The Boston Globe recently published an editorial about the Knee Defender, a small device that prevents the seatback in from of you from reclining. The following day, the editorial found its way into the International Herald Tribune.
I reported on this invention back in late September.
Since then the focus has been on the air rage issues that this device may create. My email has been equally split between suffering passengers who hail the Knee Defender as the right invention at the right time and arrogant full-recliners who insist that their ticket purchase guarantees them the full range of recline whenever they desire it.
Media coverage was swift following my story with Knee Defender articles running in newspapers, on radio programs and on TV across the country.
To my dismay, the spotlight has been on passenger vs. passenger problems. No one seems to be cutting to the real crux of the matter — airline seat sizes and pitch.
The fault is not with passengers maneuvering for extra legroom, the real fault lies with the airlines for squeezing in too many passengers in a quest for the almighty buck.
There would not be any need for an invention such as the Knee Defender if the airlines followed the lead of Jet Blue which is increasing the space between seats. American Airlines made a wonderful change when it launched its “More Room in Coach” program and increased seat pitch up to 36 inches in some cases. Unfortunately, American Airlines is preparing to squeeze seats back together on many of its aircraft starting in January 2004.
Airlines have been squeezing passengers physically as well as financially for years. Now with low cost carriers, the financial squeeze has been loosened, but the physical squeeze continues.
The invention of the Knee Defender was only one response to semi-humane conditions airlines have created for the flying public. Another physiological response has resulted in the diagnosis of DVT or Deep Vein Thrombosis. The airlines are actually being sued for ignoring passenger health on long-haul flights.
After a bit of research, I discovered that prisoners shipped from England to Australia two-hundred-and-fifty years ago were allotted a space of 18 inches per prisoner per seat.
Currently, according to sizewise.com most coach airline seats are only 17-18 inches wide.
In other words, passengers today flying on an MD-80, 727, 737, 747-200, 747-200G, 747-400, 757, 767, MD-88, MD-90, CRJ-700, DC-9, DC-10, ERJ or Saab 340 SF3 are all flying with less seat space than a convict being transported to Australia more than two centuries ago.
I looked up the measurements of old Mediterranean war galleys used by the Egyptians and Romans and discovered that the seat pitch for the oarsmen slaves chained to their benches was 36 inches.
No airline provides basic coach passengers 36 inches of pitch.
Today when traveling by air in coach we are not even seated as humanely as convicts being transported to Australia and slaves rowing ancient man-of-wars when we take simple measurements into account.
Let’s not blame passengers for trying to find ways to maximize their comfort. The proper place for blame lies with the airlines that sacrifice passenger comfort.
After all, we are only asking for the same space that slaves and criminals got more than 3000 years ago.
Charlie Leocha is the President of Travelers United. He has been working in Washington, DC, for the past 11 years with Congress, the Department of Transportation and industry stakeholders on travel issues. He was the first consumer representative to the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections appointed by the Secretary of Transportation from 2012 through 2018.