Knee Defender Keeps Passengers Upright, Uptight

By Keith L. Alexander
Tuesday, October 28, 2003

It's a recipe for air rage.

You're settling in for the long flight when you get the urge to recline your seat. You push the armrest button, give a little shove backward -- and nothing happens. You try again. Nothing. The seat won't budge.

You investigate, and you discover that the passenger behind you has locked your seatback in the upright position.

Welcome to world of the Knee Defender, a plastic palm-size clip that attaches to a passenger's tray table, preventing the seat in front from reclining.

The device, created by Ira Goldman, 50, a former Capitol Hill staff member, has ignited a heated debate over the longtime issue of a passenger's right to recline. On one side sit those who happily pay the $10 cost of the device and even more happily fly cross-country without damage to their knees. On the other side are outraged travelers who just want to catch a little shut-eye in a comfy, reclining position -- and think the clip unfairly intrudes on their private space.

"This is about protection, not space," said the 6-foot-3 Goldman, who conceived of the Knee Defender on an international flight behind a passenger who repeatedly banged the seat into his knees.

Goldman said he has sold about 1,000 of the clips through his Web site, www.kneedefender.com, since it was introduced a month ago. In that short time, the device has sparked lively chatter in online travel discussions and has come under the scrutiny of the airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Northwest Airlines has banned the gadget and ordered its flight attendants to be on the lookout for it. Other airlines, including United, US Airways and American, said they were studying the device's impact on passenger safety and comfort.

"We don't believe a passenger should interfere with another passenger's ability to recline their seats," said American spokesman Tim Wagner.

Flight attendants said they already have plenty of delicate situations to referee onboard and that seeking out and seizing Knee Defenders would create "unbelievable tension between the flight attendants and passengers," said Jeff Zack, a spokesman for the Association of Flight Attendants.

FAA spokesman Paul Takemoto said the clips were not against federal aviation rules as long as they weren't used during taxiing, takeoffs or landings.

The Knee Defender sits on the arm of an open tray table, creating a wedge against the seat in front and blocking the seat from reclining. It comes with instructions urging users to comply with flight attendants' wishes and to "be polite to fellow passengers." The label also encourages passengers to "stand up for your right to sit down, in safety and good health."


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