Last year we wrote about the Knee Defender, a pair of plastic gizmos that an airplane passenger can use to prevent the person in front of them from reclining. We wrote it up in utter dismayed fascination at a product directly designed to increase one's comfort while inconveniencing another; we called it the "Me-first" approach to product design.
Now it's in the news, after a flight was diverted and a man and woman tossed off the plane for arguing over the thing. On Sunday United flight 1462 was en route from Newark to Denver when a fortysomething woman tried to recline her seat. She could not; the fortysomething man behind her, using his laptop on the seatback tray, had deployed the Knee Defenders. United officially bars their use, and this is what happened next according to the AP:
A flight attendant asked him to remove the device and he refused. The woman [whose seat was barred from reclining] then stood up, turned around and threw a cup of water at him, [a law enforcement official] says. That's when United decided to land in Chicago. The two passengers were not allowed to continue to Denver.
USA Today subsequently interviewed the inventor of the me-first device. Unsurprisingly, he passed the buck:
"Sometimes people do things they shouldn't do on airplanes, but as far as I know this is the first time anything like this has happened," involving the Knee Defender, said Ira Goldman, the man who invented the device in 2003 and continues to sell it online.
"United could make seats that do not recline, but they have not chosen to do so," said Goldman. "In the meantime, the Knee Defender says right on it: 'Be courteous. Do not hog space. Listen to the flight crew.' Apparently that is not what happened here."
What do you guys think, is this an irresponsible product design, or do you have the if-you-design-a-car, someone-will-use-it-to-rob-a-bank, it's-not-my-fault attitude about it? And do you think we'll see more me-first product designs in the future? One popular NYC pet peeve is guys who sit on the subway with their knees spread wide open—what's the ID fix for that?
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The maker of this device should be forced to pay for the cost of the diversion. This device has no business on board aircraft. It can only cause anger, resentment, and altercations between passengers.
Tall people: buy a bulkhead seat, exit row, or economy plus ticket if your precious knees can't handle the seat in front of you reclining. The person in front of you paid for a seat that has a recline feature, and has every right to use it.
THANK GOD someone finally got it right!!! Amen to that!!!
It is no doubt unkind and immoral to use knee defender because the user is often reclining himself while also stealing the reclining space rightfully belong to the passenger in front. Essentially, the user believes his or her comfort is more important than the person in front. Isn't that the original sin? If one needs larger space, buy First Class! Having longer legs is not a valid argument. I might need more calories than you due to my height, but it doesn't give me the rights to steal anyone's food.
I was on a red eye to London several years ago where the seat wouldn't recline. I had paid extra to select a better seat, so I was rather upset. The airline refunded the upgrade fee, but I couldn't sleep. Also unlucky that there was a fire scare at my hotel, so I couldn't nap. I attended a wedding and rehearsal dinner like a zombie. Actually, all week was ruined. It was all from that stupid seat!
It didn't cross my mind that it was knee defender at the time. The man at the back reclined his seat and took my extra. The flight attendant couldn't figure out why it happened. The flight was completely full, so she couldn't move me. Now I realize it was the evil of this device. I remember it was able to recline soon before we land! That was so evil. I have chronic back pain, and I was walking with a cane. Why would anyone steal space from a cripple?
Also that person had essentially stolen money from the airline, because of the refund. They externalize the cost to every passenger. It is selfish and unjust. I don't see how anyone can defend knee defender in a court case.
I live in chronic pain too. I would have been absolutely FURIOUS. Now at ur expense I will know what's going on:-/ Sorry but thank you as well. How TERRIBLE. I feel your pain:(
This has one purpose, to indicate it is "how someone uses it" is just no accurate. Inventor should own up to what the product is. A small "screw you" to the person in front.
Airlines should stop cramming an unsafe amount of people onto the planes.
I also don't find the "car-bank robbery" comparison to be very helpful here, because a car has so many positive uses. This product has one negative use.
THANK YOU for making this comment! It must stink to have such height and long legs on flights but if they make fat people buy two seats then tall people that want extra leg room have a much smaller inconvenience by upgrading.
As a very tall individual my knees are already touching the seat back in front of me. I get an exit row/aisle seat whenever possible. I have issues with people who insist on reclining at full speedâ€š especially children who don't really need to recline in the first place. A little common courtesy to turn around and ask would prevent a host of issues.
You could probably apply this statement just as easily towards the designers of the aircraft's seat layout and seat design.
I do think that this "knee defender" is better replaced by a politely asking the person in front to straighten up their seat.
I am constantly amazed at the selfishness of others. If someone deployed the knee defender on my seat it would quickly turn into a physiology experiment because they would be finding out how easily they can digest them. It is called being considerate. If I am sitting in front of a tall person I don't recline. If I recline and feel knees in my back, I apologize, then move back up. If it is a snotty short person jamming their knees in me because they don't want my chair to recline then tough (that happens to me a lot). The plane is not your personal office. I don't work on my 17" laptop when I travel because I can't do it easily on the plane. I want to. But I am just not that much of a jerk. That is life. I bought a plane ticket not office space. You can't disable or inconvenience others to benefit yourself. Planes suck and you just have to suck it up for the trip. If you don't like it now, do a search for "standing airplane seats"... Then get ready for what the future of air travel will be like. Even more miserable.
At some point, based on rising fuel costs, we will all be treated like cargo. Our ticket price will be based on our weight and size. They will just be moving human cargo. The design of airplane seats will probably allow some adjustment to accommodate the size of each passenger to some extent (more than 2Â° of reclining we get now). Your seat profile and adjustment will probably be linked to your traveler profile and the plane will be smart enough to set it for you before you board.
thank you for pointing out the obvious solution of using the people on either side of you as a bed, I have been doing this for years and have made many life long friends this way. The Japanese even came up with a "lap pillow" for when you aren't flying often and miss the experience of "lap napping."
As long as the person using the Knee Defender uses manners, can explain to other passengers when needed why he uses it, conforms to the rules of airlines, I do not see a problem.
In short: Don't be a prick even when others are if you want to go from A to B.
To the posters saying get rid of the the recline feature, I feel very uncomfortable for more than a few minutes in the upright position, recline is there for a good reason. If you were to have just 1 position maybe it should be more reclined than the straight up option [probably a safety issue as it would slow exit]. Tall people with knees that get hit should ask to sit in or behind exit rows and bulkheads. It takes more effort but many cabin crews will help.
If the airline would have reacted to the existence of the product by designing an experience that would respect the various space needs of all its passengers, none of us would be having this conversation.
When I first heard about this product last year, I read it as a design provocation. Probably not in the best taste. But certainly a necessary idea to provoke questions the airline industry seems incapable of acknowledging or addressing. And with this follow-up story, the response is clear: the best solution to a service design problem is to kick all affected parties off the plane thereby providing no service at all. *sigh*
They have called the flight attendant over but there is nothing to be done as I cannot remove my knees. They are what they are and I just cannot and will not slide my feet under that same seat.
Well if I was sitting in front of you, you would habe no knees left! Pay for an upgrade or opt to go on an airline that doesn't have reclining seats!
I do not think you own the space in front of you above your knees. What about you install the blocks preventing the seat in front of you from reclining. But then you recline the chair youâ€™re in. In Western culture believe we own this and own that, we do not want to share. It is all about what is mine.
Looks like it is making more problems than solving them.
The seat defender is not a me first product. The "me first" product is the fact that the seat reclines and the people who take advantage of it. The knee defender simply combats those people.
For people who live in chronic pain every single day of their lives, yeah... it does matter.
In all seriousness, though, you're in roughly the same position with both products, even though the latter is much more aggressive and exaggerated. The tool improves your situation while inconveniencing that of another. The conversation could easily end up in a Lockean debate on our state of nature if one were so inclined to take it there.
Personally, I have no problem with the idea of "me-first" design. My interpretation of that, however, goes no further than the product simply benefitting the user and no one else. The 'Knee Defender,' though, is a product that is clearly confrontational. There is no way for it to function without inconveniencing the person sitting in the seat on which it is applied. I wouldn't call it irresponsible, but I wouldn't call it successful. The challenge with the "me-first" idea seems to be how do you create an egocentric design that has a neutral impact on those around you? I could see the 'knee defender' being re-marketed toward airlines in bulk. Entire rows could be retrofitted with 'knee defenders' and advertised as 'desk seats' or something like that. In my mind, the challenge of taking a 'me-first' design and figuring out how to execute it with zero to minimum impact on others is worth trying. Or, is what defines the 'me-first' design the fact that it inconveniences others around you?
It's a "me first" product, meant to counter the "me only" people who recline seats on domestic flights. I can see why international flights are different.
The real problem is with the airlines, but since air travel is a commodity, businesses will not justify paying a little more for passenger comfort.