Knee defender speaks out about airline legroom fight

Story highlights

  • Colorado businessman feels "terrible" about mid-air dispute
  • He used the Knee Defender to stop a fellow passenger from reclining
  • She threw a drink in his face
  • The passenger said he may continue to use the device

The man who got kicked off a United Airlines flight because of a fight over seat reclining says he's sorry about his behavior.

Sort of.

Though he regrets how he handled the recent incident with a fellow passenger who wanted to recline her seat, Colorado businessman James Beach told "the Today Show" that he may use the now-famous Knee Defender device again.

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"Whose right is it?" Beach asked. "Is that my 4 inches (of legroom), or is that her 4 inches (of reclining space)?"

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It's a dispute that's gotten national attention, with three skirmishes in the air over seat reclining in the past two weeks.

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Should the Knee Defender be banned?

Although the Federal Aviation Administration hasn't prohibited use of the device on commercial flights, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, American Airlines (which also operates the U.S. Airways brand) and Southwest Airlines (which also operates the AirTran brand) all say they ban the $22 device, which prevents the seat in front of the user from reclining.

Beach's problems started after he boarded an August 24 United Airlines flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Denver. He had paid for extra space in the Economy Plus section, which provides United passengers up to 5 inches of extra legroom compared with standard coach seats.

After taking his seat, the 6'1" Beach installed the Knee Defender and opened his laptop to start working.

Knee Defender sales soar after plane incident

The woman in front of him complained about not being able to recline, and the flight attendant asked him to remove the device, Beach told "the Today Show." When he did, Beach says, the woman quickly slammed her seat back, nearly damaging his computer.

"She just took all the space, and I can't work now," Beach said he told the flight attendant. In a "burst of anger" he says he regrets, "I pushed her seat up pretty hard to put the Knee Defender back in."

The woman responded by throwing her drink on him, he says.

That's when the pilot diverted the flight to Chicago. Both passengers were kicked off the flight, but neither was arrested.

"I felt terrible when we landed," Beach said.

Aviation blogger Johnny "Jet" DiScala says Beach should feel terrible. That diversion cost United Airlines about $6,000 per hour, he says.

"They should arrest these passengers and make them pay for the fees," DiScala wrote in an email. "He's lucky he only had liquid thrown on his face."

As long as airlines ignore the problem and sell the same space to two people, these disputes will continue, Knee Defender creator Ira Goldman said.

"What the airlines are doing is, they're selling me space for my legs, and they're selling you the space -- if you're sitting in front of me -- they're selling you same space to recline," said Goldman, who is 6'3." "So they're selling one space to two people."

People use the Knee Defender to protect their laptops, their knees and even their babies from being smacked by reclining seats, Goldman says.

"This is a problem the airlines don't want to acknowledge," he said.

"Of all the reactions from the airline industry, I don't think you've heard one person say, 'this is a problem we're going to look into,' " he said. "They just say, 'people should behave.' "