Last week's episode of This American Life dealt with people "getting away" with things. It opens with a scene on an airplane: Travel writer Ken Hegan sits next to show host Ira Glass as Hegan tests out the "Knee Defender," a product that prevents the person sitting in front of you from reclining their seat back and taking your knee-space.
Radio being the non-visual medium it is, I immediately wanted to know what such a thing looked like. So here you go:
Images courtesy of GadgetDuck.com
It turns out the product is by a Washington, D.C.,-based company called GadgetDuck.com, and these little clamps (sold for about $20) have actually been around since 2003. Beating me to the story by nearly 10 years, the Washington Post answered the obvious question — what do the airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration think? Here's what the Post reported in 2003:
Northwest Airlines has banned the gadget and ordered its flight attendants to be on the lookout for it. Other airlines, including United, US Airways and American, said they were studying the device's impact on passenger safety and comfort.
"We don't believe a passenger should interfere with another passenger's ability to recline their seats," said American spokesman Tim Wagner.
Flight attendants said they already have plenty of delicate situations to referee onboard and that seeking out and seizing Knee Defenders would create "unbelievable tension between the flight attendants and passengers," said Jeff Zack, a spokesman for the Association of Flight Attendants.
FAA spokesman Paul Takemoto said the clips were not against federal aviation rules as long as they weren't used during taxiing, takeoffs or landings.
The FAA confirmed that their statement is still accurate. So I called GadgetDuck.com president Ira Goldman and asked him how his little device has been faring over the last decade.
"Since I invented this product, I have done no advertising and it has been on the market for nine years," Goldman says. Business ebbs and flows as people discover it again, like when sales spiked last weekend after the TAL airing and earlier this year when it was covered in The New York Times (see here and here).
But Goldman would prefer that there wasn't a niche for it.
"People don’t want to buy the product, and I would be happy to not sell it, if there was not a problem," he says. "I like selling things and making money, but it would also be nice if the airlines would solve the problem."