It’s not a whole lot of real estate. The few inches that the reclining passenger seat on a plane offers is hardly worth an all-out row, but a United Airlines flight had to be diverted Sunday because a seat squabble between two legroom-challenged fliers couldn’t be controlled.
Writes The Associated Press on Aug. 25: “Airline passengers have come to expect a tiny escape from the confined space of today's packed planes – the ability to recline their seat a few inches. When one passenger was denied that bit of personal space Sunday, it led to a heated argument and the unscheduled landing of their plane, just halfway to its destination.”
The rear passenger was reportedly using a Knee Defender – a house key-sized rubber wedge that retails for $22 bucks and prevents the passenger in front of you from reclining their seat into your “personal space.” The FAA does not provide guidance on its use, but almost all major American airlines outlaw such devices.
The argument started on United Airlines Flight 1462 from Newark, New Jersey to Denver. The plane had to put down at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, according to the TSA.
The passengers were not named in the report, but the TSA confirmed that a male passenger, 48, used the device to prevent the female in front of him, also 48, from reclining. The man was using a laptop at the time on the front seat’s tray table. An argument started, flight attendants attempted to intervene, and the man allegedly refused to take out the device. The female passenger threw a cup of water over the man and his laptop, and the pair had to be restrained.
For the safety of the crew, they were separated and the plane was brought down, where TSA officials and Chicago PD were waiting. No arrests were made, but the two individuals face “unruly passenger” civil fines up to $25,000.