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Knee Defender dispute gets police involved on United flight

Here's a lesson in how to deal with fellow travelers: Feel free to be passive-aggressive in your complaints, but don't necessarily expect the same in return.

AP reports that there was a dispute on a United flight this weekend over one passenger's use of the Knee Defender -- a device that clips onto the tray table and prevents the seat in front of you from reclining. The man, 48, employed the device which is banned by United Airlines, and refused to take it off after requests from the flight staff. The aggrieved woman sitting in front of him, also 48, responded by throwing a cup of water on the man. Both passengers were seated in United's Economy Plus section, which has an extra 4" of space.

The flight was then diverted to Chicago, where the police and TSA got involved. Eventually, it was decided that it was not a police issue but a United customer service problem. Both passengers were taken off the flight, and the plane continued to Denver, arriving about 1.5 hours late.

The Knee Defender has been a controversial item for a while. It seems like a great idea from one side of things -- extra room for long-legged passengers, without paying extra! But the major downside is that it takes away the right of the person in front to make him or herself comfortable.

Knee Defender comes with cards that the user can hand to the person in front of them, explaining that although it "may be an inconvenience", it's happening. This is called a "Courtesy Card" but invokes a sense of entitlement rather than courtesy.

Courtesy is something we don't always experience when traveling, but at the very least we could try to extend it to others. And while creating extra legroom out of thin air would be amazing, that's simply not what the Knee Defender achieves. If the person doesn't want to recline at all? Then it's not necessary. If they do? Then you're basically saying too bad. The difference is that you normally choose the seat you get on the plane (or at least the class), whereas the person in front of you doesn't choose to sit in front of someone with long legs.

Costs may be tight and upgrading to seats with greater legroom may not be an option, but dealing with seating constraints in a personal way is. Compression socks are a great way to keep healthy circulation in your cramped legs, as is getting up and walking around. If you're looking to catch some zzz's on the long haul, try browsing SeatExpert.com. Search for your airline and carrier to hunt down a seat position that happens to come with more legroom without extra fees. And if, like this man, you still cannot find a suitable seat on your plane, then perhaps it's just best not to take that flight at all, if you're flying Economy Plus and expecting First Class privileges.

Besides, is it really worth risking a bad response from your seatmate and delaying arrival for the entire flight? Travel is stressful enough; let's not add to it.