| FlyersRights has written about the emerging revolution brewing at 30,000 feet above America.
Over the last few years the airlines have been moving seats closer together and reducing the number flights per route to keep flights as full as possible, leading to stressed passengers and “Air Rage”.
Last August, we saw multiple stories in the news about planes diverting due to violence onboard the aircraft or passengers becoming unruly and angry – one involving a Knee Defender.
With most airline injustices – the overbooking of flights, sardining and bumping of passengers, endless fees, limited space for carry-ons and the ever-diminishing value of frequent flyer programs – passengers feel powerless.
Which drove up sales of a product that finally gave some power to the passenger – in the form of vigilante justice.
FlyersRights recently spoke with Ira Goldman, the inventor of the Knee Defender, on the state of civility in air travel today:
FlyersRights: How did you deal with last summer’s massive media focus on your product after the air rage incidents? Late last August/early September, three flights were diverted. One was a flight from Newark to Denver – the one on which a so-called “kerfuffle” occurred about how one passenger was using his Knee Defender.
Then, within the next 10 days, there were two more diversions after some real in-flight altercations. Those two started when a passenger reclined her seat and hit someone – one was hit in his knees, the other was hit in her head. And to be clear: On those two flights, neither of the rearward passengers had a Knee Defender.
And so, a year ago, from all that, three big things happened to my company: A surge in orders, lots of press calls from around the world, and a huge hit to the server hosting our website, GadgetDuck.com.
Fortunately, our inventory on hand (and a rush shipment from Asia) covered the orders. And, while I have a face for radio, I have done a good amount of print and broadcast press over the years. Ultimately, the toughest nut was keeping the website up and running, which did take some hours to resolve. But otherwise, there was just a lot of lost sleep for a few weeks.
FR: How much do you fly nowadays, do you always bring the Knee Defender?
I used to do a lot of international trade work, which had me flying 50-100,000 miles/year. I fly a lot less now. And yes, I do bring along my Knee Defender – and then I use it or not, depending on the equipment and circumstances on my flight.
FR: What do you say when airlines tell customers – pay for extra space if the seats are too close together? Alternatively, if a person is too tall for a coach seat, should they pay for First or Business class for the extra legroom – just as obese people sometimes have to buy two seats?
If you simply want more “room” on a flight, the airlines have a right to charge you for it. But as a passenger, you also have an absolute, legal right to be transported safely – no matter how much or how little you’ve paid for your ticket.
And so, even if you’re traveling on a super-low fare, the airline has a duty to protect you from injuries during the flight – which means they have a duty to protect you from being whacked in your knees, or in your head, by a reclining seatback.
Then, if an airline fails in its legal duty to protect you, you have a right to protect yourself. And that’s why I invented Knee Defender – for times when an airline doesn’t protect its passengers, to help those passengers protect themselves.
FR: How much right does one passenger have to impinge on the free movement of another? What’s your reply to someone who says when they recline they’re using space that they paid for? In short, who OWNS that disputed space?
No matter what “rights” any passenger may have, there is absolutely no “right” to do anything that causes injury to another passenger.
Let’s say your seatback is upright and there’s a passenger seated directly behind you. And, her kneecaps are flush up against your seatback.
In other words, the space your seatback would occupy if you reclined it…? That space is already occupied by the legs of that other passenger.
And so, even if you have a “right to recline”, in that situation your “right” has to take second place to the health and safety of that passenger behind you.
By “health and safety”, I mean the passenger behind you has a clear right not to be hit by your seatback. And she has a clear right not to be physically restrained in her seat – such as having your seatback resting on her knees. That is, she has a right to at least enough room to move around in her seat in order to help prevent blood clots, aka DVT.
FR: Is reclining your seat into another passenger’s knees, or arbitrarily locking the seat in front of you a breakdown in courtesy?
It seems clear that courtesy on planes has dropped over the years – especially in the past 10 years. Part of that may be load factors. But it’s also a factor of passengers-packed-in-per-cubic-foot.
Even federal courts have found: The more constricted the space is on a plane, the more likely there will be bad interactions between passengers. In other words, even on a plane with seats that can’t recline, if an airline increases the number of people it packs in, it’s likely to engender more disputes – passenger-to-passenger, as well as passenger-to-flight crew. Environmental factors created by each airline do count.
FR: You invented the Knee Defender way back in 2003, weren’t economy seats much roomier back then?
Knee Defender was launched as a product in 2003, but I invented the basics a few years before that on a long flight to Europe. Yes, back then coach seating was much roomier. Yet, even with that greater seat-pitch, I was hit by reclining seats too many times – hit right in my kneecaps by the seatback’s hard metal frame.
Two things about the design of Knee Defender are worth noting. First, the product is adjustable – that is, it can be placed so that the seat in front of you can recline, and yet so the seat will stop before it can hit you.
Then second: In some ways Knee Defender is like a latch on a bathroom door. In other words, in case someone starts to recline without looking, Knee Defender can let the person know you’re there. “Occupied”, so to speak.
Many Knee Defender users have e-mailed us and said that’s how they use it – as a “warning device”. So when someone in front of them tries to recline, many Knee Defender users see that, say “Just a minute”, then they take a moment to move out of the way, or move their laptop out of the way – so nothing will get banged up. Then they tell the person in front of them, “Thanks, now come on back.”
FR: The FAA has said the clips are not against federal aviation rules as long as they aren’t used during taxiing, takeoffs or landings. Do the airlines have the right to prohibit them?
Federal regulations allow airlines certain discretion, but only as long as the airlines meet their duties as common carriers – especially their duty to provide safe transportation.
If only the airlines, themselves, would find a way to protect passengers from being hurt while in their seats on an otherwise safe flight. First, that means protecting passengers from traumatic injuries, such as being injured when hit by a suddenly-reclined seatback.
Second, the airlines need to find a way to protect passengers from delayed-effect seating injuries, such as DVT. Passengers are much more likely to suffer life-threatening DVT if they are immobilized for an extended period – such as by too-narrow seats arranged with too-tight seat-pitch.
Unfortunately, it seems the airlines will not start protecting passengers this way unless DOT and FAA require them to by regulation. That is why I testified at a hearing at DOT this past spring – to urge that safe seating be made a part of an airplane’s formal safety certification process.
Yes, of course the first concern when flying is a safe take-off and landing.
However, if your plane lands safely… but then three hours later you suffer a stroke due to a blood clot you developed during the flight – a blood clot that might not have formed if you hadn’t been physically immobilized in your seat – then you really didn’t have a safe flight. Everyone deserves a safe flight.