The Guy Who Sparked the Knee Defender Controversy Plans to Keep Using It!

The passenger who touched off a media firestorm over use of the ‘knee defender’ and who caused a United flight from Newark to Denver speaks out.

Scott Mayerowitz of the Associated Press scored an interview with James Beach, the man who touched off the firestorm.

And all I can say is… wow.

On the one hand he says he is “embarrassed by the way the confrontation unfolded and that he regrets his behavior.” The knee defender is against the rules at all of the major US airlines and he acknowledges that passengers have a right to recline their seat, but he plans to continue to use it anyway.

Here’s how he goes about it:

“I put them in maybe a third of the time. Usually, the person in front tries (to recline) their seat a couple of times, and then they forget about it,” Beach said. The device comes with a courtesy card to tell passenger that you’ve blocked them, but he doesn’t use it.

“I’d rather just kind of let them think the seat is broken, rather than start a confrontation,” he said.

Here’s how he describes the situation having gone down:

When the flight attendants came through the cabin to serve beverages, the woman said her seat was broken. That’s when Beach told one of them about the Knee Defender. The flight attendant asked him to remove the device, and Beach said he did.

“As soon 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.

Beach complained, saying that he couldn’t work like that, but the flight attendant informed him that the woman had the right to recline. Both passengers were sitting in United’s Economy Plus section, which offers 4 more inches of legroom than the rest of coach.

His reply: “You asked me to let her recline a few inches, and she just took 100 percent of it.”

That’s when Beach’s anger boiled over. He said he pushed the woman’s seat forward and put the Knee Defender back in. The woman stood up and threw a cup of soda — not water, as previously reported water — at him.

Apparently when the flight diverted to Chicago, and he was not allowed to continue on to Denver, he bought a ticket the next day on Spirit (which flies once-daily O’Hare to Denver). He’s 6’1″. Spirit’s economy seats have 28 inches of pitch, compared to 35 inches in economy plus on a United Airbus. Hope he was happy with Spirit’s non-reclining seats.

Although of course the woman sitting in front of him shouldn’t have thrown her drink, I can understand her frustration. I certainly hope I never find myself seated in front of this gentleman, and I do try not to recline or at least not recline all the way when seated in coach with someone behind me.

The problem here was clearly James Beach, don’t you agree?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @ Ed,

    A fine point indeed. And it confirms that the selected design provides persuasive evidence of what space one “owns”. Until provided otherwise, the spaces belongs to the pax who can recline.

  2. Last, I will add that anyone who sets out on a flight planning to work on a laptop really needs to alter their expectations. Y, even Y+ is not an office.

  3. @ED–absolutely right, re-design the seats so they are all “shells” and the seat reclines only within the shell

    @It’s Over–agreed, only, why didn’t the flight crew restrain both of the pax, tie them up in duct tape, like other pax (just search the photos on the interweb).

  4. Agreed, Jfhscott. The tray tables aren’t for laptops, they’re for meals. IF you can fit your laptop on there, fine, go for it, but if laptop doesn’t fit when the seat goes through all its functions, don’t go cryin’ home to mama. Figure it out, make it work. If you have a job where your employer thinks you’re valuable enough to fly you somewhere to interact with other adults, then you damn-well should be able to figure out how to use a laptop in any given condition.

    I travel with a 17 1/2″ laptop…It’s huge. I always fly coach. And yet I’m ALWAYS able to use the laptop, even when space is tight. Problem-solving is a skill that is apparently on the decline.

  5. No, I do not agree. This fight had two participants, but you’re all giving the girl’s discount to one of them. You’re also letting the stewardess off the hook, who should have mediated between the two of them and not sided with the hot-tempered hag.

  6. From the description, Mr. Beach pushed the woman’s seat forward with enough force to move her whole body forward so he could put the knee defender back.. In many jurisdictions, this would legally be assault. The woman was unwise to throw the soft drink, and yes, in some jurisdictions this would be assault too, but it is clear who threw the first “punch.” It is unfortunate that the airlines have chosen to place seats so close together, but if I buy a ticket for a seat that reclines, I have purchased the right to recline with it. Is Mr Beach going to stop the person in front of me from reclining? If not, am I not getting the worst of both worlds, being unable to recline but having the seat in front of me in my face. One person does not have the right to carve out a special space for themselves at another’s expense.

  7. The passenger with the knee defender is definitely a self absorbed narcissist. It is ALL about him and no one else matters. His wife is also displaying some facet of mental illness. Not being a professional, I am not sure what her issue is. But one thing is for sure. By defending him she reveals what makes them a perfect couple.

  8. Airlines as well as many manufacturers, banks and service providers have begun to take advantage of consumers in America. Our legislators/government agencies have allowed this to happen. They all gleefully talk about record profits while paying zero taxes and paying corporate guys ridiculously high salaries and bonuses like nowhere else in the world.. I am making plans to live elsewhere. There is no end in sight to the abuse to consumers in America. Nor the corruption in Washington DC

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