Americans: “Rob me, abuse me, just don’t squish me!”

It’s quite striking. Throughout the media and all over the blabbosphere, a gizmo that’s been around for more than ten years is suddenly causing people to fly into a rage. 

It’s called the Knee Defender. It prevents the person in front of you from reclining his seat so far back that his head is practically in your lap.

I know you’ve been hearing the stories about this lately. How could you not? It’s all over the news.

“To recline or not to recline” is the question du jour. People are flying into fits of apoplexy in chat rooms, discussion boards, comment threads, and on airplanes themselves, where several passengers have gotten into fights, precipitating changes of course and unscheduled plane landings.

Fair disclosure: I have the original version, which I bought when it first came on the market 11 years ago. It’s changed slightly since then, but the purpose and effect are the same. I used mine only once, lo those many years ago, when I was still flying coach (I stopped flying coach in 2004, and since 2010 I’ve stopped flying in/from this country completely). The Knee Defender did the trick. It didn’t prevent the girl in front of me from reclining a little, it just prevented her from taking up my seat along with hers.

My husband, sitting next to me, used it briefly; the guy in front of him shoved his seat back so hard that he sheared the tray table off. In other words, he damaged the seat, thus rendering it unusable, as the flight attendant informed me when I handed him the destroyed tray table as I disembarked. He said he wished I’d told him sooner so he could’ve charged the guy who did it.

At that time the Knee Defender was completely legal, allowable, not against airline regulations. No idea what the deal is now, since airlines around the world are apparently scrambling to come up with policies on it.

In all the arguing about this, there’s a hefty amount of pot calling kettle black. “You’re inconsiderate!” “No, you’re inconsiderate!” Etc. (Since, in all my years of flying, I never, ever reclined my seat all the way back into the person behind me, considering it incredibly rude, I have no sympathy for those who do. Whatever. That’s not the point of this post.)

Regardless, the point is that this little gadget is causing more consternation than all the abuse the TSA dishes out. Passengers care more about how much room they have on the plane than they do about the fact that they get bullied, robbed, and assaulted before they get on that plane.

This isn’t a novel observation. We’ve discussed before how people are willing to put up with anything, including allowing their children to be abused, to get on a plane. Especially if they can save a few bucks, there’s no limit to what they’re willing to put up with; that’s, in fact, the tenor of much of the Knee Defender discussion — the money required to buy a seat with more room. Flyers are more concerned with their “right” to recline than they are with their right not to have their genitalia pawed by a uniformed clerk. (And for heaven’s sake, whatever you do, don’t touch their cars!)

What, I wonder, can one conclude from all this about so-called American values?