Flight Diverted After Fight About Seat Reclining

Is the “Knee Defender” device to blame—or is this really about common courtesy?

A United Airlines plane was diverted this morning after two flyers got into an ugly fight about seat reclining. This is the natural course of events in a densely packed sky tube where passengers have the option to thrust their seatbacks into the faces of folks behind them. I’m surprised this is the first time I’m hearing of this kind of incident.

According to a report from the Associated Press, two flyers sitting in United’s Economy Plus section were overcome with air rage when a guy availed himself of a Knee Defender. (The Knee Defender is a device that locks onto a tray table and prevents the seat in front from reclining.) On the flight from Newark to Denver, the man set up the $21.95 tool to stop the person in front of him from leaning her seat back while he was using his laptop. A flight attendant asked the man to put the thing away, presumably after the woman in the targeted seat complained. The man and his precious knees refused.

So the woman in front of the guy stood up and threw a drink in his face. It was at this point that the crew determined the brawling pair would not make it to their final destination. The flight was diverted to Chicago.

There’s never an excuse for violence by way of drink throwing—especially on a plane, where asinine behavior ruins the plans of everyone onboard. But the Knee Defender is basically the gadget version of an entitled jackass. If you really don’t want the person in front of you to recline her seat, why wouldn’t you simply ask her? By preemptively disabling another flyer’s recline function, you’re essentially stealing one of the few personal freedoms allotted on a plane.

The Knee Defender isn’t banned by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), but lots of airlines ban use of the device on flights; United is one of them.

No arrests were made. After the two passengers were escorted off the plane, the United flight made it to Denver about an hour and a half late.

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By Caroline Costello

Caroline Costello's travel accomplishments include surviving a 2 a.m. whitewater rafting excursion in the Canadian wilderness, successfully biking from Dusseldorf to Cologne without a map, and gaining access to a covert pizza speakeasy in New Orleans.

Caroline is an active member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). Her work has appeared on USA Today, the Boston Globe, AOL.com, MSNBC.com, ABC News, TODAY Travel, and CruiseCritic.com, among other publications.

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