The Knee Defender is the device that was at the center of the contention between two passengers. Source: Right Brain, Ltd., LLC.

Seat Recline Battle Results in Flight Diversion; Police Called

T wo passengers were embroiled in a heated argument aboard an airplane which operated as United Airlines flight 1462 over seat recline on Sunday, August 24, 2014 — resulting in the airplane being diverted to Chicago, where police and agents of the Transportation Security Administration were summoned.

The fight reportedly started when the male passenger — seated in a middle seat of row 12 in the Economy Plus cabin — used a device known as the Knee Defender to stop the woman in front of him from reclining while he was using his laptop computer, according to this article written by Scott Mayerowitz of the Associated Press.

A flight attendant asked the 48-year-old man to remove the device. After he refused, the woman — also 48 years old — stood up, turned around and allegedly threw a cup of water at him, which resulted of the diversion of the airplane to Chicago instead of its original intended destination of Denver. The flight originated in Newark.

Seat recline has been a hotly-debated topic of contention of frequent fliers for many years. I personally have never really understood why there is such a big deal pertaining to seat recline. I never had a problem with someone in front of me who decided to recline his or her seat; nor have I had an issue with someone who was seated directly behind me whenever I reclined my seat. I do like to recline my seat even if the additional comfort is only marginal at best — but since learning over the years of how adamant are FlyerTalk members on either side of this issue, I have since resorted to the practice of asking the passenger behind me if he or she minds if I recline my seat; and I cannot recall my request ever being denied.

The Knee Defender was invented back in 2003 which prevents the passenger in front of you from reclining his or her seat. This product had reportedly been banned on some airlines — such as on United Airlines back in 2004, the same airline on which this incident occurred — but use of the product is supposedly not against the law, as long as it is not used during taxiing, takeoffs or landings of aircraft.

It is a debate where no one seems to be happy: those who are for reclining seats want to be more comfortable and have more space as well as purportedly better air flow from an overhead vent — not that the recline is all that significant in the first place — while those who are against reclining seats feel as though the passengers in the seats directly in front of them are encroaching on what little space they have where they cannot work on a computer or eat a meal comfortably.

Perhaps I am wrong, but my opinion remains the same as what I originally wrote in this article on February 23, 2013: the problem stems more from a lack of consideration and respect for fellow passengers rather than from the issue of comfort. Passengers should be able to quickly work out a compromise without having to resort to confrontations to resolve what should be a simple minor issue at best. In this case, there certainly was no need for the situation to get out of control by the two passengers in question, as the behavior of both of them was inexcusable and unacceptable.

If passengers were more polite, considerate and respectful of each other, this whole debate over the recline of seats on commercial aircraft would be a minor issue at best — if at all.

Photograph courtesy of Right Brain, Ltd., LLC.

  1. I rarely recline, and if I do, it’s only just a bit….and done slowly. Personally, I think it’s rude….even in First Class, to slam your seat back lack your trying to swat a fly with it. This being said, I blame the airlines for configuring the cabins in such a way that even a small laptop is at risk if someone pushes the recline button.

  2. If he was in economy plus there is space to use a smallish laptop even if the seat in front reclines fully. The new United seats seem very upright are uncomfortable in any but the reclined position, I usually have mine in the fully reclined position and don’t take offense if anyone in front of me reclines. I think its rude to expect the person in front of you not to recline. He was in the wrong.

    1. According to and the United Fleet Site ( this was the 737-900 in the Continental retro livery.

      I know it all too well. The seats aren’t great, and I can see the DirecTV monitor would probably hit a laptop screen. But tough luck. Even removing the issue of bringing a piece of equipment on a plane designed to temporarily break a seat, comfort should always trump obsessive “I have to have my laptop open just right.”

  3. Never understood why people think coach seats should recline. Eliminate recline in coach, there’s just not the room for this ridiculous fuss over 5 degrees.

  4. How arrogant to interfere with another passengers seat and override how that passenger chooses to use a seat they paid for. I can see how that behavior would flare passions pretty fast. I wonder what are the powers of enforcement if the passenger refuses to remove the item?

  5. I agree with the earlier comment, the guy is in the absolute wrong.
    The recline decision is for the person who paid for the seat, sorry if you are uncomfortable buy two seats, by all means, purchase the seat ahead of you, or move to business or stop flying.
    You just cannot circumvent someones recline because it makes you uncomfortable, it should be illegal. The only right you have is politely ask the person reclining if they’d lessen the recline, while you do your business, and yes thats a favor. It wrong to put a device on a seat thats not yours. It like pushing a slow walker ahead of you in queue because you want to walk fast, get in line bud, cos its nonsense.

  6. It always seems to be more of an issue for tall people. If the filgh starts with my knees hitting the back of your seat due to little legroom, It ain’t gonna be pretty if you try to recline..

    I have a right to get there with my knees intact.

    But then again due to a fight over just this issue some years ago I fly business class, on my own dime.

    6’3″ if you’re curious.

  7. However you feel about the guy who used the Knee Defender…. it was the person who threw the water that crossed the line from disagreement to aggression. If the water hadn’t been thrown the flight probably would not have been diverted. The crew failed to control the situation and allowed it to get out of hand.

  8. I am all for a fully fixed non recline seats. Passengers can bring a pillow or whatever to make them more comfortable but that will reduce their own space and that’s their call.

  9. I would like an “armrest defender” – to prevent the passenger next to me from taking up all the armrest and more.

  10. Seats are made for reclining, during flight. Any passenger has full liberty to recline.
    Anyone not happy with reclining seats should find an aircraft which does not have those.

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