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Air traveler at the center of the great seat-reclining debate: ‘I’m pretty ashamed’

(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
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The man at the center of the air travel world’s biggest etiquette debate — to recline or not to recline — has a few regrets.

“I’m pretty ashamed and embarrassed by what happened,” James Beach told the Associated Press on Wednesday. “I could have handled it so much better.”

Additionally, Beach claimed that he never reclines. It’s your right to do so, he insists, “but it seems rude to do it.”

Two Sundays ago, Beach’s United Airlines flight was diverted after he sparked a fight over legroom. It began when Beach, who stands over 6 feet tall, opened his laptop and strapped on the “Knee Defender,” a $22 device that prevented the woman in front of him from reclining her chair.

The way Beach tells it, the woman told flight attendants that her seat was broken — at which point Beach, 48, confessed that he was using the device. He began removing the Knee Defender when the attendants asked him to, he said.

“As soon I started to move it, she just full force, blasted the seat back, right on the laptop, almost shattered the screen,” Beach told the Associated Press. “My laptop came flying onto my lap.”

He complained that the woman had taken up all the space. As the Associated Press reports: “That’s when Beach’s anger boiled over. He said he pushed the woman’s seat forward and put the Knee Defender back in.” The woman stood up, according to the Associated Press, and threw a soda at Beach.

Air rage, as it were.

The woman was moved to another seat. “I said a lot of things I shouldn’t have said to the flight attendant,” Beach said, “some bad words, what’s your name and ‘I can’t believe you’re treating me like this.'”

Then, he said, to his amazement, United Flight 1462 was rerouted.

When the Newark-to-Denver flight made an unscheduled stop in Chicago, airline employees wouldn’t let the battling passengers continue to Colorado. Instead, Beach hopped on a flight the next day, on a plane with no reclining seats at all.

Beach appeared on NBC’s “Today” show on Thursday to tell his side of the story again.

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Just a few days after Beach set off the great seat-reclining debate, a French passenger got into trouble on a Paris-to-Miami flight after confronting the flight crew about a reclining passenger.

Then, on Monday, yet another plane was diverted when two passengers aboard a Delta Air Lines flight from New York to West Palm Beach, Fla., fought over a reclining seat.

Beach told the “Today” show that the reaction to his dispute on United Flight 1462 was a surprise.

“I thought that would be the end of it; ‘Okay, I’ll write a letter to United,'” he said, “and a few days later I’m browsing the Internet. I did a Google search and saw it was everywhere, and that to me was shocking.”

[This post has been updated to add the “Today" show video.]