Enduring the not-so-friendly skies

  • Article by: EDITORIAL , Chicago Tribune
  • Updated: August 29, 2014 - 7:25 PM

The Knee Defender caused a fight on a recent flight. “Standing cabins” might be a better answer.



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The world is full of intractable conflicts. Israelis vs. Palestinians. Sunnis vs. Shiites. Cubs vs. Sox. People who recline their airline seats vs. the people who sit behind them..

Which brings us to the saga last Sunday of United Airlines Flight 1462 from Newark to Denver.

A 47-year-old male passenger on that flight wielded a gadget known as the Knee Defender in an attempt to forestall a woman in front of him from reclining. The device attaches to a passenger’s tray table and prevents the forward seat from reclining.

The woman, no surprise, complained. The flight attendant asked the man to remove the device. He refused. The woman — surprise! — stood up, swung around and doused the man with a cup of water.

Instead of a stern lecture to the air warriors about airline etiquette, however, United diverted the plane to O’Hare and let Chicago police and TSA officers handle the combatants. The flight took off again to Denver without them.

Dumping those two squabblers may have been a justified punishment for loutish behavior at 30,000 feet. But do the math: Instead of a planeful of passengers happy to arrive in Denver on time, United invited everyone else to be as disgruntled as those two because the delayed flight arrived in Denver one hour and 38 minutes late.

The calculus of squeezing more cabin seats into a finite tube is painfully unforgiving for taller people with knees that protrude beyond the airlines’ miserly allotment. That has led some airlines to stop seats from reclining. Misery loves equality.

There’s another possible solution: A more vertical passenger seat in what’s known as a “standing cabin.” These seats have shorter, angled cushions and longer backrests, allowing passengers to stay in a more upright seated position.

Vertical seats haven’t been approved by American aviation authorities yet. But they sound like a great idea for a cheaper flying option.

Meanwhile, let us remind frazzled airline passengers (is there any other kind?) that you can be an obnoxious space invader or you can be polite. If you want to recline, ask the person behind you if he or she minds, and then do so … slowly.

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