Since my childhood, I have always hated airplanes.
I hate the eardrum-shattering pressure changes that plague me upon every takeoff. I hate the crying children who moan and groan because of the restrictions placed upon the use of electronic devices during said takeoff (what happened to just reading books?). I hate the irritable parents who make far too much noise in futile attempts to silence their children. I hate the microscopic bags of heavily salted peanuts that are chucked at me by flight attendants as if I’m an orca at SeaWorld waiting for a bucket of fish. And most of all, I hate the confined space that I must tread in for up to twelve hours at a time, especially because I am over six feet tall and my legs resemble those of an ostrich more than those of a human being.
But I also hate entitled people who will do anything and everything to attain their desired level of comfort, even if it means crushing the toes of those around them. And thus, I hate the knee defender.
A $21.95 device that clips on to a plane’s tray table, the knee defender prevents the passenger in front of you from reclining his or her chair. The device recently soared into the spotlight after a U.S. pilot diverted a domestic flight to Chicago so that two passengers could be escorted off the plane. According to news reports, a woman splashed water in the face of a man who refused to remove a knee defender from his table, even after the latter was ordered by a flight attendant to remove it.
Since the aforementioned scuffle, there has been much debate over whether or not airlines should grant their passengers the right to prevent others from reclining their seat. Some argue that the cost of a plane ticket includes the right to adjust a seat to one’s liking. Others claim that the knee defender merely creates a barrier for those who would otherwise be forced to sacrifice breathing space. So where do the civilities come in? Who owns the right to empty space?
The problem with these questions is that they have no clear-cut answers. There is no denying that airplanes are uncomfortable – and at times hostile – cages of the skies. But knee defenders, regardless of how you feel about them, create more trouble than peace. As embodiments of passive-aggressive behavior, knee defenders highlight the fact that our society has become dependent on technology to mitigate its problems. Rather than communicate with our fellow passengers and find a compromise to the issue of reclining, we would prefer to sit back and watch the latter group squirm like flies bound in a spider’s web.
It has always been my belief that airplanes were designed to induce the largest quantity of suffering in as many people as possible. And let’s face it: the situation is not going to get better. Airlines are continuously finding ways to optimize their profits; in other words, they are making great strides in the art of fitting three rows of seats where there’s only space for one. And as passengers, we have no choice but to make the best of this sweat-filled sardine can. So let’s stop fighting. Let’s put down our boxing gloves and go the extra mile to show some ounce of consideration for those around us. When we pay for a product, we are expected to use that product responsibly and sensibly. When you buy a knee defender, I expect you to make the attempt to determine whether the device will serve as a disruption for others. If so, put it away and rely on open conversation to alleviate any issues. If not, proceed as you wish and enjoy your flight.
I don’t fly all that often, but when I do, I care about one thing and one thing alone: the time needed to reach my destination. And while I would love to have as much room as possible for my already folded legs, I will not do anything to infringe on your right to recline your chair. As Voltaire once said, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”