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Friday, Nov. 21, 2014

Recline rancor: Passenger recalls seat dispute

By Scott Mayerowitz, Associated Press

Published: Wed, Sept. 3 9:26 p.m. MDT

 FILE - In this Sept. 23, 2013 photo, rows of slimline seats await installation aboard a Southwest Airlines 737 at the carrier's headquarters in Dallas. \

FILE - In this Sept. 23, 2013 photo, rows of slimline seats await installation aboard a Southwest Airlines 737 at the carrier's headquarters in Dallas. "Seats are getting closer together," says Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, which represents 60,000 flight attendants at 19 airlines.

(John Mone, Associated Press)

NEW YORK — The businessman whose dispute with a fellow airline passenger over a reclined seat sparked a national debate about air-travel etiquette says he's embarrassed by the way the confrontation unfolded and regrets his behavior.

But don't expect James Beach to stop using the Knee Defender, a $22 gadget that attaches to a passenger's tray table and prevents the person in front from reclining. He just plans to be nicer about it.

"I'm pretty ashamed and embarrassed by what happened," Beach told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "I could have handled it so much better."

The argument became so tense that the pilots of the Aug. 24 fight diverted the Boeing 737 to Chicago. An AP story about the incident started a broad public discussion of whether passengers should be allowed to recline. In the days that followed, two other flights were diverted because of similar disagreements.

Beach, 48, reached out to the AP to clarify a few things about the episode, primarily that he initially complied with flight attendant instructions to remove the device.

For the record, he said, he never reclines his seat.

"You have the right, but it seems rude to do it," said Beach, who is 6-foot-1.

The dispute occurred on the final leg of Beach's trip back to his home near Denver. After returning to the U.S. from a business trip to Moscow, he went on standby for an earlier flight for the leg from Newark, New Jersey, to Denver and was given a middle seat. When the jet was airborne, Beach took out his laptop to review a contract for his company, which develops waste recycling facilities, primarily in Russia. He used the Knee Defender — a Christmas gift a few years ago from his wife — to prevent the woman in front from reclining.

U.S. airlines prohibit use of the Knee Defender, but the devices are not illegal.

"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 passengers 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.

Beach, who said he flies 75,000 to 100,000 miles a year, wasn't so lucky this time.

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 as 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 — at him.

"It was really just surreal and shocking. Did that just happen?" Beach recalls. "I said, 'I hope you brought your checkbook because you just threw your Sprite all over my $2,000 laptop.'"

The flight attendant stepped in quickly and moved the woman to another seat.

"I said a lot of things I shouldn't have said to the flight attendant: some bad words, what's your name and 'I can't believe you're treating me like this,'" he recalled.

The pilots then changed course for Chicago — a decision that Beach said "amazed" him.

"The plane was dead quiet for the rest of that flight," he added. "Nobody said a word."

Ira Goldman, who invented the Knee Defender, said the passengers on the other diverted flights got upset after their knees and head were hit by reclining seats. He said airlines are "trying to wish this problem away."

His solution: Install seats that slide forward within a shell to recline or to allow the use of his device, which has been sold since 2003.

"They're selling the same space twice — to me to sit down and then inviting people to put their seat backs there as well," he said.

When the plane landed in Chicago, police escorted Beach and the woman off. Neither police, nor the airline or the Transportation Security Administration has released any information about the passenger seated in front of Beach.

No criminal or civil charges were brought against them, but United would not let them continue on to Denver.

Beach says he spent the night at an airport hotel and then caught a flight home the next morning. He flew Spirit Airlines. It has no reclining seats.

Scott Mayerowitz can be reached at http://twitter.com/GlobeTrotScott .

Recommended
1. FT
salt lake city, UT,
Sept. 3, 2014

Common courtesy and turning the other cheek are things of the past. Two jerks who disrupted the lives of others.

2. SEC Rules
Seminole, FL,
Sept. 3, 2014

We sent a man to the moon. Phones have become computers, and vice versa. So why can't we build a economy seat that is at least somewhat civilized?

Airline travel today is stressful enough without the pain and discomfort of straight jackets they call seats.

3. Back Talk
Federal Way, WA,
Sept. 3, 2014

There is "reclining" the seat and then there is "reclining" the seat. The first example is a 10-15 degree recline, an inch or two of backward tilt at most. The second example is when someone reclines so far that you cant even use you eating tray. Doing anything more than a slight tilt back is rude and unnecessary. Asking the person in back if your level of reclining is ok would also be a nice improvement.

It can go both ways as well. I had an experience once where I put a book on the eating tray and begain to read. Every time i moved this lady looked back to see what was causing the vibration to her seat. That seemed excessive to me.

4. kiddsport
Fairview, UT,
Sept. 3, 2014

"I'd rather just kind of let them think the seat is broken, rather than start a confrontation," he said."
So rather than take the heat, he'd let the other passenger blame the airline for not keeping the plane maintained. Nice guy, huh?
So when will someone develop a device to keep the youngster behind me from kicking the back of my seat?

5. ipr
Spanish Fork, UT,
Sept. 3, 2014

I am flying to Europe next month and I have paid the extra $65 per one way trip for the international portion, so that I will have more leg space and can recline my seat more. Will I recline? You bet ya! A business man who want to work while flying, can always fly first class. People are given the option to recline their seat, and if they want to do so, so be it.