The topic of reclining one’s seat on planes has been in the news a lot lately, thanks to a couple of recent incidents so extreme that they’ve caused flights to be diverted. The most egregious example was an August 24th United flight in which one passenger used a Knee Defender to lock the seat in front of him. The device, which has been around for more than a decade, clamps onto the seat tray making it impossible for the person in front to recline their seat. Arguments for and against have flown around the Internet since then, and I thought it was time for me to weigh in.
As a 6’2” guy with knee problems, where I sit in an increasingly cramped economy class plane cabin matters a lot. If I don’t get exactly the right seat, then I can expect hours of misery ahead of me. Compounding the problem are passengers in front of me who decide to recline their seats from wheels-up to wheels-down. Now, I understand that they paid for that seat and technically they have the right to recline as much as they want to, but I also think that there is such a thing as compassion and basic decency and neither seem to play a role in modern commercial aviation.
Never once have I had someone turn around to check before reclining their seat, much less ask me if it was ok. I’ve had drinks spilled, laptops crushed and knees killed on the hundreds of flights I’ve taken, all thanks to inconsiderate people in front of me. Many of the Knee Defender critics say that using this device (which is banned by the airlines) is the height of selfishness, but I would argue the contrary.
Just because you’re allowed to do something doesn’t mean that you should, which is the case with individuals who decide to spend 8 hours slightly more reclined for no apparent reason other than to stretch out a bit. If it’s an overnight flight, I can understand reclining a little; I’m not talking about them. No, I’m talking about the many people who just choose to fly around the world a bit more stretched out. Yeah, I hate them.
Last week columnist Josh Barro wrote that he should be allowed to recline all he wants to; a perk he takes full advantage of. He went on to say that tall people like me are a privileged group that already enjoy more benefits out of life than our short counterparts. While it may be true that on average we make more money and are luckier at love than our undertall friends, it can’t be denied that people not as tall as I am have a completely different flying experience.
I can only imagine what it must be like to have ample legroom in an economy class seat; to not have an imprint of the tray on one’s knees and to leave a flight not hobbled but with blood actually circulating through one’s arteries. Depending on one’s height, economy class to short people may very well be the same experience as what premium economy is for me. Yet we are in the same class of travel and they have a much more enjoyable experience than I do. Doesn’t seem right, now does it?
Mr. Barro also noted that if I wanted more room, I always have the option of paying for it in the form of premium economy or business class. The problem is that I can’t afford that on a routine basis, as much as I would like to. And why should I be forced into a different class of service just because I’m tall? Josh went on to say that if I don’t want people like him to recline, I should pay them NOT to recline. That if I wanted it bad enough, I’d at least try to attempt a transaction. He said no one has tried that with him before, so therefore it must not be that big of a deal.
I’m not surprised no one has attempted to pay him off, I wouldn’t. I even bought a Knee Defender when they first came out, but I could never bring myself to use it. Why? For the same reason that I would never ask someone NOT to recline, I don’t feel like it’s my right. Unlike my selfish co-passengers the row in front of me, I don’t feel that it’s right for me to infringe on their space as they do with me. I decide to take the higher road and suffer in silence as the shorties up front have the flight of their life.
I’m not saying that airlines should ban reclining or that the Knee Defender is an appropriate device to use. Neither is true. No, instead I’m saying that the flying public should use some common sense and employ at least a modicum of human decency and take stock of every situation. Should the person behind you be taller than normal (me) maybe take the higher road and choose NOT to crush their arthritic knees for 8 hours. Maybe, just maybe, they can choose to be kind and decent people instead of the usual jerks that always seem to be seated directly in front of me.
I’m almost afraid to ask, but – What do you think?