The Knee Defender Is Not A “Necessary Deterrent”

Filed Under: Travel

I know the whole Knee Defender controversy is totes last month, but I just have to chime in now. For those of you not familiar with the Knee Defender, it sparked a national controversy over seat recline, after an August 24 flight was diverted when two passengers got in an altercation over seat recline.

The Knee Defender is a product that prevents the seat in front of you from being able to recline by basically locking it into place.


My good pal Chris Elliott, consumer advocate extraordinaire, is having his annual fundraiser. In order to take his fundraiser “up a notch,” he was giving away one Knee Defender every hour yesterday. I don’t get how any self-proclaimed consumer advocate could be in favor of the Knee Defender. And for that matter I don’t get why anyone would actively be trying to piss people off during a “fundraiser,” but that’s a whole different story…

My stance on seat recline in economy

Almost four years ago I wrote a post entitled “Is Reclining Your Seat On An Airplane A Right Or A Privilege?”

My stance on reclining is as follows:

  • When available, reclining your seat in economy is a right — after all, the recline control is located at your seat, and not the seat behind you
  • Personally I’ll never recline in economy, because legroom is usually tight to begin with
  • If you are going to recline in economy, I think it’s courteous to ask the person behind you if it’s okay, or at least recline slowly and make eye contact as you do, to make sure they don’t have a negative reaction

My stance on being reclined on from the seat in front of me is as follows:

  • If you’re reclined on and it’s absolutely unbearable, kindly ask the passenger in front of you if they wouldn’t mind keeping the seat upright
  • If they have an issue with it and it really is unbearable, kindly explain to a flight attendant and see if they can intervene, or perhaps reseat you
  • If you know upfront economy will be extremely uncomfortable (for example, if you’re really tall), pay extra for a seat with more legroom — almost all airlines will sell you extra legroom seats for a nominal premium
  • If you really have an issue with seat recline, fly an airline which doesn’t allow you to recline your seats, like Spirit — for travel on airlines that still offer seat recline, it’s considered a right and not a privilege

In my opinion, at 35,000 feet and in a post-9/11 world (where almost anything can cause a diversion) you should never:

  • Do anything that would provoke another passenger to take physical or verbal action against you
  • Approach another passenger in an angry way in order to “take matters into your own hands”
  • Do something passive aggressive, like disabling controls they have at their seat

Chris Elliott’s stance on the Knee Defender

Chris Elliott has a completely different and much more passive aggressive approach towards seat recline, calling the Knee Defender a “necessary deterrent.” He even goes so far as to call the Knee Defender “not controversial,” because he thinks he’s so right.

Chris argues that people should only use the Knee Defender to “carve out a compromising amount of legroom,” whatever that means:

If you’re a responsible air traveler, you shouldn’t be offended by my Knee Defender premium. You would never arbitrarily lock someone else’s airline seat in the full upright position. You’d use the Knee Defender to carve out a compromising amount of legroom, and only after offering the passenger in front of you the Knee Defender courtesy card and receiving permission to protect your laptop, your knees or the child on your lap.

He also argues you shouldn’t be offended if someone “uses” the Knee Defender against you, because surely you’d never arbitrarily recline your seat without first asking the person behind you:

If you’re the passenger in front of the person with a Knee Defender, you shouldn’t be ticked off, either. After all, you would never arbitrarily recline your seat without first asking the passenger behind you if it’s OK. Right?

I agree with him, that as a courtesy you should always ask.

But this is where his argument slips from “fair enough” to downright passive aggressive:

If, however, you’re one of those passengers who feels entitled to all the space behind you and who slams the seat all the way back as soon as you reach cruising altitude, maybe you should be offended.

Maybe I don’t care if you’re offended.

I see the Knee Defender as a necessary deterrent. Airlines are removing legroom and trying to sell it back to us. They’re making the ludicrous assertion that we “asked” them to do it by buying cheap fares.

But they are really fomenting a revolution at 36,000 feet by removing much-needed personal space. The presence of a Knee Defender can change that dynamic and restore a little order to the flying experience.

Why Chris Elliott is wrong on Knee Defender

What he says sounds okay in theory… okay, well that’s not even true, but let’s pretend. Let’s play out Chris’ scenario here.

In the case of limited legroom, my approach would be to talk to the person in front of me like an adult. “I’m sorry, I already barely have any legroom here, do you mind maybe not reclining if possible? It’s totally within your rights, but my knees already physically can’t move.”

Chris’ approach involves handing the person in front of you a “courtesy card,” sort of informing them of their supposed rights.


And if they don’t agree with you, that’s too damn bad, because you’ll use the Knee Defender anyway.

I’d really love to know about the next step, though. Where does Chris think things are going from there? If you hand the passenger the Knee Defender card and it pisses them off or they still want to recline, then what? You’ll put the Knee Defender up, and an in-air altercation will ensue?

The Knee Defender doesn’t accomplish anything that simply having a conversation with someone wouldn’t. And I’d argue it actually accomplishes less. I certainly don’t see how a Knee Defender would “restore a little order to the flying experience,” as Chris suggests.

Chris, if you’re a consumer advocate, how about informing passengers how to have a civilized, non-passive aggressive conversation, rather than immediately starting off in a way that can only be interpreted as passive aggressive.

Where do you stand on seat recline, and where do you specifically stand on the Knee Defender?

  1. I think it should also be noted that Chris is wrong on another count. We absolutely have brought the continuing limitation on space in economy by buying the cheapest fares. This is true of all the economizing changes and additional fees the airlines have added over the last decade plus. Even now a large portion of the flying public will go to the next carrier if they can save $5. Of course, they then complain about the bus without any amenities they are flying on.

  2. The ability to recline your seat, if made available by the airline, is a right, and one I use with out question everytime I fly.

    As someone who is 6’4″ I do two things whenever I travel in Coach and find the upgrade to Econ+ or its equlivalent too expensive or unavailable:

    1 Check my bag
    2 Carryon only a small thin briefcase that fits vertically under the seat in front of me.

    This is so I can, to a degree, use the space under the seat infront of me to extend my legs instead of storing my stuff. I find that if I do this then the person infront of me can fully recline and I still keep my knees in one piece.

    Its my opinion that the airlines have their baggage fees all wrong. Checking bags should be free. Bringing bags larger than a purse or traditionally sized briefcase into the cabin should be what they charge an astronomical price for. The less crap people bring into the cabin the more space everyone would have.


  3. I generally do not recline my seat. The only time I do is on an overnight flight when everyone is sleeping. I do, however, completely agree with your stance. If I choose to recline my seat, I’m not infringing upon the space of the person behind me as it’s my space — not there’s. My space is the space from the full amount of the recline in front of me, to the full amount of the recline in back of me. That’s how it’s designed by the airline. Consequently, I’m not offended by someone who reclines in front of me, that’s their right.

    If I were handed a seat defender card, I would immediately ring the flight attendant call button and have them address the issue. I’m debating with myself whether I would then recline my seat for the remainder of the flight. I would certainly insist that it be and stay removed. The better part of me hopes that I wouldn’t recline out of spite. It would probably depend upon how much coffee I had and how much of a donkey the guy (and you know it would be a guy) was when confronted by the FA.

  4. I don’t need to be askd…..I don’t ask……bt I do my best to stay out of the back for this very reason…..if I am in te bak ‘s a 2 hour flight or less and it won’t kill if someone else flys fat………

  5. I agree completely with @Brian.

    I’m 6’3″, but as a general matter, I don’t recline my seat unless I’m in Economy Plus, when I know there is sufficient legroom for someone to use a laptop/eat a meal/etc., and even then only infrequently if I’m going to sleep.

    I will go a little farther than Brian and say that, not only would I call over a flight attendant to resolve the issue, but I guarantee that I will spend the remainder of the flight in the fully reclined position.

    I do believe, however, that while the airline gives a passenger the ability to recline their seat, the reclining party has a duty of care to recline cautiously and carefully.

    If some blockhead slams their seat back, damaging a laptop, it’s as much of a problem as if someone isn’t careful pulling a bag out of an overhead compartment and drops it on another passenger’s head. I’d make a big deal out of it if it happened to me, and they’d be seeing me in small claims court.


  6. Airline seats are built to be more upright than most non-airborne seats so that you can exit and enter the rows quickly in an emergency. The reclined position isn’t a luxury — it’s what you’d expect from a normal seat if you weren’t at 36,000 feet.

    Of course everyone wants to be able to recline their own seat without the person in front of them doing so. That’s the selfishness of the Knee Defender brigade. But, given a choice between everyone reclined and everyone upright (which is the only ethical way to frame the question) I’ll take a fully-reclined plane every time. As soon as the seatbelt sign goes off, I’m a’comin back, baby. Look out.

  7. I don’t recline, as a courtesy, because I’m a considerate person. That being said, I really don’t understand this whole “knee” drama. I’m 6 feet tall, and I’ve never seen a seat back that reclines into your knees. Yes, they recline into your personal space, but I’ve never seen a seat that when reclined cuts your legroom in half. Let’s not be so dramatic. How about addressing a related problem, which is that Americans are just simply getting fatter and fatter each day?

  8. Reclining is a right. The only legit use of the KneeDefender is to prevent discourteous, no-notice reclines that smash a laptop or similar. As soon as the person tries to recline, you should lean forward and say hold on a second, remove your laptop, remove the KD, and then say, “Go ahead.” and let them recline with you forewarned.

    “Its my opinion that the airlines have their baggage fees all wrong. Checking bags should be free. Bringing bags larger than a purse or traditionally sized briefcase into the cabin should be what they charge an astronomical price for. The less crap people bring into the cabin the more space everyone would have.”

    Agree 100%. Carry-on luggage makes little sense to me.

  9. I paid good money for my seat so I will do whatever I please with it. I’m 6’4″ and some flights in economy just are horrible but if I need extra leg room, I will purchase extra leg room. If after spending hundreds of dollars or thousands of points on a flight, someone were to passive aggressively put a knee defender up and impede on my recline that I paid for, let’s just say… you don’t want to mess with Hulk when he’s angry.

  10. I don’t think there are any airlines where the knee defender is allowed (certainly not on United, which is the main one I fly in the US). I s-l-o-w-l-y recline only if/when I am going to try and sleep. If there was a knee defender preventing my recline, I would call for a flight attendant and ask that they enforce their airline’s policy banning it.

  11. The best seats to avoid recliners are on those planes with two exit rows, if you’re in the 2nd row you get extra legroom AND the 1st row can’t recline.

  12. If someone handed me a knee defender card, I would call a flight attendant over, hand the card over, and ask him/her to tell the passenger behind me to remove the knee defender immediately. Why should I talk to the passenger when clearly he’s unwilling to talk to me? If he’d just asked me not to recline my seat, I would probably have said something like “yes” or “OK, how about if I only recline it half way?”

    The whole concept of the knee defender is completely stupid and the device does not belong in civilized society.

  13. …And it becomes ever-more apparent that Lucky has little experience in coach. The a-holes who recline their seats onto people’s laps will not respond to someone nicely asking them to stop. They are humankind’s worst specimens, destined for the innermost circles of Hell. Knee Defenders are better than they deserve. They deserve summary execution. There should be a man-sized toilet onboard, out of which they can be flushed.

  14. I’ve been flying for decades and not once have I been asked if someone could recline. How often do people actually do this?

  15. As a captain for a major airline I have to remind every one that knee defenders are PROHIBITED by all airlines. These devices will break the tray table of the person using it. The tray table arms are not designed to take this kind of force. Also knee defenders are not FAA approved “STC” for use on airplanes. If you use one on my airplane and don’t remove it when asked, I will have the user arrested when we land. Ask your self if it is worth going to jail for an inch of extra space.

  16. Come on Rose, tell us how your really feel. 🙂

    I totally agree with Scott. If you are stuck behind a seat that can recline into your knees, it’s totally because you are too cheap to pay a little bit more for a seat with decent space. Years ago, AA tried to offer what we now call Premium Economy to everyone on board. They foolishly thought people would book with them due to the slightly better space. Virtually no one did. Instead, if they could get their flight with another more cramped airline for $3 less, that’s what they chose. AA finally figured out they were making less money due to fewer seats, and not getting any more sales to make up for that, and put back the seats they had taken out.

    Booking the cheapest possible fare, no matter how bad the seats, or how bad the service, and then blaming it on the person sitting in front of you is disingenuous, to put it politely….

  17. “As a captain for a major airline I have to remind every one that knee defenders are PROHIBITED by all airlines.”

    If that is true, then suck it, Knee Defender uses, I’m reclining all the way 😀

  18. +1 – “airlines have their baggage fees all wrong. Checking bags should be free. Bringing bags larger than a purse or traditionally sized briefcase into the cabin should be what they charge an astronomical price for.”

    It’s so nice flying in Australia and Asia where planes board in 8 minutes and nobody’s wheeling huge suitcases down crowded aisles. I can’t believe it wouldn’t also save the airlines money overall, by speeding up the turnaround at the gate. If passengers aren’t struggling with (and fighting for) overhead bin space, you can get a plane in and out in 30 minutes instead of 60. That adds up across a fleet.

  19. I think Capt. Rob brings up an interesting point — why is Chris E. promoting a product explicitly banned by most, if not all, US airlines?

    P.S. The most curious aspect of the KD incident was that it happened in Premium Economy!

  20. What kills me most is the anti-recliners who somehow have come to the conclusion that the airspace which gets impinged upon is “theirs” and that someone who reclines is somehow trespassing. I know of no legal authority which supports this presumptuous claim.

    And Mr. Elliott is terribly wrong. The traveling herd has made it clear to airlines and they have listened – there is insufficient financial reward for providing additional room in coach. Mr. Elliott seems to embrace some theory that the airlines must give when the data available indicate that the traveling herd will not reward.

    Last, talk about rude, but most clowns who attempt to turn a coach seat into an office in the sky need to reevaluate their expectations. I’d rather have a child next to me than some self important dude who breaks out his laptop, spreading his elbows wide to use it, and overall being rather much a pain to his “seat opponents”.

  21. “Last, talk about rude, but most clowns who attempt to turn a coach seat into an office in the sky need to reevaluate their expectations. I’d rather have a child next to me than some self important dude who breaks out his laptop, spreading his elbows wide to use it, and overall being rather much a pain to his ‘seat opponents’.”

    You’re making some strange generalizations that not only are not the norm, I’ve not encountered them once, despite flying 150k/mi/yr. In all the seatmates using laptops, I’ve never had one that took up more than his own personal space.

  22. This is amusing.

    Our host and some others here scoff at Chris Elliott for saying the Knee Defender is a good product — when used responsibly. (Yes, it’s adjustable.)

    That Chris shouldn’t be promoting a product that the airlines frown upon; perchance ban.

    But then, on the very same day as this post and reader comments, our host then posts:

    “How To Book Airline Tickets For Birth Of Child”.

    Ah, and he does it with a suave caveat — in boldface and underlined, no less:

    “But first a disclaimer: some of the strategies discussed here may be frowned upon by the airlines and your frequent flyer program. They are presented for theoretical discussion only.”

    So, “They are presented for theoretical discussion only.” Got it.

    Now, I attempt to read between the lines of that caveat: It seems our host is promoting something that the airlines don’t want people to do. Indeed, it may even be in violation of the airline’s rules. But under some circumstances (such as when traveling to see a newborn), our host thinks it’s not unreasonable to do it, so he puts this advice out there for all to see — despite (apparently) realizing that some miscreants will abuse what he’s providing.

    And so, our host objects to a product (and to Chris Elliott for giving it a thumbs-up) that helps people protect their knees from being broken.

    Yet our host freely publishes a how-to guide for people to break airline rules — oh, but “presented for theoretical discussion only.”

  23. @ Ira —

    A) I didn’t write the post and don’t censor what my contributors write.
    B) It doesn’t violate airline rules, but he was being overly cautious
    C) Using Knee Defender directly violates airline rules, and can lead to a diversion and being jailed, if you choose not to follow crew member instructions

    Thanks for checking in, though!

  24. @ lucky

    Yes, that’s the key: Listen to the flight crew.

    And, as it happens, “Listen to flight crew” is printed on every Knee Defender. And that’s on the website. And it’s in the product instructions. Listen to the flight crew.

    But in the meantime, reasonable people need to do what they reasonably can to keep themselves from being slammed in the knees by a seatback.

    Sure, if someone wants to recline “all the way”, but just short of my knees? Fine with me. But I draw the line there.

    No matter what any other passenger’s “rights” may be, no one has a right to hit another passenger, whether with a fist or simply a piece of airplane equipment. And every passenger has a right to do what’s reasonable to prevent that.

    Indeed, under the laws of common carriage, an airline has a legal obligation to prevent such things. But as we know, sometimes airlines fail to meet their obligations. And so, passengers are left to DIY solutions to protect themselves.

    Knee Defender has been on the market for 11+ years. One diversion. And, not so by the way, the man using the product on that UA flight _did_ listen to the FA. When asked, he did remove his Knee Defender. It was only after the woman in front of him quickly pushed back her seat, banging it into his laptop, that the man then put the Knee Defender back on — for which he has since apologized, multiple times.

    Over those 11+ years that the product has been sold, _reclining seatbacks_ have led to numerous diversions. It’s the seatback and how it’s sometimes used that’s the problem. The Knee Defender happened to be part of the incident on Aug 25. Then a few days later, another _reclining seatback_ led to a diversion — after that seatback hit a man in his knees; no Knee Defender. And then a few days after that, another _reclining seatback_ led to a diversion — after that seatback hit a woman in the head; no Knee Defender.

    As the Huffington Post headlined — tongue-in-cheek — “Airlines Ban The Knee Defender, Because That’s Clearly Their Largest Concern”

    Thanks for the moderation.

  25. I wait till meal times then make eye contact and then slam my seat back as hard as possible. Then pull it straight back up and do it again.

    Joking aside I need a reclined seat for my back so I always recline where possible. I think seats should be pre reclined anyway – IMO it wouldn’t hinder evacuation. BTW I often tell the person behind when I am reclining – but I don’t think anyone has ever given me this courtesy.

  26. When on a long flight, I have specifically chosen (and occasionally paid extra money to get) a window seat that reclines. I believe that it is my RIGHT to recline — and, under most circumstances, I do NOT feel the need to ask permission to recline.. If a person has an obvious disability/lap child, etc. I will NOT recline. If a person asks me NICELY not to recline (due to height, non obvious disability, etc.), then I will NOT recline.

    I once had a person sitting behind me cop a real attitude about my reclining. She did NOT ask nicely, she was short, she was not working on a laptop, had no child with her, she reclined her own seat. As soon as I reclined, she told me to bring my seat upright and NOT recline it again. I explained (nicely and calmly) that I had paid $50 extra to ensure I had a seat that reclined because I had been traveling for 18 hours and wanted to sleep. I suggested she talk to the flight attendant to ask to be reseated. She refused. Needless to say, I spent the flight with my seat reclined and she spent the whole flight kicking my seat to be sure I couldn’t sleep. Won the battle but lost the war. I still think I was right.

  27. I’m 5’11” with arthritis in my knees. I normally pay an additional $150 or so RT for the added room in Economy Plus on United. Even then, it’s not pleasant to have someone recline all the way. If I have to fly in regular coach (steerage!), most people are kind enough to not slam their seats back. When the person in front of me sits down, I gently tap them on the shoulder, and repeat the first sentence of this post. I tell them that I don’t wish to inconvenience them if they wish to recline, but could they please do it gently and maybe only halfway? Most people are more than happy to help out.

    There are others, however. I’ve been slammed into so hard I have actually screamed out loud. I can’t even get out of my seat to go to the restroom when the seat in front of me is fully reclined. I’ve asked the flight attendant for help, to no avail. At that point, I’ve been known to take matters into my own hands. Since I can’t move without bumping the seat in front of me, I tend to fidget a lot. That usually encourages the offender to move up at least one click!

  28. @ Julianne

    I think you were completely right. And I say that as the guy who invented and sells the Knee Defender.

    Not only does it say on every Knee Defender, “Listen to flight crew”, it also says, “Do not hog space.” IOW, if I’d been sitting next to that woman and saw her using a Knee Defender to stop you from reclining, _I_ would have told her off.

  29. I hope the airlines ban Knee Defender someday. It makes it harder for passengers like me to sleep on a plane. If someone uses the Knee Defender without asking, then he doesn’t know if the person in front of him needs to be rested when he gets to his destination. From what Michael says, it seems like reclining will not smash the knees of a tall person.

    I feel sorry for flight attendants who have to deal with arguments like this on a regular basis.

  30. How are people’s knees being crushed? I still can’t picture it. Is the passenger sitting with one leg crossed over the other? That’s the only way I can figure that the seatback can slam into the knee unless someone has really long lower legs (or is wearing high heels or platform shoes?). I’ve always seen the real danger being jostling of liquids on the tray table or crushing a laptop screen which has been tilted back. (When I use my laptop, I always work with my laptop screen in such a position that if the seatback was reclined and the tray table worked properly and remained level, then the laptop screen would be closed (sometimes onto my fingers). This is generally a little more open than 90 degrees and not the optimal angle, but I figure I’m in a cramped metal tube flying through the air with more than a hundred other people trying to get to their destination… Not everyone will check behind them before trying to get comfortable, so I might as well sacrifice a tiny more discomfort by tilting my screen at an angle where I don’t have to deal with a laptop repair person later. It has never occurred to me to disable or limit the recline of another passenger.)

    Oh and Ira’s posts now make sense. When I read his first post, I thought, I wonder if he’s related to the inventor or is a sales guy. The argument isn’t whether or not the device is an invention that solves the problem of reclining chairs or if the device tells the consumer to be courteous and follow orders. It’s that the use of such a device is an infringment upon another individual. From an engineer’s perspective, this is a great solution. But from a human psychology perspective, this isn’t so grand, Even if that individual had no intention of reclining, making it so they cannot do so (or informing them with a card) is unlikely to not build a little resentment. People (I suppose I really should say American’s but other cultures have similar feelings) don’t like having options taken away from them by a peer (a fellow passenger) for no reason other the peer’s whim/comfort. To the would-be recliner, this makes them feel as if the other passenger views the recliner as having less worth/value.

    As an engineer, I often come up with solutions that I think solves a problem and have to be reminded by others (usually my wife) that implementing those solutions alienates or angers others even though it is perfectly logical and solves the problem as I’ve defined it. That’s something that has to be kept in mind. Now, if someone had a medical condition, I would say a knee defender is totally okay (but this should probably be explained to the FA and passenger in front) but otherwise, no, this device invites retaliation as it presupposes the recliner is discourteous and removes the choice from the recliner.

  31. By the way, even though I don’t agree with their use, as an engineer, I love the elegance and simple design of the Knee Defender. From a strictly “how-to-prevent-the-seat-from-reclining” perspective, it’s brilliant. For that, Ira deserves a hat tip.

  32. Passengers have the right to recline, but they also should have the right to defend their knees. I din’t blame anyone for using it if they have it.

  33. First — If I could afford a seat with more leg room, don’t you think I would spring for it? Airfares have gone up a lot in the last couple of years, and many of us can barely afford the coach product.

    Second — I sit straight, not reclined, as I both have very good posture and a back injury sustained in a car accident, which makes reclining in any seat in or out of an airplane total agony. I cannot recline my seat. In addition, I do have long legs. The last international flight I took, the person in the seat in front of me slammed back into me. I was able to quickly catch the seat with my arms just before impact, but released the seat, which then rested on my knees. At which time, the person in front of me kept pushing and pushing on my legs in an attempt to recline farther. I told her the obstacle was my knees, and she said, “I am pushing this back as far as it will go.” Which she had already done. I had bruises for two weeks after that 11-hour flight. So saying that it isn’t possible to recline a seat into someone’s knees — that might give you comfort, but it isn’t true.

    Third — To return the favor of her assault on my person, the Knee Slammer did have a rather chilly and unrestful flight as I aimed the air conditioning vent right on her face, coughed a lot, and got up and down every time she fell asleep, jiggling her seat (which I actually couldn’t avoid as she had her head practically in my lap, making getting up a bit tricky).

    All of you recliners may have the supposed right to inconvenience your fellow passengers, but remember, we don’t need Knee Defenders to assert our rights. And we can do this using purely legal, yet perfectly annoying procedures. All that woman in front of me would have had to do was turn around and ask if I minded if she reclined, at which time I would have negotiated, asking if she could take it back only part way due to my back problem. That is what is called a “compromise” for those of you unfamiliar with the concept.

    As for me, I am planning to move to a place where I can take the train or luxury buses as much as possible. Air travel, which used to be so wonderful, has turned into a total nightmare, and one I will try to avoid. The rest of the world is welcome to duke it out for their three square inches in the sky.

  34. @ Michael

    Thanks for the hat-tip.

    You wrote, “How are people’s knees being crushed? I still can’t picture it.”

    Well, since your post, Geri J. posted of her own experience with actual seatback-knee impact. Google Images also provides some examples (apart from the ones purposefully arranged for amusement).

    And while there’s no reason why anyone else would have done this, I’ve read _lots_ of posts over the years — at reddit, on newspapers’ websites, etc. — and (just for starters), many comments mirror my experience, especially in recent years: When we sit down in our assigned coach seat, while at the gate, our knees already touch the seatback in front of us, and to ease that a bit, we remove anything that may be in the seatback’s pouch.

    In some ways, that’s a good thing. Why? Because then my knees are up against something not-so-hard.

    Otherwise, if there’s an inch or two between the seatback and my knees while at the gate, then during the flight, that gives me enough room to inadvertently move my legs just a bit off-center, left or right, and then… WHAM! if the person in front of me suddenly reclines, hitting my kneecap with the square, hard-aluminum tube that is part of the seatback’s frame.

    When I first started selling this thing (which I have never advertised, other than spending a buck or so, sampling Google Adwords back around 2005 (?)), everything at the website was in terms of “tall” people. A woman wrote me to say she was buying one and commenting (in so many words): “It’s not really how tall you are, it’s how long your legs are.” Turns out, while I’m 5 inches taller than she is, her legs are as long as mine. And so, when someone posts somewhere, “I’m 6’4”, I fly coach, and I’ve never been hit by a seatback”… Well, assuming that all is true, the only explanation I have is that his femurs must be short for his height.

    One other note: While some suggest that long-legged folks should simply stretch their legs out under the seat in front of them… That’s what I used to do. After takeoff, I’d pull my carry-on out from underneath the seat in front, put it by the base of my seat, and then stretch out.

    But then seat-pitches shrank, and so now, with the smaller pitch, my legs cannot make the turn. That is, if I try to extend my legs, my shins hit the bottom of the seat in front of me. And so, short of having an implant of flamingo-like knees, that’s no longer an option. It’s geometry.

    Again, Michael, thanks.

  35. My stance on recline is that reclining is a right – after all why else is the recline function there? However, if you absolutely cannot stand it, just ask the person in front of you, I’ve been asked several times to not recline the seat as the person behind couldn’t bear it. Be nice and most people will probably listen to you.

  36. What many who use the Knee Defender do not realize is that often times the passenger in front of them is facing a reclined seat. Often times, I am forced to recline because I cannot see my laptop or even read a book because of the seat being reclined in front of me.

    Some eight years ago or so, I had a person behind me attempt to block me from reclining on a flight from JFK to FRA. The woman behind me (who was not oversized in any way) jammed something to prevent me from reclining. She then told me that she had no space, and I told her that the seat in front of me was reclined. What was I supposed to do?

    She could not care less, and I was able to recline the seat by applying extra force. Of course, this annoyed her, and perhaps half a minute later she kicked my seat with all of her strength such that my seat went flying forward beyond even the upright position, hurting my back in the process.

    A flight attendant saw this and came running over. Luckily, I did not have to say anything. Her excuse was that I kept moving my seat up and down; I explained that I had moved the seat upright for the meal but then as the passenger in front reclined again, so would I. The flight attendant told her even if I kept moving up and down, it was my right and that in any case she was totally out of line.

    Also, the passenger next to me looked back at her and made a snide comment to her suggesting that she consider getting a Business Class ticket next time if she requires more legroom.

    The head purser then came to me and asked her to come with her. There were no more Coach seats left, but she put me in Business Class for the rest of the flight, apologizing for the passenger (which of course she had no control over) and saying that some people are really unbearable.

    In the morning, I had to go back before landing to retrieve my bag that I had left back in Coach. I noticed that I had neglected to put my seat upright and that the woman had to deal with the seat reclined the whole flight – a bit of schadenfreude! I guess she did not dare say anything more on the flight once she noticed that her actions got me upgraded.

    In any case, people with Knee Defenders need to also take in account the reclined seats the passenger in front of them is facing. While the comment about considering the purchase of a Business Class seat might be a bit snobbish, there is some wisdom in it. You go on a flight knowing what the rules are. Yes, in coach, the seats are small and (usually) the seats recline. If you do not like, fly Business or First or don’t fly.

  37. I am 6’1, with proportionately short legs and a very long torso. In addition, I have sustained 2 (diagnosed) minor back injuries: one in the lower back and hips, and one in the mid to upper back.

    As such I need to have a seat that reclines, as I cannot be seated upright on a plane for the entire duration (even if it is only a 2-3 hour flight). First, my long torso usually sticks my head up way above the designated head zone (whether it is a headrest or just the top of the seat). In certain seat designs, this actually causes any protruding bits of headrest to dig into my shoulders or even into my back. On a recent Lufthansa A346, it was actually digging into the injured portion of my back, which was excruciating. Leaning back, even a couple of inches, gives me a way to slide down the seat a bit and relieve this pressure. In addition, because of my injuries, I cannot sit fully upright (at least to a plane’s overly upright seat) for too long, as it stretches my muscles in an unhealthy and uncomfortable way.

    Because of this, I only book seats that recline at least 3″ (but preferably 4″) for medical and physiological reasons, unless the flight is about an hour or less (For instance I love my typical 37 minute feeder flight from YXU to YYZ on a DH1 even though it doesn’t recline). Sure I may pay a bit more and I can’t travel on Spirit or other super-budget airlines, but it is necessary for me. I am always courteous and turn back to make sure there’s no laptop on the tray behind me and to ask if I can, but (knock wood) I have never come across someone who has made a fuss about it.

    It’s frustrating to me when people don’t realize that:
    a) often people have made the conscious choice to book a particular airline, aircraft, or flight because of the recline capability of the seat, and
    b) sometimes there are necessities, medical or otherwise, that require the use of a recline, that trump your need for personal space.

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say that a reclining seat is a right (although I agree with the original poster’s position), but rather that the seat recline is part of the product that the airline offers, and it is part of what we have paid for. If airline employees are not willing to fight for our rights as consumers to get what we paid for, then we should be allowed to receive a refund of the fair market value of the seat recline service. I also believe that the Knee Defender is akin to an illegal restriction on a coupon or a device that is meant to steal food from the table next to you…it is designed to prevent you (the recliner) from using a part of a service that you have paid for and is ultimately a kind of theft.

    I should also note for the record that I am extremely diligent and proactive in selecting my seat early because of my limitations. I log in online and choose my seat on the earliest day possible, or with my booking if possible, and I check-in online as soon as I can to make sure that I have retained that seat. It will be interesting for me to travel on Air Malta and Turkish Airlines for the first time this summer, as I have not been able to select a seat online with either of these carriers.

  38. Courtesy…on everyones part would be key…however, there are careless people who dont care if your knees pay the price or your health for that matter. Yes, asking, making eye contact are all great suggestions, but they don’t happen. And offering an excuse for the ‘right’ to recline shows that you already know its a tenuous position at best. There are plenty of reasons I can see the use of this item being necessary…surgery, height, pain issues…all are VERY viable. Until everyone does the right thing This item has a place in the market, in the world, and on a plane.

  39. Im sorry, but physically injuring the person behind you by reclining your seat into their legs is not your absolute right.

    You physically injure me, I physically injure you. And I’m bigger than you. I know this because nobody tall would ever consider reclining a “right”.

  40. “Chris, if you’re a consumer advocate, how about informing passengers how to have a civilized, non-passive aggressive conversation, rather than immediately starting off in a way that can only be interpreted as passive aggressive.”

    How am I going to have a civilised conversation with someone who thinks ramming their seat back into my knees repeatedly is their “absolute right”, as you do?

    There’s no compromise here. Either I cut off my legs so you can lay back, or I physically stop you from reclining. Which do you think is more likely?

  41. Your only answer appears to be “The Tall Person should fly business class”. Because it’s your right to be a cunt.

    Tell you what mate. I’ll fly business class if you pay for it. If you recline your seat into my legs, you’re getting knocked out.

  42. The arrogance and moral confusion of the recliners posting here is remarkable. There are actually people here claiming, in so many words, that they have a right to the space _behind_ their seats. If you’ve sold yourself that line then ask yourself this: do you think you have the right to hang stuff off the back of your seat, into the passenger behind you’s face? After all it’s “your seat” that you’d be hanging stuff from, right, and you claim that space in front of the other passenger’s nose is your space. So go ahead and try hanging stuff off the back of your seat, see what happens.

    The truth is we all know that what we’ve contracted for is the back of the seat in front of us (hence we are allowed to use the tray table attached to the seat in front), the front part of the seat we are sitting in (but not the back of it) and the space between them. By reclining you are deliberately shrinking the space the other person has contracted and paid for in order to expand your own. You are a thief. That’s true regardless of what the airline says about it: if the airline tolerates theft, it remains theft. If the airline installs a mechanism in its planes to enable passengers to steal from each other, that theft remains theft. And your theft remains theft even if the person in front of you has stolen space from you: “I stole because someone else stole from me” is not a valid argument.

    The fundamental problem here is the airlines’ choice to create an ambiguous situation by allowing fliers to change the position of their seats. Such ambiguity inevitably incentivizes bad behavior and creates a race to the bottom. The correct solution is for airlines to lock seats in position, doesn’t matter what position, what level of recline so long as safety regulations are not being violated, so that ambiguity is eliminated. Then people can calibrate their responses accordingly.

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