Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Your Knees, Please

We have reached cruising
altitude. You may now irritate
those passengers closest to you.
There have been a lot of recent news reports on conflicts over the use of the Knee Defender during flights.[1] We’re now up to three incidents where planes were diverted because someone was using a Knee Defender. I certainly understand some of the objections that people have raised about flying, although not all of them apply to me.

I do realize that for very tall people there simply is insufficient space between seats in economy. I actually don’t agree with those people who say “pay for more leg room, then,” especially as I’ve occasionally gone for the seat with more leg room, and I’m not tall. Actually, at 5’4”, even I find those seats a little cramped. I also sympathize with those who have had problems with computers because the person in front of them has suddenly reclined. Yeah, my computer is too big to fit behind a reclined seat, so that rules out working in iPhoto when I’m on a flight.[2]

Other than the computer, and I’ve given up on using that,[3] people leaning their seats back doesn’t bother me. Whatever. I tend to recline myself, since it makes it difficult to work on my iPad or read, unless I’m going to take a nap. My seat tends to go back only when the cabin lights are out.[4] When I recline, I take a quick look behind me, and then recline slowly. I’ll add one other problem that can be caused when people recline suddenly: tray tables can wobble, sending a drink flying. I don’t want to be the cause of that.

I try to be good traveller on the airplane. I won’t pretend that I’m always nice, though. I do remember getting into a heated discussion with a fellow passenger whose daughter was kicking the back of my seat. I thought about this when reading a comment on an article in which the commenter noted that he was a tall man, and rather than use the Knee Defender, simply wedged his knees up against the seat in front of him, preventing any movement.[5] That’s my back in front of you, sir.

I do understand those who feel that a reclined seat is an intrusion into space. So is a knee in the back. I’ve certainly endured uncomfortable flights during which I was either kicked (she wasn’t the first nor the last) or had knees pressed into the back of my seat. It’s just a cloth-wrapped foam pad (and not a thick one either), so when someone presses against it, you get a knee or two in the back.

There is not, alas, a product called the “Back Defender,” something rigid that prevents knees from being pressed into your back. I’m sure the airlines can come up with several reasons why most seat backs expose the cushion: added weight of the plastic, increased thickness of the seat, and so on. But I know I’m always happier when I see that the seat back in front of me is encased in plastic. Then I know I’m not getting a knee in the back. Of course, even that doesn’t save you from getting kicked, but unlike reclining, you don’t have the right to kick the back of the seat in front of you.

On that, Damon Darlin of the New York Times, a defender of the Knee Defender, agrees:
Excuse me now while I go online to order the Kid Bagger for that toddler who will be kicking the back of my seat with her steel-toed Mary Janes.

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  1. Yes, this a post that is not, for a change, about Esperanto. I’m piling on the Esperanto posts for reason. I like to have one a day because they are typically popular. I haven’t been writing other stuff because I’ve been busy (writing other stuff). But I’ve been meaning to write about the Knee Defender controversy.  ↩
  2. Well, it’s not like I can geotag photos in the air. On the other hand I could at least sort and rate them.  ↩
  3. The iPad works fine.  ↩
  4. Okay, I have taken naps when it was light out. Often on those first flights out, when I had to get up at 4:30 a.m. to get to the airport.  ↩
  5. I haven’t visited the Knee Defender site, but I’ve read it comes with a card you can give people to tell them that you’re interfering with mechanism of their seat (which reportedly no one ever gives out for obvious reasons). It should (and certainly doesn’t) contain the text “because I’m an asshole.” I have yet to read a single comment from a Knee Defender defender that didn’t make me wish I never share a flight with any of them. Yahoo Travel notes that the failing of the Knee Defender is that
    what it really needs is to protect your face from the fist of an angry passenger who desperately wants to recline.

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