Friday, August 29, 2014

Tall Airline Passengers Strike Back With the 'Knee Defender'

The harsh reality of airline travel for people over  6'3" (Photo -
Being a rather moody nostalgic sort, I enjoy this time of year as the days begin to shorten, the nights get cooler and America begins the transition from summer to fall.

Autumn is my favorite season and even though the Fall Equinox officially begins on September 22nd, with college football kicking off and school starting, it really starts next Tuesday.

As one of those lucky enough to be working the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, I am relieved of the stress of scrambling to get on a crowded highway or get to an airport or train station.

Even though there are no travel plans on my schedule, I thought this story about a device called the 'Knee Defender' might be interesting to anyone traveling this weekend.

It's been getting a lot of media traction over the past few days after an AP article posted on Monday about a recent United Airlines flight that was forced to divert and land when two passengers got into a beef because a man used his Knee Defender to prevent a woman in front of him from reclining her seat.  

The 'Knee Defender' is a simple device anyone can purchase for $21.95. It's basically two molded plastic clamps that you attach to the bars of the slide tray in front of you. When locked in place, they prevent the passenger in front of you from reclining their seat back and cramping your knees.

I first read about this device in a NY Times article by Damon Darlin last night.

But according to a blog posted on the industrial design Website Core77 back on February 21, 2013 the Knee Defender has been around since 1993. As we all know the comfort and "wow factor" of airline travel has given way to less leg room and more cramped cabin conditions as airlines put profits over passenger comfort.

Overbooked flights, charges for checked baggage and fees for aisle seats and exit row seats (really?) make airplane cabins even tighter spaces than they already are. As a guy who is 6'"7 tall, let me tell you the mere idea of flying in economy literally fills me with anxiety.

Maybe that's why I don't travel that much, I don't know. I love Amtrak with the ample leg room and easy ability to get up and take a stroll to the snack car, but these days the airline industry sees travelers as components of profit rather than human beings - I'm surprised you don't have to swipe your credit card to use the bathrooms on a plane.

If you want to dive deeper into the economic realities and harsh truths of why airline manufacturers and airline companies don't offer more leg room on flights, you should check out Arianne Cohen's "The Tall Book". It's a fascinating study of the realities of being a tall person in a society that generally doesn't design things like car seats and airplane seats to accommodate tall people.

The countless people who have walked up to me and gushed how great it must be to be tall have no idea what it's like to fly economy from Newark International to LAX.

Anyway good luck if you're flying this weekend and drive safe if your taking a road trip. As for me, I'm for the guy on that United flight who used his Knee Defender to defend his right to what little room he does have. Kudos to Ira Goldman, the inventor of the Knee Defender.

It's a pretty sad state of the airline industry today (and what kind of priority they put on passenger comfort) that such a device even exists, but If I do decide to fly in the near future, I'll go online and buy a Knee Defender and just take my chances of getting into a dispute with another passenger.

It's a small price to pay not to be cramped, stiff and uncomfortable for the duration of a flight that truly does cost "an arm and a leg".

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