Space invaders - Monocolumn | Monocle


A daily bulletin of news & opinion

4 September 2014

In my time at Monocle transatlantic flights have been a necessary part of what gets me from our bureau in New York to our home office in London. At first it was exciting to cross an ocean for quick meetings or a week at Midori House. But, as the years have drawn on and legroom has decreased, my rear has found itself in many different types of economy airline seats. These things conspire to make me believe that my time in various Boeing or Airbus jets has really only amounted to an exercise in self-restraint.

I try to be mindful of the people sitting behind or in front of me. I tap the seat-back screen ever so gingerly with my fingers and make a point of not making my knees a fellow passenger’s ad-hoc lumbar support – no one likes knees to the spine. I turn around ever so slyly and case the person sitting behind me. Are they larger? Are they asleep? Might their knees be a knobby jab in my back at 3am? If I deem the coast is clear, I push that magic metal button and let my seat recline.

As the space between the seats (“pitch” in airline lingo) has decreased my consideration for fellow fliers seems to have increased. I guess I am the outlier.

During the past few weeks US airlines were forced to divert three flights because of mid-air passenger spats over legroom, costing the airlines tens of thousands of dollars. In one case a woman became aggravated after resting her head on a tray table and abruptly being knocked in the noggin when the person in front of her reclined. In another, two passengers simply got into a fight over the reclining seat. And in yet another, one passenger threw a cup of water at another following an altercation stemming from the use of a device called a Knee Defender. Yes, a Knee Defender.

A Knee Defender is a $22 gadget hailed by various travel publications as ingenious and devious. The little device clips on to the tray table in front of you and prohibits the seat from reclining. In spite of glowing reviews the airlines have banned them, but they still haven’t figured out how to keep passengers from using them; or how to keep a plane in the sky once passengers start going at one and other after deploying the recline-killing clip.

With the recent scares over Ebola, volcanoes and ongoing terrorist threats it strikes me as somewhat ironic that the airlines have to add these to the list of things they need to halt. Perhaps those in charge of cabin layouts should do like me and exercise a bit of self-restraint when it comes to axing legroom. If they weren’t squeezing more seats into airplanes then they could focus on the threats that really matter and quash those blasted Knee Defenders once and for all.

Tristan McAllister is Monocle’s transport editor


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