Recline That Seat and I'll Strangle You!
Airline travel and everything associated with it has a way of bringing out the worst in people. And now that the airlines have reduced seat pitch to that of a Roman slave galley, we've entered the era of the cabin brawl. In case you didn't hear about it, a United flight from Newark to Denver diverted to Chicago Sunday when two passengers got into a spat over whether a seat should be reclined or not. Wow. Couldn't they, like, reseat them in other parts of the cabin? Maybe it's not fair to second guess the skipper, but I'm just sayin'.
The argument erupted when one passenger used a device called a Knee Defender, which attaches to the tray table and prevents the seat in front from reclining. That this is an explosive, emotional issue will be obvious if you read some of the reporting and commentary on the subject. In this recent posting on Time's website, an author defending the Defender allows as how he's thinking he'll come over the top of the seat and strangle any person who reclines into his knee space. Seriously? He also blames the airlines for this predicament, but he really ought to look in the mirror.
You can express your own view below, but mine is that using the Knee Defender is a hostile act. It's like resorting to automatic weapons in a game of checkers. It invites just the sort of altercation that got both passengers tossed on Sunday. Evidently, the person being reclined into roughly shoved the seat forward once or twice and threatened the passenger doing the reclining. He got a drink in the face in response. I can just imagine the poor flight attendant. "You kids cut that out! Don't make me come back there." Really. Seriously.
What to do then? At least two airlines have removed the reclining apparatus and that's certainly one solution. Spirit is one. I don't fly Spirit because they've managed to make what's a fairly miserable experience even worse by tacking on a dizzying list of fees and locking the seats in what's already the industry's stingiest seat pitch--28 inches, compared to United's 31, which is itself on the low end of the scale. I'm willing to pay more to avoid being treated like that, thanks. In other words, I'm making a choice. Having the seat recline is just one tiny vestige of comfort and civility in an industry that increasingly offers less and less for more and more.
But the six-footer stuffed into the same pitch that I can fit into more comfortably has a point about the recline. If he's already tight on space, having it restricted further by a recline can be understandably irritating. But what he doesn't have the right to do, in my view, is rudely shove the seat forward, verbally assault the reclining party or insert the Knee Defender. A better solution, I think, is to simply politely explain the space problem and politely ask the person not to recline. Or perhaps split the difference and recline just a little. Some people like to work or snooze and a little recline helps that. I get lower back pain in some airline seats after 30 minutes or so and the recline alleviates that. But from here on out, I think I'll just ask the person behind me before I push the button.
Whatever the case, never, ever get into an altercation in the cabin about this. It's just not that important and if things really spin out of control, you risk arrest or getting yourself placed on a no-fly list. Think how those passengers on the United flight must have felt being delayed because a couple of people couldn't contain their emotions. Think how the two ejectees must have felt.
Where I fear this is going is that airlines will remove the recline feature entirely, denying all of us one last comfort simply because a few people go ballistic over being denied knee space or the ability to recline. And as for the Time author blaming the airlines, well, they certainly had a hand. But so do their customers who have demanded and responded to ever lower fares that have encouraged smaller seat pitch in the quest for profits. You get what you pay for has never been more precisely expressed than the distance between seats 17A and 18A. If we keep asking for it, they'll keep giving it to us.