A United jet was diverted after a passenger used gadget to prohibit another from reclining

The Canadian Press - A United Airlines jet approaches LAX as it passes in front of a Waxing Gibbous moon on July 17, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Nick Ut
The Canadian Press – A United Airlines jet approaches LAX as it passes in front of a Waxing Gibbous moon on July 17, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Nick Ut

NEW YORK, N.Y. – 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 fight started on a United Airlines flight because one passenger was using the Knee Defender, a $21.95 gadget that attaches to a passenger’s tray table and prevents the person in front of them from reclining.

The Federal Aviation Administration leaves it up to individual airlines to set rules about the device. United Airlines said it prohibits use of the device, like all major U.S. airlines. Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air take the reclining mechanisms out of their seats, leaving them permanently upright.

The dispute on United Flight 1462 from Newark, New Jersey to Denver escalated to the point where the airline decided to divert to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, according to Transportation Security Administration spokesman Ross Feinstein.

Chicago Police and TSA officers met the flight, spoke to the passengers — a man and a woman, both 48 — and “deemed it a customer service issue,” Feinstein said. The TSA would not name the passengers.

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