World & Nation

Flight diverted after kerfuffle over use of Knee Defender device

An argument over legroom on a weekend flight led United Airlines to divert a plane to Chicago and call authorities, the airline said Tuesday.

United Airlines Flight 1462 was en route from Newark, N.J., to Denver Sunday afternoon when there was a disturbance between two passengers, a spokesman for the airline said.

According to Chicago police, a 47-year-old man and a 48-year-old woman sitting in front of him got into an altercation after the female passenger realized she could not recline her seat.

The Associated Press reported that the man was using the Knee Defender, a plastic device that clips onto the tray table and prevents the seat ahead from reclining back.


The argument became so heated that the woman threw a cup of water at the man, Chicago Police Officer Janel Sedevic said.

United diverted the Boeing 737 to Chicago about 3 p.m. Sunday. Police met the plane and removed the two passengers, Sedevic said.

“It turned into a customer service issue and they were asked to leave the plane,” Sedevic said, but neither was arrested. The plane continued to Denver without them.

The Knee Defender, a small plastic device about the size of a key that retails for $21.95, has been on the market since 2003. In a statement, United Airlines said devices that prevent a seat from reclining are banned on all flights.


Ira Goldman, a 6-foot-3-inch former attorney and inventor of the Knee Defender, says there’s “no excuse” for the man’s behavior on the diverted flight, and defended his creation.

“I’ve been selling these for 11 years, and this has never happened before,” Goldman said, noting that each of the devices carries a sticker that instructs users to “Be courteous. Do not hog space. Listen to flight crew.”

The FAA has not banned the devices, but United Airlines and a number of other airlines have.

Goldman, who traveled frequently when he worked on Capitol Hill and as a  staffer for former California Gov. Pete Wilson, says he created the Knee Defender to stop seat backs from constantly banging against his knees.

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 half way.

Goldman points out that planes have been diverted for all kinds of disputes between passengers. “There were disagreeable people on planes before Knee Defender, and there’s still some disagreeable people on planes now,” he told The Times.

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