*Well this is quite unexpected. I mean, yes, we have all been a little pissed off when we are eating or using our laptop as we sit in the cramped airplane seat (unless we are flying first class of course), and the person in front of us decides to recline. Though we may suck our teeth and go “Ugh!” in frustration, chances are we are not going to get up and duke it out with the person actually doing the reclining.
Tell that to the two United Airlines fliers who were not so grown up about the situation.
Apparently, for $21.95, there is a gadget you can get that makes it difficult or impossible for the person in the seat in front of you to recline. When this contraption was used on one woman – by the man behind her, suffice it to say that things got ugly.
It’s called the Knee Defender, and the Federal Aviation Administration gives individual airlines the flexibility to set their own rules about the device. United Airlines said it prohibits use of the device, like all major U.S. airlines; and Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air even took the reclining mechanisms out of their seats, so that they remain permanently upright.
But the dispute on United Flight 1462 from Newark, New Jersey to Denver got so bad that the flight was actually diverted; and instead of landing at the Denver airport destination, the airline decided to divert to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, according to Transportation Security Administration spokesman Ross Feinstein.
At O’Hare, Chicago police and TSA officers met the flight, spoke to the passengers — a man and a woman, both 48 — and “deemed it a customer service issue,” Feinstein said. The TSA would not name the passengers.
The plane then continued to Denver without them, arriving 1 hour and 38 minutes late, according to the airline’s website.
The FAA has the right to impose a civil fine of up to $25,000 for passengers who are unruly, but decided against it in this case, in which no arrests was made, according to airport spokesman Gregg Cunningham.
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.
When the man was asked to remove the device by a flight attendant, he refused; at which point the woman then stood up, turned around and threw a cup of water at him, the official says. That’s when United decided to land in Chicago. The two passengers were not allowed to continue to Denver.
Both passengers were seated in United Airlines Economy Plus section, the part of the plane that has four more inches of legroom than the rest of coach.