Knee Defender passenger thrown off flight: I'm ashamed

James Beach, the man who used the controversial seat-locking device, inciting an altercation on a flight that had to be diverted, admits he behaved badly. He still loves his Knee Defender, however.

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An symbol of sanctimonious aggression? Tomo News/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

We're currently experiencing an epidemic of tightening fists caused by reclining seats.

First, there was the infamous tale of a United Airlines flight that had to be diverted from its New Jersey-Denver route. It fascinated all. But then two other flights in less than a week suffered the same de-airment after arguments over leaning seats.

Now one of the participants in the first incident has spoken of his shame.

No, he wasn't ashamed to have used the Knee Defender, which prevents the seat in front from reclining. Instead, businessman James Beach was merely ashamed of how he behaved.

In speaking with the Associated Press, Beach admitted he could have handled things better. However, he explained his use of the Knee Defender is gleefully draconian.

He said he doesn't inform the passenger in front that he is tall and would like them to keep their seat in the upright position. He doesn't even proffer the passive-aggressive card that's comes with the device, a card that informs the person in front that they're being clamped.

Instead, he locks them in and then: "I'd rather just kind of let them think the seat is broken, rather than start a confrontation."

Beach, 48, works for a company that is an expert in waste recycling facilities, so you must decide whether he's peddling some detritus here.

He claims that when the woman in front of him complained to the cabin crew that her seat appeared to be broken, he removed the device, at the cabin crew member's request.

Oh, but then the woman in front allegedly showed a little emotion. "As soon as I started to move it, she just full force, blasted the seat back, right on the laptop, almost shattered the screen. My laptop came flying onto my lap," he said.

Some might be surprised that he was surprised. Handcuffing someone doesn't often produce the most mild or measured of responses.

He said he complained to the flight attendant, seemingly miffed that the woman in front would want her seat reclining as far as it would go. He describes his words as: "You asked me to let her recline a few inches, and she just took 100 percent of it."

Oh, sweetie. There, there.

At no point, it seems, did Beach try to converse with the passenger in front. He took the road less traveled. He said he slammed her seat forward and re-inserted his Knee Defender.

And so it was, he said, that the woman tossed not water as originally reported, but soda at him. Yes, soda.

You might think that anyone who uses a Knee Defender without even negotiating with the person in front is somewhat sanctimonious.

But listen to Beach's own description of his reaction: "It was really just surreal and shocking. Did that just happen? "I said, 'I hope you brought your checkbook because you just threw your Sprite all over my $2,000 laptop.'"

There might be one or two judicious sorts who'd think he brought the Sprite upon himself.

Still, Beach admitted to having used naughty words and saying terrible things to the flight attendant. Neither he nor the alleged soda-tosser were charged.

The Knee Defender's creator, Ira Goldman, insists his product exists merely to protect computers and babies.

I cannot help but feel that, from his own description, it was Beach himself who behaved like a dribbling infant with colic.

The Knee Defender is forbidden by US airlines, but is not illegal. Other airlines, such as Singapore Airlines and British Airways, have yet to decide whether to ban it.

In coach, the whole flying experience is awful. For everyone. Legroom is disgracefully tight. However, the incident involving Beach happened in the Economy Plus section, where there are four more precious inches available.

Some tall travelers like Beach -- he's 6-foot-one -- seem to feel they have the right to exert their own preferences upon others.

I wonder how they would feel when someone behind them at the movie theater asked them to duck down a little, so that they can see the movie better.

 

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