Should the Knee Defender Be Allowed on Airline Flights?

Use of the seat-recline preventer led to a heated confrontation, a flight detour and the removal of two passengers on a United Airlines flight.

Two travelers were booted off a United Airlines flight this weekend after a heated exchange over the use of a Knee Defender.

What is this thing? you ask. It’s two small plastic devices, retailing for $21.95, that attach to the arms of your tray table and prevent the passenger in front of you from reclining their seat. The Knee Defender is reportedly prohibited by all of the major airlines, including United, that still have reclining seats.

“The fight started when the male passenger, seated in a middle seat of row 12, used the Knee Defender to stop the woman in front of him from reclining while he was on his laptop, according to a law enforcement official with knowledge of the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak,” The Associated Press said.

AP said the two people were seated in Economy Plus, which has 4 more inches of legroom than those crowded seats in coach.

According to news accounts, the man refused to remove the Knee Defender, even after a flight attendant asked him to. Then the woman in front reportedly dumped a cup of water on him.

United landed the flight in Chicago and let the two passengers off, then continued to Denver. No arrests were made.

The question we pose to you is: Should the Knee Defender be allowed on flights?

Bill Saporito wrote in an opinion piece on Time:

Being 6 foot 2 inches and long of leg, I’m in a near rage by the time I wedge myself into a coach seat. And now you want to jam your chair back into my knees for four hours? Go fly a kite. It’s an airline seat, not a lounge chair. You want comfort, buy a business class seat.

On the other side of the issue, Sarah Miller wrote on Time:

Buying a Knee Defender is cheating. It is like insider trading, but worse, because not everyone expects to get rich. Everyone does expect to recline.

Added Chris Matyszczyk on CNET:

Surely the first step when a seat suddenly reclines in your direction is to politely ask the passenger in front whether you can reach an accommodation. Slapping them in your own self-righteous seat-cuffs is a touch provocative.

Ira Goldman, who invented the Knee Defender, told the Los Angeles Times that the device comes with a label that says “Be courteous. Do not hog space. Listen to flight crew.” The Times added:

It’s not meant for space-hogs, Goldman said, but rather to serve as an “early warning” system for travelers who don’t want seat backs to unexpectedly collide with knees, babies on their laps, or laptop screens.

In fact, he said, the devices can be adjusted to allow seat backs to recline halfway.

This whole situation seems incredibly juvenile. Knee Defenders aren’t allowed on United flights, so don’t bring them. And it’s not OK to dump a cup of water on a fellow passenger.

The other passengers on the plane really got the raw end of the deal. Because the flight was diverted, they arrived at their Denver destination an hour and 38 minutes late, AP said.

Do you think Knee Defenders should be allowed on planes? Who do you think is in the wrong here? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

It's not the usual blah, blah, blah

I know... every site you visit wants you to subscribe to their newsletter. But our news and advice is actually worth reading! For 25 years, I've been making people richer without making their eyes glaze over. Take 5 seconds and join our family by clicking here. You'll be glad you did. I guarantee it!

More Money Talks News


  • ModernMode

    If an airline offers reclining seats, customers have the right to use them. If you don’t like it, use another airline. I’m surprised that after refusing to do what the flight attendant said, the man was not arrested.

    • grandmaguest

      I agree, plus the fact that most airlines do not allow the use of them.

    • Missionary Dave

      Airlines offer emergency exits. Would you like me to use one in flight?

      Anyone with a modicum of sense will understand that there is not ample room to recline a seat in economy class.

      If you want a lounge chair, stick a crowbar in your wallet and buy a Business Class seat.

    • Al Seaver

      Yet another reason not to fly. Self centered people who think that their “rights’ are more important than another paying customers. And you can bet that when the shoe is on the other foot, they’re the first to get in a snit.

  • Adam Tarpine

    I’ve been on airplanes with so little leg room that the passenger couldn’t recline their seat because my knees wouldn’t permit it. They, of course, complained to the attendant who had to side with me when she saw the dilemma. As a tall person I don’t think any coach seat should recline. It might be an expectation to recline if the seat has that feature, but shouldn’t someone using their tray for anything also expect to be able to use their tray? A window passenger has difficulty going to the toilet with a seat reclined. There’s just not enough room in coach for reclining seats.

  • PeterJencevice

    The last time I flew, the “lady” in front o me reclined her seat practically into my face. I lifted the book I was reading and rested it on top of her HEAD. After some discussion, she decided to be NICE and nap with her seat upright.
    Defend your space- – – you pay enough and go thru enough hassle to get to the plane- – – but be sickenly polite about it!!!!!!

  • ManoaHi

    Although not directly related, I find the most annoying thing is that someone reclines their seat then meal service starts and then you can’t eat and the person in front of you is having to lean forward and isn’t using the recline. I’ve often had to ask the person in front if they don’t mind to not recline their seats during meal. So, far everyone has complied.

    As for @ModernMode:disqus “If you don’t like it, use another airline.” Sometimes you have no choice of other airlines, possibly due to destination or departure point, or even sometimes scheduling (like “we only fly there on Wednesdays”), or seat availability (sometimes you need to go, especially for work and business class is sold out).

    Has any frequent flyer ever complained to the air lines? I do.

  • EFC4Life

    The “Knee Defender” should not be permitted. A reclining seat is included in the price of the ticket, and no passenger should have the right to take that away from another passenger. I hope the woman seated in front who couldn’t recline her seat told the dude behind her where he could shove his Knee Defender.
    Perhaps a fair solution would be for airlines to either remove the recline feature in economy class or switch to the seats that recline by sliding the bottom forward rather than the back downward, AND move all tray tables to the armrests. That way, seat backs can’t slam tray tables into the knees of the passenger seated behind them.


    2 IDIOTS DON’T MAKE A RIGHT. The arrogant idiot in the back seat shoud have removed his seat blocker. The arrogant idiot foreward seat should not have been so childless as to throw water. To bad the crew could not have opened the door and let them both of rather than forcing all remaining passangers to be delayed. Having had my knee smashed #’s of times I just ask the foreward person sit upright and if they don’t they are annoyed by the constant tapping of my foot(almost as childless)
    As United prohibits the use of knee defender then idiot #1 was wrong and should compensate all remaining passangers for their 11/2 hrs of delay.Idiot #2 did elevate the situation and bears equal responsability for that compensation

  • pennyhammack

    I retired from a major airline after 30 years. I think that all airline seats except for those first class sleeper seats should be fixed so they don’t recline. With the current trend of less and less leg room, reclining your seat means that the person behind you can’t move, unless they are a contortionist, for the duration of the flight. Even coast to coast flights are only six hours long and there is no rule saying you can’t doze sitting up if you need to. An airline seat is not your den recliner and shouldn’t be treated as such.

  • Ron Sakulin

    I recall a flight that I made several years ago. I had reclined my seat to get some rest when the stewardess asked me if I would raise my seat to permit the passenger behind me to work on his laptop. I considered this an infringement but complied to avoid a possible confrontation, Some time later, maybe half an hour, I got up to stretch my legs and noticed that his same passenger was now napping, with HIS seat reclined! Never again.

  • grandmaguest

    I for one can not sleep sitting completely upright. However, most of the time if I wish to recline I only go partway. Before reclining completely I would probably ask the person behind me if it was ok with them.
    Having a 6′ 8″ grandson in the military (who cannot afford the economy plus much less first class) I realize the restrictions for some tall people. Even with the seat upright, he must sit sideways as much as possible and always tries for the aisle, emergency exit or bulkhead seats. Unfortunately that doesn’t always happen. He always tries to accommodate those around him and in front of him to the best of his ability (and politely), but sometimes finds it impossible.

    • bigpinch

      Your grandson is taking up more space than he’s paying for. Just like obese people, he should be shamed and humiliated into taking up less room. If “nice” people weren’t so tolerant of tall people we could put an end to this problem. Also, tall people tend to have more musculoskeletal medical problems than do shorter, normal people and he will be costing all of us more money as Obama Care becomes fully implemented; another justification for treating him rudely.

      • grandmaguest

        Goodness me…..did you wake up on the wrong side of the bed today or are you always so obnoxious (…troll…..sorry I just had to add that). That tall grandson happens to be in the armed services, fighting for your freedoms. Even your freedom to be so nasty. Did your mother never teach you that if you can’t say something nice (or at least be polite in saying it) to say nothing at all?

        • bigpinch

          Well, I was hoping that you would see the sarcasm in what I was saying. Sorry you didn’t. Most of the posts I’ve read in other venues have to do with how fat people shouldn’t be allowed to fly because they are sweaty and take up more space than they’re paying for.
          The kinds of posts I read about how horrible overweight people are and how they need to be shamed in to losing weight and how they’re costing all of the rest of us money etc., etc. are absolutely disgusting. I was hoping to demonstrate the absurdity of that position by being absurd, by suggesting that people who are taller than average are and should be the targets of hate speech because, if they were so subjected, they wouldn’t dare be so tall. I apologize for not doing a good enough job that my motive was clear.
          I come from a long line of veterans and I have nothing but the greatest respect for them, your grandson included.

          • grandmaguest

            Sorry I missed your sarcasm, but there are a lot of people who are more than willing to post extremely nasty remarks AND mean them. I will admit I was very surprised and shocked to have someone post something that I thought was way out of line and a personal attack. You might want to note at the bottom of your comments (sarcasm included)…..I’ve seen that done a few times. I apologize if my return comments offended you.

          • bigpinch

            No offence taken at all. I’m glad you’re proud of your grandson. You should be.

  • Tom

    If the seat reclines and mine is a paying butt, I should be able to recline. It is kind of like a concert where first row stands then row 2, 3, 4…..

Check Out Our Hottest Deals!

We're always adding new deals and coupons that'll save you big bucks. See the deals to the right and hundreds more in our Deals section.

Click here to explore 2,151 more deals!