The Great Arline Legroom Wars of 2014 seem to have quieted, for the time being at least. Yet we don’t seem to be any closer to resolving the debate about whether there is a right to recline or a right to stretch our legs.
The only people who could possibly settle that debate are the airlines themselves, and so far they haven’t said much new on the subject — other than progressively shrinking the distance between your seat and those of the people in front of and behind you.
But don’t despair! It seems that travelers have a friend in Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
Though Foxx doesn’t have the authority to compel airlines to do anything unless it is directly related to safety, he made it clear in a recent interview that his agency is monitoring the ongoing mid-air skirmishes. And he sent an important message that can potentially bring both sides of this raging debate together.
“[T]ravelers aren’t sardines,” Foxx told Condé Nast Traveler. “There’s a line there of comfort and the quality of experience. My hope is that the industry sees these incidents as a message from consumers that maybe they are getting a little close to that line.”
When it comes to the “Knee Defender,” the little device that sparked the first reported incident of legroom air rage over the summer, Foxx said his office hasn’t received a flood of complaints.
“We are watching this issue to ensure that we are not seeing a trend that needs to be addressed,” Foxx said. “The airlines have their own safety rules about passengers and disruptions that occur; they have a fair amount of latitude and responsibility for managing those situations.
“Relative to the Knee Defender,” he said, “we’ve had one letter from a consumer about that [device] specifically. Our engagement is really focused on whether there is a safety issue, which is where our authority lies. If there is a pattern that poses a danger to flight, we would get involved.”
Three commercial flights were diverted over a nine-day period in late August and early September due to fights over reclining seats. On Aug. 24, two passengers in the Economy Plus section of a United flight got into a fight after one attached a Knee Defender to the seat in front of him, preventing its occupant from reclining her seat.
Just days later, a French passenger got into trouble on a Paris-to-Miami flight after confronting the flight crew about a reclining passenger.
Then, on Labor Day, a Delta Air Lines flight from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to West Palm Beach, Fla., made an unexpected stop in Jacksonville after a passenger became irate when the woman seated in front of her reclined.
The Knee Defender-deploying man at the center of the first fight later told interviewers: “I’m pretty ashamed and embarrassed by what happened. I could have handled it so much better.”
He added that he never reclines himself. It’s your right to do so, he said, “but it seems rude to do it.”