Dauntless JaunterExplore • Educate • Experience • Enlighten

Do I Have the Right to Use a Knee Defender on a Flight?


It might be legal, and it might not be denied by flight authorities, but is it a passenger’s right to be able to prevent a seat from reclining?

Sunday, on a flight between Newark and Denver, a man and a woman made headlines when they got into an altercation. The guy was sitting behind the woman, and when she went to recline her seat back, she found that she couldn’t, as the guy had installed the Knee Defender.

A Knee Defender is a simple plastic clip that attaches to the tray table arms; it prevents the person in front of you from being able to recline, as the tray table is secured onto the seat back in front of them. The argument was intense enough, after the woman threw her cup of water at the guy, to warrant the plane’s premature landing in Chicago and the removal of these two.

So, there are many people on both sides of the argument, but the answer, to me at least, seems obvious: no one should be able to control your seat for you. Just because they prefer that you not recline, they shouldn’t be able to take matters into their own hands, should you choose to recline.

Reclining seats are one of the listed options on a flight. They are essentially a right, unless you happen to be seated in an emergency exit row, in which case you should know that you’re not getting a reclining seat (you’re getting all kinds of free legroom, instead).

Some passengers use a Knee Defender to protect their laptop, as a quickly-reclined seat may damage a laptop screen on the tray table if it gets caught. However, we just need to hope for common courtesy from that PAX ahead of us, and hope that they recline slowly, if at all.

Further, many airlines, including United mentioned here, don’t allow use of these devices. “We do not allow customers to use devices that prevent seats from reclining,” said United Airlines spokesman Charles Hobart via USA Today.

In the end, flight is a concentrated series of inconveniences. Either we all get to recline, or nobody does. It shouldn’t be up to individual passengers to control their own personal space at the expense of others.

What do you think? Should passengers on a flight be allowed to use the Knee Defender? Let us know in the comments below!

For more on flight etiquette, check out our plane boarding etiquette rules.

Christian Eilers
Written by
Christian Eilers
Join the discussion

Dauntless Jaunter