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A Gadget That Stops Seats From Reclining Caused a Plane-Diverting Fight

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Planes are giving us less and less leg room so it's no surprise that quarrels break out between passengers over space. Yesterday, one such altercation got so heated that a plane was diverted to Chicago. And at the heart of the conflict? A nifty little device called the Knee Defender, which prevents seats from reclining.

Two unnamed passengers, both 48, were on a United flight from Newark to Denver which sounds like it needed no in-flight entertainment:

The fight started when the male passenger, seated in a middle seat of row 12, used the Knee Defender to stop the woman in front of him from reclining while he was on his laptop, according to a law enforcement official with knowledge of the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak.

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 says. That's when United decided to land in Chicago. The two passengers were not allowed to continue to Denver.


Although it's nothing new (we wrote about it way back in 2003!) it's rather surprising that this is the first time the Knee Defender has made headlines. It's almost too simple to be called a gadget: A pair of plastic braces—which cost only $21.95—are inserted on the passenger's tray table arms to prevent the seat in front of them from moving backwards. Airlines spoke out against the Knee Defender when it came out, but the FAA said they did not violate any specific rules. It even pretends to be polite: It comes with little courtesy cards you can print out and hand to the passenger in front of you to explain why their seat reclining feature is temporarily disabled.

No charges were made in this particular case, and it seems that the Knee Defender will continue to protect patellas in American airspace. The kicker? The two passengers from this incident were seated in United's Economy Plus, which advertises four more inches of leg room than coach. [AP]