitty thing to do, especially without my permission.

    And yes, I’ve had plenty of experiences where the person in front of me reclines all the way back and I can’t work on my laptop. The last one (just a couple of weeks ago) kept flipping her hair over the seat as well near my face. Oh well. Sucks to be me. That’s why I bring a smaller e-reader on the plane.

    And I’m glad that someone has mentioned airlines that don’t offer seats that recline — I can tell you that this is one person you’ll NEVER see in those seats.

  26. says

    I don’t get this claim that the ability to recline is something you’ve paid for (therefore it’s inviolable). You’ve paid for the tray table, too, and a reclined seat makes the tray table unusable. The two items clash. Invoking the fact that you’ve paid for one or the other doesn’t really contribute much (and it comes across as kind of…gross…as in entitled rich people gross).

  27. says

    soogeeoh @ 10 –

    In practice, what would happen if for example Jafafa Hots or Patrick G got the seat in front of you?

    What already does happen in practice: nothing. The seat would be reclined and I would scowl and put up with it, because the alternatives are worse.

  28. says

    I own a Knee Defender and have used it on a couple of transatlantic flights when I didn’t want someone suddenly reclining their seat and sending my drink and dinner into my lap. When it was time to sleep, I took it off (but no, anthrosciguy, I did not recline my own seat).

    They’re adjustable, you know. You don’t have to totally prevent someone from reclining– you can give them some room to recline while still allowing yourself at least theoretical use of both your legs and your tray table. Which is what I did, and what the airlines should’ve done. Instead, they have effectively sold the same space– the space between those seats– to two different people, thereby creating this stupid neverending conflict.

  29. says

    —-The current configuration of airline seats is that they recline. Therefore, someone has paid for the right to have their seat recline. Which means that another passenger does not have the right to block them from doing so; especially with some sort of secret agent device. —-

    The current configuration of airline seats is that they have a tray table. Therefore, someone has paid for the right to have the use of a tray table. Which means that another passenger does not have the right to block them from doing so by reclining their seat.

    Additionally, some airlines charge a fee to use wifi on the plane. If I have my laptop and have paid the fee for wifi, but you insist on reclining and thereby preventing me from using my laptop, are you then obligated to pay for my wifi?

    Some airlines charge for drinks/meals. If I have a such, and you insist on reclining so I can’t use the tray table, are you then obligated to repay me for my drink/meal?

  30. noxiousnan says

    My first thought upon reading the headline was where can I get one of those devices?

    Ill take that bet, anthrosciguy @4! I rarely see recliners anymore, and I suspect it’s because they have the same opinion or similar to OB’s. I thought it was rude even when there was more space. I don’t appreciate inspecting the dander of the person in front of me, and I don’t appreciate a paid for service – the tray – being taken from me.

    I do blame the airlines, though I hold recliners in low regard. Between reducing the space, increasing the cost and setting customers against one another, the airlines are at fault. Reason #86725 that I avoid flying anymore.

  31. noxiousnan says

    Depriving another paying customer of any part of a service he/she had paid in full for, is not.[ a valid response]

    That’s why I think it’s rude to recline. Perspective…a hell of a thing.

  32. lorn says

    “The airlines shouldn’t be letting people recline those seats.”

    How about: The airlines shouldn’t be letting people recline those seats, if there is a person in the seat behind them.

    Or people could just ask.

    I know, I know … it is a huge imposition that you have to stand up and communicate with a stranger. The bother. You might have to smile, make eye contact, ask politely, and, worse of all, politely live by the other person’s decision without protest. Showing that much consideration, showing that much respect, having to treat others as if they really deserve respect and consideration is a huge burden. If that sort of thing caught on it could cause lions to sleep with lambs, dogs and cats to get along … chaos and the fall of civilization would follow.

  33. Anne Marie says

    This response is boggling to me. I recline my seat an inch or two and have had people in front of me do the same with no problem using the tray table. I also had a time where I was on a overnight bus in Mexico and the person reclined so much that he was in my lap (way beyond the reclining abilities of any plane seat). I pulled out the best Spanish I had and asked if he wouldn’t mind moving the seat up just a little (since it was on an 8 hour or so bus ride, I was going to be miserable for way to long to cope). He politely and happily agreed and we were both happy. Using a device to prevent a person from reclining is a passive-aggressive way to deal with a problem that can be solved with words the vast majority of the time.

  34. Anne Marie says

    More info on what happened:

    This is from the guy who used the device giving his side of the story and I still think it makes him look really bad. He purposely didn’t tell her what he’d done and then got mad when she retaliated (not that she should’ve) and pushed her seat all the way and blocked her again instead of ever talking to her.


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