Knee Defender: The Controversial ‘Must-Have’ for Tall Airline Passengers

Screenshot from the Knee Defender website (

Screenshot from the official Knee Defender website (

Knee Defender isn’t some advanced tech. It’s not even a new invention. However, it is hailed as a highly useful device for tall air travel passengers. It supposedly solves the issue “invasion of space” among passengers.  It’s a controversial invention, though, as it figured in recent news for causing chaos on flights.

In one recent case of having troubles with the Knee Defender, in a flight from Newark to Denver, the flight was diverted to Chicago to address the problem between two passengers over the use of the device. A male passenger was asked to remove the Knee Defenders who used on the seat in front of him but he refused. The woman on the seat to which the Knee Defenders were attached, irked by the refusal, then threw a glass of water on the man’s face. Both passengers were forced to disembark after the plane was diverted and forced to land.

It’s interesting to learn more about this simple but controversial invention. Does it really make life easier for people or is it a technology that does more harm than good?

The Knee Defender

Back in 2004, Washington Post recommended the gadget called Knee Defender in a list of ”25 Ways to Make Your Next Flight Easier.” Look how far it’s come. It’s a controversial success story for a simple device that makes clever use of the principles of basic technology for the benefit of ordinary people. It does not run on electricity. It’s small enough to be brought along in flights without bulking up travel bags or putting on so much weight.

Knee Defender is a patented product designed as a travel accessory with the sole purpose of preventing front seatbacks from reclining beyond the extent that already causes inconvenience on the next passenger. It is particularly intended for tall passengers who certainly feel the discomfort of someone’s thoughtless reclining, the lack of consideration for the comfort of the people sitting behind them. It basically does what its name indicates. It defends the knees from inconsiderate “recliners.”

The Knee defenders available now are adjustable. Hence, users should be able to set just the right amount of constraints on the reclining of a front passenger. For the makers of Knee Defender, the device is a must-have for every passenger considering that airlines don’t take any liability for the comfort of their passengers when other passengers excessively recline their seats. On the product’s official website, the Knee Defender is even suggested as a product that protects passengers “from being battered, crunched, and immobilized – very real problems according to healthcare professionals, medical studies, government agencies, and even some airlines.” Yes, they’re exaggerating the marketing a bit.

Screenshot from the Knee Defender website (

Screenshot from the Knee Defender website (

FAA Stand on Knee Defenders

For the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), back in 2003, the Knee Defender is not against any aviation rules as long as they are not used during taxiing, takeoffs, and landings. As such, as long as they are used in the way they are designed to be used, there should be no problems and the FAA does not see anything wrong in their use. However, in an August 2014 statement, the FAA said that “while the product does not violate any FAA regulations, it is up to individual airlines to prohibit it.” Hence, the burden of imposing regulations or prohibitions lies on the airlines.

By Daniel Schwen (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Daniel Schwen (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Nay or Yay?

This post does not aim to discuss the legal or moral issues surrounding the Knee Defender. The purpose of having this post is to highlight the need to balance technology and practical use even in the littlest or simplest forms of technological products. Whether it’s a simple seat clip device or some futuristic technology, it is important to consider the consequences. With Knee Defenders, since airlines are granted the discretion on regulating their use, it would be better if airlines can establish limits on the extent seatbacks can be reclined or to create standards on adjusting Knee Defenders in such a way that they don’t completely prevent reclining while still protecting somebody behind a reclined seat from being inconvenienced. Better yet, passengers should learn to respect each other. Petty issues like the use of Knee Defenders can be easily solved by talking things over.