Traveler gadget causes tantrums

If it’s not the food, it’s security, short-tempered agents and attendants, long lines or delayed flights. No matter how you cut it, air travel is not always pleasant, which is the underlying current behind this week’s trend.

If you’ve been questioning your luck because you’ve experienced a series of seats that won’t fully recline, before you blame it on the carrier, take a quick look behind you, as the culprit may very well be the passenger using a gadget to prevent your seat from reclining. In fact, the device has plane-etiquette conversations simmering, especially after the device was involved in an argument between two passengers that ultimately resulted in the flight being diverted.

This US$21.95 Knee Defender plastic gadget slips onto the arms of the tray table, preventing the person in front to recline his or her seat.

Although the gadgets can be adjusted to allow the seat to recline just slightly, the traveler interest over these devices is that they protect your knees, your computer screen or anything else that might be hit by a sudden recliner movement.

Although the device has been around since 2003, its recent trend surge was coincidentally timed as the lack of legroom was still fresh on the minds of summer travelers. Even the press has chimed in with raves over the device, with USA Today calling it a “must-have travel gadget.”

But like many trends, what goes up must come down, and controversy indeed surrounds the Knee Defender as it stirs new debates over passengers’ rights when it comes to reclining seats and the question of whether its even legal to use these devices on planes.

The Gadget Duck website, where consumers can purchase a Knee Defender clip, has the following decade-plus report posted to address concerns:

“As reported in the October 28, 2003, edition of the Washington Post: ‘FAA spokesman Paul Takemoto said the clips were not against federal aviation rules as long as they weren’t used during taxiing, takeoffs or landings.’

Knee Defenders are specifically designed to be used with your tray table lowered, while your tray table must be up and locked during taxiing, takeoffs or landings.”

So, as long as Knee Defenders are being used as they are designed to be used in flight, their use does not violate any U.S. aviation law, rule, or regulation.

Because the FAA does not specifically ban devices like the Knee Defender, individual airlines are left to decide whether or not they allow the device. And according to the Associated Press, major U.S. airlines have banned them. In fact, many carriers are now beginning to remove the reclining mechanism from their seats altogether.

At this rate, though reclining seats may not be an issue for much longer, I invite readers to share their thoughts as they relate to passenger etiquette and the right or wrong intentions behind the Knee Defender gadget trend. Have you, would you or will you use one on your next flight?