“Knee Defender” Ethics

There are no Knee Defender ethics.

Invented for entitled jerks, by one. Is this a great country or what?

Invented for entitled jerks, by one. Is this a great country or what?

The Knee Defender is unethical,  those who advocate them are unethical, its inventor, a slickly rationalizing  ethics corrupter named Ira Goldman is unethical, anyone who uses it is unethical, and anyone who defends it is unethical.

There. Next question?

What gives anyone in the seat behind me the right to appropriate space in the plane I have paid for? I have paid for it, you know: the space that my seat can recline into is within my control, my dominion. If I choose not to avail myself of it, then the person behind me is certainly free to make use of it—until I change my mind. There is no other legitimate, logical or fair interpretation of the rights and privileges involved. Using the Knee Defender, a sinister device designed to unilaterally claim my space, is taking what is mine by force. There’s no other side to the issue.

Oh, the obnoxious, smug marketing for the thing claims otherwise:

“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”…

First of all, you can’t defend space you have no right to, and never owned in the first place. And don’t insult me: I have a face, and no, I really don’t care how long your legs are. Mine are pretty long too, You have to be awfully tall not to be able to extend your legs under my seat. Oh—you have baggage under there, because you stowed some obscenely large roller-board in the over-head bins? Tough. I check my large luggage so I can keep the area clear under the seat in front of me, so I can stretch out my legs, so I don’t feel I have to whine about the seat in front of me reclining, and use vigilante devices invented by a trouble-maker to stop me from doing what the airlines say I purchased the privilege of doing, do he can pick up a lousy $29.95. You can check your luggage too, you know. You can also  seat yourself behind the seats that don’t recline. But no, rather than make the effort to deal with your physical limitations by planning ahead, you think it’s acceptable to solve your problem by waging war against the unlucky traveler who happens to get the seat in front of you.

Awwww, you’re really tall? Poor baby! Fly first class. Don’t fly at all. Saw off your legs. I don’t really care: you have no right to demand that I solve your problem. Looking down on everyone is not always a problem now, is it? You get to see over my head if you’re watching a movie. You can reach the top shelves I can’t. You can eat more than me without looking like Orson Welles. You are probably good at volleyball and basketball. You’re damn impressive when you walk into a meeting, and I bet you didn’t get your share of bullying growing up. So you are happy to enjoy those random but substantial benefits of your superior height, but want to pass off the disadvantage to someone else. The technical term for acting like this is “being a spoiled brat.”

You want to know a secret? If you are really tall, if you don’t have something stuffed under my seat blocking your feet because you are too cheap to check your ridiculously large luggage, and if you ask really nicely, I won’t recline my seat, even though I won’t stop the person in front of me from reclining his seat, since he has a right to that space, just like I have a right to the space I gave up to you. Do you know why I’ll do that for you? Because that’s the way I am: ethical….unlike you.

The entitled rationalizations being vomited up to justify this flat out appropriation of my autonomy are really beyond belief. Inventor Goldman sites polls indicated that “a majority say seats shouldn’t recline at all if anyone’s behind you.” I bet I can find a poll showing that 50% of people think flip-flops in public are an offense to nature: does that mean Goldman can rip them off my daughter’s feet? The seats do recline; I count on them reclining; I choose seats that do recline; I fly in planes that allow the most reclining, and pay for seats in them. That poll gives Knee Defender wielders no right to be vigilantes.

Asked if he thinks vigilante action is ethical, the best Goldman can do is the fatuous retort, “Is it unethical to have long legs?” The world owes him special privileges because his legs are long, then? And short people should be able to demand that tall people in the seats in front of them in theaters slump in their chair, whether its comfortable or not, I suppose…or Goldman will invent the  Seat Slumper. He’s probably working on it now. Did he invent this? Or this? Same unethical principle at work: pay for a gadget, and think that it confers the right as well as the power to stop others from doing what they have every right to do, just because you don’t like it. How did you get this way?

Damon Darlin, another self-entitled jerk who writes for the New York Times— concocts other rationalizations and lame excuses. He says the device “levels the playing field.” So does a gun, when someone uses it to steal my car. He compares the reclining space to the shared armrests. Baloney. Everyone knows they are shared; polite people know that the poor sap in the middle should get first dibs on them because he’s stuck in a crummy seat. Has anyone tried to use an Armrest Defender? No.

And the Knee Defender doesn’t “level the playing field” at all. The creep propping up my seat against my will can still recline his seat! Oh, he won’t, you say?  Ha! I don’t trust terrorists, vigilantes, or columnists for the Times, and I suggest you adopt the same rule.

Little Darlin…wait, I guess he must be tall Darlin— says that the Knee Defender is ethical because it promotes negotiation, sort of like hostage-taking. It’s an embarrassing article, showing a yawning ethics deficit, and being defiant about it. Darlin and Goldman finally come clean about what this is really about. Oh, the advertising pitch prattles on about how the thing prompts good health as if it is some kind of life-preserving necessity, but the reason this has suddenly become an issue has nothing to do with health, and everything to do with really important people who just have to have easy access to their laptops. Reclining seats make laptops difficult to use. I know it: I have the same problem. Here’s some advice, guys: get a tablet. Read a book. Recline your seat if you are fortunate enough not to have an asshole behind you like, well, you and take a nap. There is nothing in your ticket that guarantees comfortable laptop use. Don’t make me your laptop’s bitch.

The proof of the outrageous ethics duncery embraced by the Knee Defender Defenders is Goldman’s most obnoxious ploy, a so-called “Courtesy Card” that users can hand out to the victims of their vigilante misappropriation of their rightful access to comfort. It reads,

“I realize that this may be an inconvenience. If so, I hope you will complain to the airline. Maybe working together we can convince the airlines to provide enough space between rows so that people can recline their seats without banging into other passengers.”

Isn’t that nice. You unilaterally stop me from reclining my seat–maybe I have a back condition; maybe I’ve on the last leg from Mongolia; maybe I have a sleeping infant on my chest—never mind: you are certain you are entitled by your slimy $21.95 purchase to make me ” negotiate,” and then not only don’t apologize, but

  • Acknowledge that you harmed be, and that you don’t give a damn
  • Blame the airlines, which have simply sold a known service which you presumed to alter, not only for yourself, but me, without leave, and
  • Tell me that my remedy for your assholery is to lobby someone else.

And you don’t even have the courage and integrity to tell me this to my face; instead, you hand me a pre-printed card. It’s going up your nose, by the way. I hate you.

There was another mid-air legroom fight yesterday, following quickly after the one that apparently prompted a mass outing of flying jerks who purchased Goldman’s despicable gadget. The airlines need to show some guts and ban Knee Defenders, or they are liable to have me in one of those altercations, because, as you may have gleaned from my tone here, I am not in a good mood. Flying is horrible enough without having to put up with this crap.


Sources: ABC, The Wire, Guardian, NT Times


34 thoughts on ““Knee Defender” Ethics

  1. Not sure how these things work, but being unethical is the least of the inventors problems. I understand most major airlines have banned them, and they should be illegal.

  2. Nothing better than a good tirade now and again. I have experienced those that believe that their seat is a mobile office with laptops, cellphone conversations and, if the middle seat is vacant they take both.

  3. Knee Defender is already banned by most airlines. With that said, there is a special place in hell for people that fully recline their seat. I get that they can, they just shouldn’t. You are uncomfortable, so to increase your own comfort, you turn around and make someone else more uncomfortable? What is the ethics of that? There is nothing restful about having some stranger’s head nearly in your lap for hours at a stretch, not to mention trying to eat or drink with your tray at an incline.

    I get that is mostly the airlines’ fault for bad design, and for cramming all of us into increasingly tighter spaces, but there should be some sort of consideration. Just because you have the right to do something doesn’t mean that you should do it. Those who recline are evil. I said it. Evil.

    • I fly a lot, and to say that you overestimate wildly the discomfort caused by a “fully reclined” seat—-which in most planes now is about five inches at most—is an understatement. Your comment is flat out fantasy. Do you really think seats incline into a prone position? And do you not comprehend that if the passenger behind reclines her seat too, her face is exactly in the same relative position to the passenger in front as when neither reclined?

      Wow. You have a really strict definition of “evil.” I can only imagine what you must say about those who leave a toilet seat up.

        • Alas, this depends on situation. In a shared-gender public restroom with no urinal, it would be preferable to leave the seat up so that it doesn’t become tainted by men shooting through the hole. Splashback, sprinkles, etc. Women don’t like to touch the seat to put it down, men don’t like to touch it to put it up…. but we have to touch it to put it in the position we need to use it.

          In a home where there is a seat and a lid, every single person should be putting the lid down and then there’s no discussion about the seat.

          • I think all those “quick fixes” are irrelevant as every single one of them relies on the previous user engaging a specific “failsafe”. That being the case, the best “failsafe” is to not create a problem to begin with by following the old adages covering attention to detail and cleaning up after yourself.

            Regardless of the quick fixes we expect of others to be polite, we will all end up assuming the previous user didn’t and will therefore take our own corrective actions anyway.

            • In your example it’s especially commendable since there would be no way to tie the mess to him because there are multiple sinks. I always clean up a little in a single restroom because I don’t want the next user to think I made the mess.

      • I was being just a wee bit tongue-in-cheek, but yes, I do feel that people who recline are very inconsiderate. Yes, the person behind you can recline too, thus passing the misery down to the last row, who have seats that can’t recline, but that isn’t really much of a solution.

        After googling a bit, I see someone who agrees with me: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/a_fine_whine/2013/02/reclining_airplane_seats_are_a_terrible_idea_and_should_be_banned.html

        Obviously, everyone on the plane would be better off if no one reclined; the minor gain in comfort when you tilt your seat back 5 degrees is certainly offset by the discomfort when the person in front of you does the same. But of course someone always will recline her seat, like the people in the first row, or the woman in front of me, whom I hate. (At least we’re not in the middle seat. People who recline middle seats are history’s greatest monsters.)

        ….The problem isn’t with passengers, though the evidence demonstrates that many passengers are little better than sociopaths acting only for their own good. The problem is with the plane. In a closed system in which just one recliner out of 200 passengers can ruin it for dozens of people, it is too much to expect that everyone will act in the interest of the common good. People recline their seats because their seats recline. But why on earth do seats recline? Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if seats simply didn’t?

        • 1. 5 degrees? The horror.
          2. Nobody forces you to buy the last seat, you know. I have taken later or earlier flights when that is the alternative.
          3. “Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if seats simply didn’t?” No! That’s a completely ridiculous supposition. The people who think that don’t fly. On long flights? Most people can’t nap sitting upright; it’s impossible. This is a manufactured “common good” argument. On balance, everyone might well be better off if everyone reclined. They would certainly be more comfortable.

          • Nitpicking, but it’s not impossible to nap sitting upright. It’s a skill that takes some work to master, but it definitely can be done. We’d all be better off if everyone knew how to do it.

            • Hell, I can do it if I’m exhausted enough. It’s unpleasant and uncomfortable. And my father learned to sleep in foxholes, under fire. He preferred an easy chair.

              So what? That’s a skill I should pay hundreds of dollars to perfect?

  4. My only gripe about this topic is from a recent personal experience. I had my laptop open about 30 mins into the flight. At that point, people should have been situated and comfortable. Then the person in front of me forcefully reclined their seat without warning, jamming my computer screen lid. I was surprised it didn’t break, but in a slightly altered situation it would have. Knee Defender would have prevented the unannounced movement and then I could have removed them and prepared my computer for the reclining.

    In lieu of using knee defender for that purpose, people who recline should use some etiquette when reclining their seat. It’s not even verbal…just move the seat ever so slightly to start and then slowly recline back to your desired setting. Give me a split second to react and pull my computer forward so that it doesn’t become a victim to sudden movements.

  5. What we have here is an inevitable conflict. In a space as small and cramped as the average passenger jet, every single person is likely to impinge on someone else’s space or comfort somehow.

    I guess I can see how the Knee Defender is reprehensible; using it means you’re intentionally restricting someone else’s options for comfort, which is a jerkwad move.

    On the other hand, if I were taking a long flight, I’d think seriously about employing some knee defense, even if it makes me an unethical jerk. At 6′-3″ and 275 lb, I’m not built on a small scale; my knees are barely an inch from the seat in front of me, so any degree of reclining happens right on my kneecaps and locks me into a single compressed position for the entire flight.

    It’s an incredibly aggravating no-win situation. My options are:
    — Be a jerk and ask someone to put their seat back up. (Go ahead, try it; be as polite as Miss Manners if you want, but you’ll still be a jerk.)
    — Make the best of it…and unavoidably bump the reclined seat every time I shift to restore feeling in my legs, which also makes me seem like a jerk.
    — Suffer in absolute, Christ-like stillness.

    I think I’m a more than usually considerate person; I actually wound up standing in the aisles for 4 hours on a flight to London because I knew that I couldn’t avoid bumping the seat in front of me, in which a woman was desperately trying to sleep (the flight attendants were understanding, and leg cramps weren’t going to let me rest anyway, so it worked out for the best).

    But I am not Jesus, and I make no claims to sainthood. So unless there’s some obvious reason why I should accept that this particular person’s need to recline is greater than my desire for a modicum of comfort, I’m going to be a jerk. Or just refuse to board a plane if it’s possible to drive instead (which is the course I’ve chosen).

    I wonder… Do ethics demand that I have to suffer for someone else’s thoughtless convenience?

    • Yes, if you knew the risks, accepted them, and someone else paid for the dominion over the space that makes you uncomfortable.
      Why is someone of your dimensions being a jerk to ask me not to recline? I would understand. Your discomfort is obviously much greater than mine at that point. I wouldn’t resent it.

  6. I have to fly all the time, 6’2″ 250lbs, when some ass just flings their seat back into my knees, spilling my drink and just generally making my life more uncomfortable I force their seat back upright. They get the message every time and always apologize, the rest of the flight they keep their seats upright. When asked beforehand or they do the slow recline then there is no issue.

    Jack I think your off base to suggest someone needs to book earlier, buy a tablet, select a better seat or any of your other elitist solutions. The proper solution is just ask or give some warning, this knee busting behavior happens all the time.

    I try to engage the person in front of me and politely ask them to give me fair warning, many still do it and will whoops it away, no sorry about that or any other apology.

    I wouldn’t use such a thing and it is an unethical product but there is a problem that needs a solution.

    • The solution, if you have that big a knee problem, is to plan ahead, as I said. How are those “elitist” solutions on an airplane? If you are flying enough to have the problem, you are “elitist.” The elite of the elite buy first class, where none of this is an issue. If buying a Knee Defender doesn’t put you firmly in the elite class of someone who flies frequently, nothing will. Don’t play the elite card on me.

      • The burden is not on me to have to spend more money or tablet to combat those inconsiderate knee bashers, it is not just limited to knees and laptops but drinks books or anything else on the table.

        I am not sure if your being sarcastic with if I fly a lot I am elitist comment or not. I fly a lot because of work not choice, I get the cheap seats because that is what is authorized. I often travel short notice so my seat options are limited.

        I don’t think you would be so inconsiderate to slam your seat back so we wouldn’t have an issue but if me pushing the seat back upright to free my legs is assault then what is slamming the seat into them?

  7. A tool like that is rude. But I remember that tilted backs there really wasn’t room to stand and move for the lav when they were reclined the whole way. And that is a problem for the person behind a sleeper. I think I should have enough room to read a book or magazine without using the reclined passenger as a bookrest. I consider the comfortable recline a 1st class feature.

  8. Well, call me a poopie-head, but I think the solution is ticket price-hiking revisions to FAA and OSHA (maybe EPA, CPSC and HHS, too) rules, mandating wider minimum-width seats and greater minimum distances between rows. Options for “premium space” seating (other than first class or bulkhead rows, but with still higher ticket prices) might be mandated additionally. Let’s face it, folks: Just because you’re big, you don’t have a right to put yourself on an airplane and feel comfortable at anyone else’s expense. So you should expect to be presented size guides for consumers, so that you can be forewarned that, depending on your size, you will be required to purchase DOUBLE seating. (I’m a big guy; don’t mess with me.)

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