I’ve contemplated buying the Knee Defender before. There, I’ve said it.
“What the hell is a ‘Knee Defender?’” you ask?
Well, you clearly haven’t heard about the kerfuffle between two passengers
on Sunday’s United Airlines flight from Newark, N.J., to Denver that led to the plane’s premature landing in Chicago. Allow me to fill you in:
During the flight, a man used a gadget called the “Knee Defender,” which is intended to “help you stop reclining seats on airplanes so your knees won’t have to,” according to the product’s website.
A United flight attendant told the man, 47, that the airline doesn’t permit the use of such gadgets on the plane. He refused to listen.
When the 48-year-woman sitting in front of the man realized she wasn’t able to recline her seat, she got stand-up-from-your-seat-and-throw-water-on-someone angry, according to United. A fight ensued, and the pilot landed the plane in Chicago.
Given that I’m 6’3” and absolutely despise flying due to the lack of legroom on today’s planes, I’ve read about the Knee Defender longingly, but I’ve never bought or used one for fear of getting into potential fights with unbending individuals. Like in this situation.
Though in the midst of a flight, when a 5’2” woman decides she just HAS to put her seat back, I often wish I had purchased one. I sit there in awe wondering if she saw me walk past her as I crouched down to walk through the aisle so I didn’t hit my head on the ceiling. The conversation in my head usually goes something like this:
“You’re literally a foot shorter than me and you think YOU are the one who needs the added space on this teeny tiny hell hole? No really, go ahead and recline that bad boy. I would never want to see you uncomfortable.”
But do I say it? No. Do I go out and buy a Knee Defender after that flight? No. Because the fact remains that planes these days are small and no one is comfortable, not even the very short woman or child in front of me. (Yes, children do it, and I feel double the rage.) So why fight it?
If being 6’3” has taught me anything, it’s that things in life aren’t always going to accommodate me. Countertops, showerheads and bus ceilings are often shorter than I’d like. I have to seek out specialty stores to find shoes and clothes that actually fit me. And the back of my plane seat will never be tall enough, nor the legroom roomy enough.
I’m not crying, but what would help is some mindfulness of a tall person’s plane troubles.
I’m not sure how tall this man was because neither United nor the Chicago police could confirm that for me, but given that he purchased a Knee Defender, I can only guess he’s my height or taller. Why couldn’t this woman have just taken a moment to look behind her and see that his knees were already hitting the back of her seat? And why couldn’t this man have just politely asked her to not recline it?
Knee Defender touts its product as “valued by airline passengers with small children.” But it never says anything about the adult passengers who ACT like small children. These were grown-ass people fighting like two school kids on the playground.
And for what? Because this man couldn’t straighten his legs? Been there. Suck it up. And this woman just couldn’t possibly handle not being able to lean back two or three inches? Also been there. In fact, I make a point of never putting my seat back because I’m too aware of what it feels like to be a tall person behind a reclined seat.
The most jaw-dropping part of this story, though, is that the immaturity of these two passengers led to the premature landing of a Boeing 737, which, according to united.com, can seat as many as 173 passengers—173 people whose lives were disrupted because these people couldn’t resolve a small conflict. Not to mention, flight attendants and members of the Transportation Security Administration and Chicago police had to divert their attention from helping passengers and fighting crime to resolve this shallow spat.
I asked United spokesman Charlie Hobart if signs prohibiting the use of the “Knee Defender” are posted anywhere for passengers.
“No. We ask that customers use common sense and good judgment in this sort of thing,” Hobart responded. “If a customer is deliberately preventing a seat from declining—whether it’s using the Knee Defender or another concoction of their own—we’re going to ask that they stop doing that.”
Seats are sometimes tight, flights are sometimes delayed and people are sometimes jerks. All I ask is for a little consideration.
And for the love of God, please look before you recline.
Kristin Samuelson is RedEye’s managing editor.
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