Remember when economy seats on international flights were spaced far enough apart that you could have a window seat and still leave without waking up the other two passengers between you and the aisle? That was actually how things were back in the 80′s when I began flying.
I recall things getting more an more cramped; soon, you had to squeeze past the other people’s knees, then you had to kind of step over them in a strange contortion. Finally, it got to the point where egressing from the row required everyone to spill out of their seats first.
That’s not too bad in itself—typically, such seat departures can be an opportunity to take care of business—a toilet trip, getting a drink or snack, getting something from the overhead bins, or even just a leg stretch, which you should do several times anyway on long flights.
However, the closer spaces created a much more annoying difficulty: when the person in front of you reclines their seat.
I hate that. It makes the already confined space you’re in even more claustrophobic, and as a person who prefers to use his laptop on the plane, that becomes almost impossible.
Worse, I have terrible luck when it comes to this. After many 9- to 13-hour international flights (I take one round trip a year on average), I got the feeling that I was almost always behind a recliner. Knowing that often it just seems that way because we remember the bad times and not the good, I started tracking it—and lo, I found that while about 1/3rd of people in my section of the plane reclined fully for most of the flight, I got recliners more than 2/3rds of the time.
I can usually predict it: the moment the seat belt sign goes off after takeoff, WHAM! The seat in front of me rocks back, while the three other seats adjacent to me don’t get that. (I always choose an aisle seat in the center group of seats—only one person to let out instead of two.) I don’t know, maybe people in aisle seats tend to recline more—it seems to make sense, they already arranged for a seat that gives them a bit more comfort.
Yes, I should probably try to sit in the emergency exit row. Except that, for one thing, it usually is filled up by the time I buy my tickets, and, for another thing, the airline I usually fly charges about a hundred dollars extra for these seats.
Now I hear about a product that in one sense sounds nice, but in another sense is totally dickish: gadgets that prevent the person in front of you from reclining. It would not be hard to predict that this would cause fights that could ground airlines, which it has.
The idea of these devices is that some people’s legs are so long that when the person in front of them reclines, it hits their knees, hard enough to cause pain. The person with the “Knee Defenders” will apply the gadgets before seats can be reclined at the start of the flight, deciding how much the person in front of them is allowed to recline.
Now, as you can tell from my previous writing, I would love to avoid recliners. However, I see this gadget as totally asinine.
First of all, imagine being in a seat when the person in front of you reclines. You have not reclined, so you feel squeezed. The only relief you have is to recline your own seat—but then you discover that they guy behind you has locked your seat frozen. For his comfort.
If reclining is such a problem for your knees, there are a few other solutions. If contacting the airline ahead of time and arranging for the problem won’t work, you can try to find an airline that has non-reclining seats. When I fly, ANA is the choice, versus United—ANA has seats which have solid backs. Instead, when you recline, your seat slides forward, sending your legs further under the seat in front of you, which was designed to have more space. It actually works pretty well, and wherever I can get such a seat, I try to. I wish United would change that way.
Alternately, you could just grumble and put down the extra money for their “economy plus” seats that are still smaller than 1980′s economy seats but are marginally bigger than regular economy. Yes, it’s unfair to have to pay a premium for body shape or size, and airlines should be the ones responsible for making it so no one has to suffer unduly. Until they can be forced to change that, though, it may be the price you pay.
One thing is for certain: you cannot just unilaterally decide what comfort the person in the seat in front of you enjoys.