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airplane seatsTwo United Airlines passengers got one heck of a time-out on Sunday when an argument over a few inches of space escalated, leading to the rerouting of their plane.

According to the Associated Press, the fight began when an unnamed male passenger attached a Knee Defender — an apparatus that clips onto your tray table to prevent the person in front of you from reclining — to his seat so he could use his laptop uninterrupted. Although United Airlines has banned the gadget on its flights, the passenger refused to put it away when asked by members of the cabin crew, prompting the unnamed woman in front of him to throw a cup of water in his direction.

At that point, the Denver-bound flight, which departed from Newark earlier that day, was only halfway to its destination when the pilot made an unscheduled landing at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport to have both passengers removed.

Although police met the plane when it landed and questioned both passengers, it was deemed to be a customer service issue, and no arrests were made.

The kicker here, though, is that both passengers were sitting in the plane’s Economy Plus section, which already offers more legroom than standard economy seats to begin with.

The Etiquette of Seat Backs and Elbow Room

So what do our readers think about space and whether fliers are entitled to it?

“As tight as seats are getting, they should not recline,” says Julie Reiss Justice on Facebook. “I have had my iPad smashed from a seat reclining quickly … I personally will not recline.”

Tom Vertrees agrees that space is limited, but comes to the opposite conclusion: “Airlines shouldn’t squeeze seats so close together in the first place. If the seat reclines then it should be allowed.”

And Joshua Senzer wonders why the situation escalated so far in the first place: “The device is banned by United, the carrier in question. The fact that the individual failed to comply with [flight attendant] requests to remove it is telling in regards to those who would rather use something like this than simply attempt communication with another human … just my .02.”

10 Annoying Habits of Our Fellow Travelers

What do you think? Is it rude for passengers to recline their seats? Should the use of devices like Knee Defender be allowed? Leave your comments below.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

15 Responses to “Reclining Seat Leads to Tantrum at 35,000 Feet”

  1. Kaylin S says:

    this is why we can’t have nice things, people. The man could’ve just asked the lady in front of him not to recline as he had to work on his laptop for the trip. But it’s not really up to him what the lady in front of him can or can’t do. Technically, it’s her seat, although she should be nice and ask before reclining it. Or you know, he could’ve sprung for business class if he had to work the whole trip… that’s sort of the point of biz class. But no, they had to get in a fight and inconvenience all those people who now have a delayed flight and maybe missed connections. What a bunch of a-holes.

    • Tony Lee says:

      I had seen passenger asked people in front to let the seat up, and the reply was “I had to sleep”. I think the man would have escalate the situation if the cabin crew confiscated his device. A business class seat could cost as much as 4 times the economy.

  2. Wendy says:

    I don’t understand why the attendant didn’t take the unapproved device away from the guy. Then, the rest of the passengers wouldn’t have had to be inconvenienced.

  3. Host Ciao says:

    I would not use the “Knee Defender” though there are certainly times I wuld like to. If I have nicely asked the person in front of me to just “unrecline” and inch or two so I can use my tray, they usually do.
    Because of the way I feel about the seat reclining in front of me I do not recline unless I am on an overnight flight, and then only a couple of inches and I do it slowly.
    A presto,
    Host Ciao

  4. Linda says:

    I personally hate it when the seat in front of me reclines and never incline mine. I had knee surgery in January and in February the person in the seat in front of me (economy plus) slammed the seat right into my knee. I had to have it drained when I got home because it doubled in size. The man should have used a site like “seat expert” to find a seat that did not have a reclining seat in front of him such as the first row of economy plus or a seat behind the exit row. There is no excuse for “airplane rage”. I agaree the stewardess should have confiscated the seat devise if it is illegal.

  5. chris s says:

    The seat device is not illegal, the airlines have banned them which as much as I disagree isn’t up to them. That said, I think the airlines need to shorten the lean on the seats. I had a person in front of me lean back and the in seat TV was so close I wasn’t able to watch. I get backaches when I recline my seat but have to when the one in front hits me in the face. instead of 4-5 inches, make it 2 inches. just enough to not sit straight but not enough to interfere too much.

  6. John says:

    I think it’s all a big to do about nothing. The seats barely recline. It hurts my back to sit for a long time with the seat fully forward. Just that little bit of angle helps a lot. But it is probably less than 3″ at the top of the seat, and obviously a miniscule amount down at the bottom of the seat, the pivot point for the seat back. I have never felt crowded by the seat in front of me being reclined. And I should be able to recline my seat if I choose to. I can’t believe so many people are making a big deal about the person in front of them not reclining. I bet in most cases, the complainer has their own seat reclined.

  7. Louis Below says:

    Some airlines have created impossible coach seating distances. We will never fly Delta again. In a recent flight from JFK to London on Delta, my wife had to sit sidewise when the seat in front of her was reclined. We came back on Air France with plenty of coach room.

  8. MMS says:

    Everyone has purchased and selected their seats, and everyone should be able to recline thier seats (except of course in the exit aisles) I personally cannot sit comfortably at a 90 degree angle for long. Those tray tables do extend toward you, and I have never had a problem working on a device with the seat reclined ahead of me! If he didn’t want the seat in front of him reclining, he should have chosen a seat in the exit aisle – and not resort to using such an obnoxious and selfish device that IS BANNED on United!
    But lets addresss the REAL issue here shall we ? CLEARLY the airlines are getting overly greedy ! I am a small female, and even I feel SMASHED into these airline seats. I can’t imagine how anyone larger than 5’2″ and 115 pounds can manage in the lack of space allowed them on any flight. The way the airlines are squeezing people into these airplanes, and nickle and diming everyone for luggage and food is getting way too extreme and have obviously over estimated peoples limits! Really – a human being needs their personal space and the airlines are denying that space to everyone.
    I hate that people have to re-act in this manor – and really, shame on the jerk using the device to prevent the seat in front of him from reclining – he does not have that right. Perhaps this is what it will take to get the airlines to realize their part in all of this, and give commuters the SPACE they NEED!!

  9. Carol says:

    I agree that common courtesy would solve many of these issues, but unfortunately many people don’t know what that is. I am tall with long legs and hate flying because of the limited leg room most airlines provide. My budget does not allow me to fly business or first class, so I try to make the best of whatever I get seat wise. Sometimes an aisle seat will allow me to stretch my legs a little. I think it is very rude for someone to incline their seat for the entire plane ride. On night flights I can see that most passengers would like to recline their seats and that is reasonable. No one owns all the space around their seat and everyone should think of the other passengers, both in front and behind.

  10. ElaineC says:

    I hardly ever recline my seat, even on long haul flights because I purchased the seat and space I’m in. This does not include a portion of the space behind me! For those of us that don’t have much space to begin with, if the person in front is an ‘a-hole’ and shoves their seat back like they own that space too, I get mad. I have, on occasion, kept my knees tight to the back of a seat when the guy in front of my tried pushing it back as far as it would go. It worked and he stopped pushing. I don’t want someone in my space just as much as I don’t want to be in someone else’s space!

    Let’s all try to get along and stop acting like children and idiots! Be considerate of those around you!

  11. Tony Lee says:

    I usuualy recined my seat a little because I couldn’t sit with straight back. However, many passengers would reclined the seat all the way without regard to others. I often could not get back to my seat or get out without putting pressure on the seatback in front if the person reclined all the way down. I think the airlines or seat manufacturer should modify the seat to limit the recline angle. I also think the airlines should enforce the size of carry on luggage. I had seen guitar and other long items carried onboard which took up the whole luggage bin.

  12. Rae says:

    I always purchase the “Economy Plus” seats because I have a very bad back and hip problem and need the extra room. In addition I ALWAYS recline my seat to the max and ALWAYS will. I take the necessary medications to avoid spasms too. I do all this to avoid more discomfort and pain and to survive. Driving or traveling by train are not options so please don’t suggest them. As long as the airlines provide us with the option of reclining I will take advantage of that option fully. Why aren’t more travelers finishing their work at the office or home before traveling and therefore turning off their laptops? An airline flight is not an office in the sky! I take care of business before my trip. If you MUST work then buy a seat in Business Class, that is why it was created. BTW I do buy seats in First Class as much as possible to access the most room. And sorry any bribe you might offer me to put my seat upright is going to ignored. Kick or knee my seat or hit it or me continuously will be dealt with by a summons of the Captain or Air Marshall. At this point in time, the airlines allow all passengers to recline, so please plan on it happening.

  13. Donna says:

    personally i try not to recline my seat as i know the seat situation is a tight one. i don’t understand why people with laptops, cell phones etc feel they have a right to dictate what effects those around them. yes he probably should have booked business class but maybe he could not afford it.if he was unclear that he could not use his laptop than he should have apologized to the flight attendant and passenger but nowadays people are too rude to say they’re sorry about anything. if the other passenger had not thrown water at him perhaps they both would have stayed on the flight or just have the man removed. either way both of them have learned a lesson which hopefully they’ll remember for future travel. its the rest of the passengers on the plane that were put out by having to land.

  14. Nancy says:

    The airlines should charge extra for reclining seats, and less for the seats behind them.

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