There comes a moment on every transcontinental flight—after takeoff, before the drink cart comes around—where you think you might have found a position you can live with for the next four or nine hours. You've arranged your dopey looking neck pillow just so, you've got your knee propped on the seat in front of you. Perhaps your sleep aid of choice has begun its journey through your blood stream; perhaps you've finally settled into your book or Excel spreadsheet. It is at this exact moment, every time, that the gum-snapping clod in front of you will drop their seat back, reclining into your gingerly arranged legs, crushing your laptop, nullifying your sleep aid.
This is the story of a United Airlines flight that departed Newark on Sunday, bound for Denver. It's a story of a man and a woman, both 48, with two different ideas about the rules of plane etiquette. When the woman decided to make her move to recline her seat back into the diminished space bubble of the man behind her, she didn't expect to be stopped by $20 device called, impressively, the Knee Defender, described by its creators as such:
Knee Defender™ is a unique travel accessory - a special favorite of tall frequent fliers.
Knee Defender™ is also valued by airline passengers with small children, "road warriors" who need to work while flying, and any traveler who simply does not like being hit by a reclining airplane seat.
The FAA lets individual airlines establish their own rules regarding the Knee Defender, though all major U.S. operators, including United, have banned it. Perhaps the man—the Knee Defendee, in this case—knew he was asking for trouble when he hooked the device to his tray table. Imagine the woman in front, growing increasingly irate as she struggled to move her seat back, those additional two inches of reclination the only thing standing between her and total airborne bliss.
Flight attendants intervened. The man refused to move his Knee Defender, asserting that he needed to use his laptop. The woman, denied her God-given right to relax at a 110 degree angle, tossed a cup of water on him. That was about the last straw for the United crew, and the plane was landed at Chicago O'Hare, where both passengers were ejected— the adult equivalent of beleaguered parents making good on their threat to "turn this car around" if the kids wouldn't stop fighting. Cops questioned the pair, but neither were arrested.
Imagine them both standing there, awkwardly, in Chicago, the gravity of their own immaturity slowly dawning on them. Did they apologize and go their separate ways? Did they apologize, rent a car to continue their journey to Denver? Did they work it out through a, um, heated exchange in a nearby hotel?
Whether the film version of this ordeal is a lighthearted rom-com, a suspenseful tearjerker, a high-budget anime porn or some combination of all three, it will be called The Knee Defender.