Leg Lebensraum


As airlines continue to pack more people in less space, the issue of leg lebensraum also continues to vex the road warrior. Enter the Knee Defender, a nifty and apparently legal gadget. Consisting of two plastic clips which are placed at the top of either arm of the tray table, the device keeps the seat in front of you locked in place. The gadget can also be adjustable according to how much you want to allow the seat in front of you to recline. The closer each clip is placed to the back of the seat, the less the seat will be able to move. The tiny device is about the same size as a house key and is made with “specially shaped grooves” to fit the different seats and tray table found on a variety of planes.

From the website, Gadget Duck, the company describes the Knee Defender:

It helps you defend the space you need when confronted by a faceless, determined seat recliner who doesn’t care how long your legs are or about anything else that might be “back there”.

According to the site, the device is legal to use:

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was asked about the use of Knee Defenders.
As reported in the October 28, 2003 edition of The Washington Post:
“FAA spokesman Paul Takemoto said the clips were not against federal aviation rules as long as they weren’t used during taxiing, takeoffs or landings.”
Knee Defenders™ are specifically designed to be used with your tray table lowered, while your tray table must be up and locked “during taxiing, takeoffs or landings.”
So, as long as Knee Defenders™ are being used as they are designed to be used in flight, their use does not violate any US aviation law, rule, or regulation.

In an article in The Independent, Soo Kim writes:

Reclining seats have been an ongoing issue among travelers and the airline industry. Last week, Monarch Airlines became the latest operator to dump reclining seats, joining a small group of airlines which have shunned reclining seats on all or some of their flights, including “no frills” operator Ryanair which has always used a rigid backed design.

Monarch said it would introduce new non-reclining seats on all its flights, promising that its new thinner design would provide extra leg room and “living space” than traditional seats.

Earlier this year, a frustrated traveler published a detailed open letter calling for a “revolt” against reclining seats on planes, highlighting several examples where it was an annoyance for him and other passengers in the past.

Last year, a survey by Skyscanner revealed nine in ten plane passengers would like to see reclining seats banned. The moment the seat in front tips back onto your knees has been voted one of the most common causes of mid-flight anger. It seemed the vast majority of passengers would rather lose the right to recline than put up with having their table and leg space compromised by someone else.

The gadget was first introduced a few years ago and in that time several airlines appear to have restricted their use on their aircraft. If one is inclined (no pun intended) to use the device I suggest checking to see if it is permitted. Even if an airline has not banned its use, whether passengers should use such a device is a hotly contested issue. For some, it is a justified countermeasure to inconsiderate people, for others the people using them are inconsiderate. Bruce Kirkby in The Globe and Mail wrote, in an article titled “Is This the Most Obnoxious Invention in Air Travel?”

…this $15 device has been selling like hot cakes since its introduction a few months ago, and has re-ignited a furious debate about the ethics, rights and protocol of airline chair reclining.

Online discussion boards are overflowing with chest puffing and posturing; both it’s-my-right-to-recline and stay-outa-my-personal-space proponents vying to out-shout the other. The UK Civil Aviation authority wants the Knee Defender banned for safety reasons. Surprisingly, the FAA has deemed that the device may be used (except during taxi, takeoff and landing) but many airlines – including Northwest, American, and Continental – have already moved to ban the miserable and indefensible device.

A little civility, you’d think, would go further than pre-emptively blocking your neighbour’s ability to lean back. But civility in air travel has been in a steady decline, attributable to smaller seats, longer lines, too much carry-on, too little space, confusing regulations, indifferent security agents and other indignities that have steadily sucked every last ounce of pleasure from flight. Modern airport procedures invoke a constant, unsettling sense of being herded like cattle. Under such duress, many passengers survive by creating a disengaged, isolated bubble; no eye contact, ear buds in, get on and off as quickly as possible.


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