Passengers Fight Over Seat Recline, Cause Flight Diversion

On Sunday, ice water went flying on a United Airlines flight, and it wasn't related to a charitable cause. The use of a seat recline-stopping device called a Knee Defender caused an altercation between two adults on a United flight, causing the plane to be diverted.

To recline, or not to recline — that is the question that has polarized the opinions of air travelers much too frequently as of late, because airlines have been shrinking the amount of distance your knees have while seated. The official industry term, called seat pitch, is defined as the distance from any point on your seat to the same point on the seat in front of or behind it.

Passengers Fight Over Seat Recline, Cause Flight Diversion

Slimline economy seats on an American Airlines 777-300ER

Twenty years ago, 34 inches was pretty much the norm for economy class seat pitch. Over the years, it shrunk to an average of 30-32 inches. Then some clever designers came along, offering slim-line seats. They have a thinner profile and weigh less, which allows airlines to install even more rows of seats on each plane. More seats (when occupied) equals more profit for the airline. Spirit Airlines has the stingiest seat pitch in the U.S. at 28 inches - which should surprise no one. Frequent fliers hate slim-line seats, because they have less padding in spite of the fact that more passengers are taller, wider and heavier than ever before.

Passengers Fight Over Seat Recline, Cause Flight Diversion

On Sunday's United Airlines flight 1462 from Newark to Denver, a fight broke out as a woman in a middle seat tried to recline her chair into the space of the man occupying the middle seat behind her. An anonymous law enforcement official told the Associated Press that the man had installed his knee defenders to prevent the woman from reclining while he was using his laptop. The man also refused to remove the Knee Defenders after being asked to do so by a flight attendant. The woman then allegedly stood up and threw a cup of water on the man behind her. That part of the altercation is what prompted the United crew to divert the flight Chicago and kick both passengers off the plane. Interestingly, they were already sitting in United's Economy Plus section, with four extra inches of legroom over a normal economy seat.

The company that sells Knee Defender promotes the product as "a truly practical travel accessory" and says "If the airlines will not protect people from being battered, crunched, and immobilized – very real problems according to healthcare professionals, medical studies, government agencies, and even some airlines – then people need options to protect themselves." If you think Knee Defender is something you need, you can check it out here, on their site. (*This post is not a promotion for, or an endorsement of the Knee Defender. In fact, I hate that there's even the need to invent a product like this.)

How do you feel about reclining your seat in coach? Do you believe that it's your right, whether someone is behind you or not? Do you recline as far as you can, or just enough to make it bearably comfortable? Do you completely abstain from reclining, out of courtesy? Would you consider using a Knee Defender? Tell us your thoughts & opinions below, in the comment section. I'll weigh in first... When I recline my seat, I never go all the way if someone is behind me. I'm only 5'10" so I am often fairly comfortable in a normal economy seat. I dislike the use of Knee Defenders, (and I'm pretty sure I've had them used on me at least once) because common courtesy should prevail.

H/T Denver Post / Associated Press