The Knee Defender Stops Airline Seats From Reclining, But Is it Ethical?

knee defenderLast week, I heard about a product called the Knee Defender, which, when attached to the tray table of an airline seat, restricts how far the person in front of you can recline, on an episode of NPR’s “This American Life.” Apparently, this product has been available for more than nine years, but this was the first I’d heard of it. In the intro to the episode, host Ira Glass talks to Ken Hegan, a 6’2″ travel writer who uses the Knee Defender on flights, about the etiquette of using this unique little product.

As a frequent flier who often feels cramped in coach, I was intrigued, but wondered if it was ethical to limit another traveler’s ability to recline. So I contacted Ira Goldman, the inventor, to ask him how it works and whether it’s kosher to keep fellow passengers erect, or semi-erect in their seats.


How does the Knee Defender work?

It’s like a paper clip. You put it on the arms of the tray table. The tray table arms and the seat rotate on the same axis, so when the tray table arms come back and the seat’s not reclined, it’s like the blades of scissors. If you put something between the blades of scissors when they’re open, you can’t close them. That’s the dynamic of the Knee Defender.

According to your site, the Knee Defender isn’t FAA approved, but they also haven’t outlawed it, correct?

Correct. They only approve the things they have jurisdiction over and they’ve judged that they don’t have jurisdiction over this, so they have no problem with it as long as you aren’t using it during takeoff, landing or taxiing, but that’s when you need to have your tray table up anyways, so you couldn’t use it then even if you wanted to.

Have any airlines banned it?

The FAA has said it’s fine, my customers who are using it say it’s fine and as far as I know, it’s fine. That’s the bottom line.

But is this ethical? Doesn’t the passenger in front of you have a right to recline his seat?

When I fly, my knees touch the seatback in front of me. I’m only 6’3″, and I would even take the magazines out so in other words, that person isn’t reclining, because my knees will stop them, with or without the Knee Defender. All the Knee Defender does is, instead of my knees stopping the seat, the Knee Defender stops the seat. So the ethical challenge is not really there as you pose it, because it’s not as if they’d otherwise be able to recline.

Every Knee Defender that’s ever been sold says, ‘Don’t hog space.’ You should only use it to the extent that you need it. A number of customers, for example, use it with their laptops. If someone reclines, you can’t use it on your tray table, and it can also catch onto the little lip of the seatback. It can break your laptop.

The Knee Defender is adjustable. You can adjust it so they can recline not really at all or some amount, so this is marketed to stop people from being hit in the knees by seatbacks.

If I’m in my seat, trying to recline and I can’t, I would probably hail a stewardess. If she notices the Knee Defender, how would the situation unfold?

On the Knee Defender tag it says, ‘always listen to the flight attendant.’ Customers tell me that sometimes the flight attendant will say ‘don’t do that’ and they’ll have to take it off, and other times, they’ll realize there’s no leg room, so it’s not going to make a difference, so the flight attendant shrugs to the passenger who complains.

So it’s up to the flight attendant?

Yes, and frankly if there is room for the person to recline without hitting the person who bought my product, then when someone wants to recline, they should remove it (the Knee Defender). The Knee Defender isn’t called the I-want-more-space defender or the anti-claustrophobia-defender. It’s there to stop people from actually being hit.

If someone is using it just because they want a little more space, that’s not what it’s for. And if the flight attendant says you can’t do it, you can’t do it.

In the story on “This American Life,” the passenger who used your product handed the person in front of them a card warning them that they wouldn’t be able to recline their seat more than 2 inches. Does the product come with those cards?

There are two cards on our website. One if you don’t want to buy our product. It’s a note you can hand to the person in front of you that says, ‘By the way, I’ve got long legs, and if you recline, you’re going to bang into me.’ And then one that comes with the product that says the same thing but also says, ‘I’m using the Knee Defender, and if you want to recline, I’ll see if I can adjust it so we can both be happy.’

So what is the best etiquette? To notify the person in front of you that you’re using a Knee Defender or not?

On our site, we have a page about airplane etiquette. It may be wrong, but that’s my point of view. When you go to the restroom, do you knock on the door first, or do you just walk in? It’s up to each person.

Do you recline your seat when you fly?

No.

Even on a trans-Atlantic flight?

No. I get a window seat and lean against the wall.

Is it uncomfortable for a tall person to recline or you think it’s rude?

I don’t think it’s rude if you know what you’re reclining into. It’s like pulling out of your driveway. You look and then you pull out. If someone is coming, you don’t pull out.

So if the person behind you is using a laptop, eating, or is just tall or large, you shouldn’t recline?

I think so, but at the end of the day, there is no physical space for some people to recline into. My knees often hit the seat in front of me, in a normal situation. There are also lap babies. You can be sitting there bouncing a baby on your lap and the person in front of you reclines, and the baby gets smacked in the head.

Some would say that if you’re too tall or large, you should just buy a business class ticket, right?

That’s a question of space. I’m not talking about space; I’m talking about not being hit in the knees. If you have short legs, and you aren’t using a laptop, or have a lap baby, don’t buy our product.

I’m only 5’11” and I thought about buying one. Does that make me a bad person?

There’s nothing to keep us from promoting this as ‘more legroom.’ But that’s just not me. I don’t have to say in the instructions how to use it appropriately, but we do.

Author’s Comment: I generally don’t mind people in front of me reclining, and if there was a situation where I didn’t want them to recline, I wouldn’t hesitate to communicate directly with that person. But I can see where some people are too shy to do that, and in that case, the Knee Defender might come in handy. Still, the airlines make seats that recline, so I suppose that means that people have a right to do it, even if you have long legs or happen to be eating, using a laptop, or holding a baby. What do you think?

[Photo credit: Photo courtesy of Ira Goldman]

Airport, Airline Weather System Updates To Save Time, Fuel, Eventually

weather

When unavoidable bad weather causes turbulence in the air, passengers can expect a rocky ride. In the past, while pilots have aimed to avoid turbulence, they have been limited in the number of available tools. Now, a new turbulence avoidance system promises to change that.

A smoother ride
Called the Juneau Airport Wind System (JAWS), it was developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and provides information pilots can use to route aircraft away from patches of potentially dangerous turbulence.

“By alerting pilots to areas of moderate and severe turbulence, this system enables them to fly more frequently and safely in and out of the Juneau airport in poor weather,” says Alan Yates, an NCAR program manager who helped oversee the system’s development in an R&D Magazine article. “It allows pilots to plan better routes, helping to reduce the bumpy rides that passengers have come to associate with airports in these mountainous settings.”

The system uses a network of wind measuring instruments and computational formulas to interpret rapidly changing atmospheric conditions. The Federal Aviation Administration accepted JAWS for operational use this year.

Just how bad can turbulence in the air be? Check this video:


Sliding in for a landing
In the works and delayed for several years, another system relies on satellites and GPS rather than the radar system developed in the 1950s to direct planes and jets from takeoff to landing.

Called the NextGen system, it will be initially used in Orlando, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, northern and southern California, Houston, Charlotte and northern Texas. The new system should allow planes to fly with less spacing between them on more direct routes, and allowing them to glide to a landing rather than following a step down pattern that is not fuel efficient.

The NextGen system has been compared to walking down a flight of stairs vs. sliding down the banister.

“In addition to improving safety and increasing capacity, this plan will allow for more direct routing for airplanes, less holding at the destination and better planning for constant descent arrivals mentioned above, resulting in less carbon emissions, fuel consumption, and noise.” said Gadling’s Kent Wien in Plane Answers: Airlines see green in appearing green back in 2009, just to show how long this one has been in the works.

This video tells the whole story:



Flickr photo by Ack Ook

Space Program Spinoff: New York To Tokyo In 90 minutes By 2030

space program spin-offThroughout the years, space program spinoffs have served us well. Everyday products include freeze-dried food, firefighting equipment, emergency “space blankets,” Dustbusters and more. First they were proven in space, then adapted to fulfill earthly needs. Today, forward-thinking scientists are talking about adapting technology not even in practice yet to address current real-life desires.

XCOR Aerospace is a California corporation formed by people who realized the only way for them to get to space is to make it affordable for private citizens. Their current focus is set on developing the Lynx commercial reusable launch vehicle (RLV). Lynx will take humans and payloads on a half-hour suborbital flight then return safely to the takeoff runway. But looking beyond what has not even been done yet, XCOR could have the ticket to a flight from New York to Tokyo in 90 minutes by 2030.

Airlines have all but given up on supersonic flight, burned by the two unsolved problems of the Concorde that retired in 2003: the high cost of fuel and the noisy sonic boom created by the aircraft. Those two factors, respectively, led to an inability to make Concorde’s operation profitable and limited its market as nations (including the United States) prohibited landing. Still, the idea of flying from New York to Tokyo in under three hours still has its charm and XCOR might have a way to make it happen.

Flying what is called point to point space travel, the Lynx will take off and land like a conventional plane, going from point A to point B, but cruise at Mach 3.5 (2,688 mph).”Rockets are the way to go,” said XCOR COO Andrew Nelson in an interesting Business Insider article about how the return of supersonic flight will revolutionize travel. Initially it will be “much more like a fighter pilot experience” than business class, says Nelson, but New York to Tokyo in 90 minutes? How great would that be?

Sound familiar?

In 2008 Gadling reported, “It should be two years before the Lynx is off the ground, and Xcor has still to find a commercial partner to market and operate the flights,” in “The Commercial Space Race Heats Up.” But that was for a joy ride in suborbital space for millionaires launching and landing in the same place.

Point to point space travel is an entirely different animal, as we see in this video:




[Flickr photo by Midland Intl. Airport]

Inside United’s First 787 Dreamliner At Boeing HQ

We knew it was coming, but now that we’ve had a chance to step on board United Airlines’ latest jetliner in person, we’ll surely be counting the days until we can ease into one of those airborne recliners as the carrier’s 787 takes to the skies. Just days after getting its first coat of paint (and that unique nose-to-tail swoop), United opened up its Dreamliner for journalists, select customers and a handful of staffers to take a first look at the 787’s interior, which includes 36 flat-bed BusinessFirst seats in a 2-2-2 configuration, 72 Economy Plus seats with up to 36 inches of pitch and 111 Economy seats with a fairly standard 32 inches of pitch.

You could have garnered that from glancing at a seat map. What’s not so clear is just how magnificent this aircraft is to ride, or, in the case of our grounded demo at Boeing’s Everett factory today, how it looks from the ground. This isn’t our first trip down the aisles of a 787, having flown on ANA’s Dreamliner with Engadget in Japan last year. In comparison to the 777, however, where we’ve spent weeks of time in flight, it’s quite exciting to see how the in-flight experience is improving, even when compared to the pleasant ride on the carrier’s previous-generation flagship.

%Gallery-161659%United will be operating the Dreamliner on new and existing routes, and while we don’t know exactly where the 787 will fly first, service is slated begin later this year. The first confirmed route will launch on March 31st between Denver and Tokyo, growing direct service between the Japanese hub and the U.S. to 10 cities (including Honolulu and Guam). Passengers on board those flights will certainly appreciate the oversized dimmable windows and giant overhead bins, along with all-LED lighting, which sadly are limited to basic color configurations, rather than the ANA we’ve seen during boarding on ANA.


The 787 is more than a foot narrower than the 777, but United maintained the same seating configuration as its Continental acquisitions, which you might assume makes the aircraft seem a bit cramped. The higher ceilings and open feel made the difference almost unnoticeable, however, and the Continental-era BusinessFirst seats on board are still far superior to United’s own triple-7 layout, where four center seats mean you could end up paying for a bed yet still have a middle seat. Here, just like on those select triple-7s (mostly used on flights beginning in Houston or Newark), biz seats offer much more privacy, with more personal space and substantial dividers.

%Gallery-161664%

In the Y-cabin, seats seemed cushier than what we’ve used on United’s existing fleet, and feature the same in-flight entertainment system installed on some of the carrier’s current aircraft. Like BusinessFirst, these seats also feature larger dimmable windows and overhead bins which reportedly offer 30 percent more capacity than those on United’s 777. Rows 16 and 27 have substantially more legroom than other Economy Plus seats. In fact, there’s so much space between the window-side seats in row 27 that you could plop down a sleeping bag and camp out on the floor if the FAA permitted it.


Surprisingly, the most spacious seats on the plane aren’t in this row or even in the business cabin, but instead are located up a flight of stairs in a hidden second level. Two sets of crew quarters are located at the far forward and far aft positions, behind doors marked “Crew Only.” Through those doors and up a small flight of stairs you’ll find two full-size beds in the front of the Dreamliner and six in the rear. There’s not much room to do much other than sleep, but thick, full-length mattresses will surely enable pilots and flight attendants to make good use of scheduled rest periods.


We felt quite comfy during our visit to United’s 787, even on the main level, and while we couldn’t experience the boosted humidity, increased cabin pressure, noise suppression and computer-assisted smooth performance, it’s clear that the Dreamliner will be very popular among United passengers. There’s a few months to go until you can take a flight of your own, but we have plenty of photos to tide you over for now. Thumb through the galleries for a closer look, then scroll down below for a hands-on video from Engadget.


Civil War Ballooning Revived This Memorial Day Weekend

Civil War
During the Civil War, the clashing armies used many new technologies to try to gain an advantage.

One military innovation was the balloon. Although the first balloon ascent had taken place in France in 1783 and the French army had already used them in battle as early as 1794, military aviation was still in its infancy and the United States and Confederacy became the second and third countries to use it.

Balloons were handy for spying on enemy movements. Observers would send back information either with signal flags or via a telegraph wire leading to the ground. The more industrial North had an edge in ballooning, but the South used them effectively too. Despite their best efforts, neither side was able to shoot these daring aviators out of the sky.

Now these early experiments are being re-enacted in Virginia. On Saturday, May 26, there will be a Civil War Balloon Observation Exhibit at the Yorktown Battlefield. There will be presentations on how balloons were used by both sides. It’s part of a weekend of lectures and re-enactments.

On Memorial Day, Monday, May 28, at the Gloucester Main Street Center, there will be a Civil War re-enactment featuring a 45-foot diameter replica of the Union’s balloon Intrepid. Re-enactors will portray Union and Confederate balloonists. Those who prefer more recent military history can meet special guest Richard C. Kirkland, who flew 103 combat missions in World War II and whose 69 helicopter rescues in Korea inspired the movie and TV series “M*A*S*H.”

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]