Lean In, Not Back

By Tuesday, August 26, 2014 2 No tags Permalink

A small news story caught my attention yesterday. You may have missed it or not bothered to look twice at it. But, to me, it was action packed with potential. In short, United flight 1462 EWR to DEN was diverted to ORD because of a brew-ha-ha over one passenger’s refusal to let another passenger recline. A man in row 12, middle seat, attached something called a “Knee Defender” to his tray table, thereby prohibiting the woman seated in front of him to recline.

Knee Defenders are banned from most of the major airlines and he was asked to remove it. He wouldn’t. Tempers rose. Voices rose. And then she rose. Middle 11 got up, turned around and threw water in his face.

I guess it’s around this time that the pilot made a sharp right turn to Chicago and tossed the non-recliners off the plane. Everyone else ventured on to Denver, albeit an hour and half behind schedule.

This story has me switching sides fast. At first, I thought the man was wrong, wrong, wrong. These seats were in Economy Plus – a pay-up section where you’re afforded four extra inches of legroom; you should be okay with a little lean back. Plus, good grief, you were asked by the attendants to remove the Knee Defender – you really do need to follow instructions, pal. And, of course, before I even got to the details, I knew it was a man who had employed the anti-reclining device, even though in my personal experience, it is always a man who is reclining into my space!

But, then I thought, is it really okay to throw water in someone’s face at 30,000 feet? You felt you needed to do that and not just let the crew deal with it? She seems to be taking it all a bit too seriously and personally.

Then I started reading the comments. They were even odder than the story. Some believe it’s rude to recline. Others thought it was rude not to. More thought that if everyone reclined, we’d be fine (and, sure enough, the corollary was proffered). A long debate over where the seat begins and where it ends appeared. Did the woman own the seat, front and back? Or, did the man own the leg room in front of him? This got me thinking of a seat like a condominium, where you own the inside of the seat, but not the external part (which seems to be true).

I also felt like screaming, “Guys! You’re in middle seats! You should be fighting for arm rests!” But then I realized just how awful fighting for arms rests and leg room at the same time would be. (Maybe he was in the right?)

Two millennial women were nearby and I shared the story with them. They thought time of day dictates reclining rules. Interesting.

So, here’s where I stand on reclining: I don’t do it. Mostly because I don’t like to and because I think it encroaches on the person behind me. Also, I don’t like it when the person next to me reclines because I don’t like the people behind seeing me through the little crack; it’s creepy. All in all, sitting behind a recliner is lousy. Think about it, has the person behind you ever tapped your shoulder and said, “Hey, feel free to lean back and make yourself comfortable! I don’t mind at all!” More likely, if you are a recliner, the person behind you makes a point of yanking the chair when they’re getting up (just to give you a subtle little suggestion). At least, that’s what I do.

  • TK
    August 26, 2014

    Ok. Would love some character development on these 2!! Some “earlier that day” footage would be amazing (bad day? Traffic? Job loss?)-and helpful in picking sides. I’m going to say water in the face perhaps a major over reaction-to a major annoyance. I’m not a fan of reclining but-it’s allowed and the guy clearly has issues. I am always amazed at what people do in public! Why do some people think rules don’t apply to them? The both of them ended up where they belonged that day. One caveat-I don’t think it’s ok to recline in a small regional jet. There is just not room. If someone in front of me reclines into my lap, I have been known to ask if they want conditioner with their shampoo…

    • Zoe Vogel
      August 26, 2014

      TK, you’re a pro. I like the idea of a prequel to this story for sure. Plus, I got to wondering….were these two going home to Denver or leaving their homes in NJ? They seem to have a little Jersey in them, but then again, maybe one of them was stoned!

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