The Knee Defender: The Most Passive-Aggressive Travel Gadget Ever?

Have you ever heard of the Knee Defender? Chances are, if you’ve been following the news over the last couple of days, you know all about this controversial gadget, but if not, allow me to fill you in.

The Knee Defender is a tiny pocket-sized travel device which locks the fold-out tray on the back of airline seats in place, preventing the person in front of you from reclining. It’s as ‘devious as it is ingenious’, according to their website, and it’s caused quite a kerfuffle on a recent flight.

A United Airlines flight from Newark to Denver was diverted to Chicago on Tuesday after a rather heated row erupted between two passengers, thanks to this tiny gadget which is no bigger than your thumb. The fight started when the male passenger, seated in a middle seat of row 12, used the Knee Defender to stop the woman in front of him from reclining while he was on his laptop. Well, the lady was not happy about this passive-aggressive move and made her feelings known to the cabin crew.

knee defender

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A member of the crew asked him to remove the device and he refused. The woman then stood up, turned around and threw a cup of water at him. That’s when the proverbial really hit the fan and United decided to land in Chicago, delaying the whole flight and ruining everyone’s day.

All this fuss for a bit of legroom?

Well, yes actually.

When you’re forced into sharing your space with 200 strangers for an extended period of time, the tiniest things can make people completely irrational. For example, in my home city of London, there is a terrible daily passive-aggressiveness on the transport system, in particular the tube (I’m looking at you, Northern Line!).

Tube etiquette is a law unto itself, with a few basic rules such as; no eye contact; no smiling or talking  to each other; ignore the drunk guy and if you’re going to pass out, please wait until you are inside a station before pulling the emergency chord, you selfish hungover bastard. In fact, there are probably about a million rules to travelling on the Underground, but the main thing is… keep yourself to yourself and pretend everyone else isn’t there.

Image credit: / Yui Mok/PA Wire

Image credit: / Yui Mok/PA Wire

When someone starts messing with your shit, especially on public transport, as a Londoner I always expect things to kick off. And who can blame people for getting defensive? Back to the recent debacle on the UA flight, it’s no secret that airline seats have slowly been getting smaller as people are generally getting larger. But cramming more seats on a plane means larger revenue for the airline, and cheaper seats for the passenger. You win some, you lose some, I guess. 

So, to recline or not to recline?

So what do you think? Is this all a lot of fuss over nothing? Should the man have been able to stop other people reclining their seat? Was the lady in the wrong for throwing the water? Or is it the airline’s fault in the first place for not providing enough space for people to sit comfortably?

Personally, I think it’s only polite to ask before reclining your seat (so you don’t surprise the person behind you / give them a black eye / fill their lap with red wine), and I usually take mine about half-way back. That’s enough for me to have a snooze and it still means the person behind can get up to stretch their legs or answer a call of nature without jiggling me awake.

I’d love to hear your take on this – let me know using the comments box below.

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Hayley is the author behind A Life of More, a travel and lifestyle blog with the goal of helping you to live a happier and more fulfilled life, whether you're currently travelling or happily settled.

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Comments 8

  1. Monica

    I wish the cabin crew would announce a time when everyone on the plane HAS TO recline their seat. If everyone puts their seats back it’s fine. Well except for the people at the back but that’s just tough luck for those guys.

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  3. Naomi

    There have been a few times when I could have happily thrown a cup of water because of people reclining, especially when it was just after we have been served food and DRINK. But at the same time, the Knee Defender is taking it a step too far. We’re all in the same situation and having the chair at take-off position is possibly the most uncomfortable position ever. I don’t mind people reclining as long as they politely ask and don’t recline so far back that getting up is an issue. Maybe, discussing when to recline your seat should be put on the pre-flight safety video?

  4. Katie

    I think it is fine to recline the seats on a plane, they do recline for a reason! I turn and around and let the person know that I will be reclining, so I don’t spill anything or surprise them suddenly. I think it is a common courtesy to do that.

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  7. Lance

    I seriously think I need to get one of these. The airlines have really created this situation. You see it with animals – confine them too much and they lash out. The same happens here.

  8. Elle Croft

    I can see it from both passengers’ points of view. We’ve all been there, either wanting to recline but feeling too guilty or being slammed in the face with the surprise recliner in front of you. I think if someone goes to the trouble of buying and then using a knee defender, they’re committed to their personal space, so just let them be!

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