Traveling economy on domestic flights often evokes feelings empathetic to sardines in a tin. With such cramped quarters, every passenger undoubtedly attempts to maximize whatever available space they have to ensure a bearable passage.
This past weekend, on flight from Newark to Denver, one United Airlines passenger installed a Knee Defender, a locking device that jams the reclining mechanism of the seat in front of him. The female passenger in front of him was none too pleased, and when a flight attendant was called to resolve the issue, the male passenger refused to remove it. So the female passenger threw her water on him. Both passengers were then escorted off the plane in Chicago, where the plane was diverted, for their unruly behavior.
Although, I do not condone the how the female passenger handled the incident, I am quite sympathetic to her situation.
I admit it. I’m a recliner. Flying from the tender age of six weeks old, I have always taken full advantage of the seat’s ability to reorient itself to 45 degrees from its original y-axis. Nonetheless, as the space between seats has fallen about 10 percent in the last two decades of my existence, I have become more conscious about exactly how far I recline, so I do not entrap others in their seats or prevent my fellow passenger from enjoying a comfortable flight same as I do.
However, airline passengers are already aware of the small size of economy seating and understand exactly what they are paying for. Just as those may require extra space next to them may need to purchase an extra seat, those who want to have extra room in front of them should be willing to spend extra money for that space. It cannot be expected for others to give up what little luxury remains to them to accommodate larger flyers.
To avoid future altercations, airlines need to better enforce bans on seat-jamming devices. The right to recline is a service that airline provides to the seat holder, and other passengers have no right to remove this amenity. Although most airlines already prohibit the use of seat-locking devices, there has yet to be any substantial consequence to those who have used them.
Common courtesy and communication are all that are needed to resolve the issue. If there is an issue with someone reclining into your space, and it is that bothersome or hinders you from safely removing yourself from your seat, simply tell him or her. Ultimately, as the mechanics of the chair remain in the control of the person in it, the decision of whether or not they recline is up to them. There is no need for a passive aggressive punishment through excessive pushing and soccer kicks worthy of Messi.
If you do not want to others to recline into your space, perhaps choose an airline like Spirit or Allegiant that has already removed the reclining mechanisms from their seats. Otherwise, buckle your seat belt, and enjoy your flight.