Defending Myself From the Knee Defender

Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi once uttered the phrase, "The best defense is a good offense." I plan to turn those words into action the next time I fly coach class.

By now everybody is familiar with the escalating brouhaha over personal space when flying. The skies seemed reasonably friendly until August 24, aboard United Flight 1462 between Newark and Denver. A female passenger trying to recline her coach seat was thwarted by the Knee Defender, a device the male passenger seated behind her had clipped to his tray table. She complained; he refused to remove the device. She threw water at him and the pilot made an unscheduled landing in Chicago, where both passengers were ordered to extricate themselves from the plane -- no easy matter when crammed in coach. Since then, two similar disputes have caused the rerouting of flights.

I'm not surprised there was confrontation aboard Flight 1462; after all, it did originate in New Jersey. What shocked me was how many air travelers, through blogs and social media posts, defended Knee Defender Guy. Six-foot-plus individuals, laptop users and claustrophobes were among the most vocal. So naturally was Ira Goldman, the device's creator.

Conversely, I'm solely behind Water Throwing Girl, feeling I should have the right to use whatever features come with my coach seat, limited as they are. Imagine buying a car with a top-of-the-line stereo system and stumbling across the following sentence in the owner's manual: WARNING! DRIVER WILL NOT PLAY KENNY CHESNEY ON RADIO IF ANY COUNTRY MUSIC HATER IS IN VEHICLE.

Until this incident I had never seen, nor heard of, the Knee Defender. This, despite being a longtime 100,000 mile a year flier on American Airlines. Okay, my Executive Platinum status means I frequently get first class upgrades, free alcohol and the right to mock and elbow coach passengers on my way down the jet bridge (read the fine print), so maybe I'm not the most impartial candidate on this matter. But I also fly Southwest Airlines, where all passengers are treated like equal pieces of cattle headed to the slaughterhouse. Nobody has whipped out a Knee Defender, although I will probably see one soon. Sales of Goldman's $21.95 device have reportedly skyrocketed.

Airline rule books appear split over the Knee Defender. Some carriers ban the device; others allow it but don't advocate bringing it aboard. Until it is deemed illegal by everyone, I'm going to have to channel my inner Lombardi, creating an offense to counter Goldman's device. Passing gas immediately comes to mind, but I have no qualm with anybody else in the row behind me. Or next to me. Or in front of me. Or across the aisle. Casually dumping a glass of red wine on the Knee Defender offender would look suspicious, as it would require a 180-degree move on my part.

The most obvious answer? Speed. During takeoff, seatbacks must be in the upright position, tray tables stowed, blah, blah, blah. Once the plane is airborne, I'm positive I can recline my seat faster than the passenger behind me can assemble the Knee Defender. You snooze, you lose.

So I've solved that dilemma. And now that my brain is in full airplane problem-conquering mode, I'm ready to market my own line of passenger defense mechanisms. For starters, I will patent the Elbow Separator, a thin metal sheet that easily divides a row's community armrest. Side by side coach passengers get an equal three-quarters of an inch all the way to Hawaii.

Next comes the Shoulder Jolt, an electrically-charged cushion I'll wear behind my neck. Any sleeping passenger whose head listlessly flops onto my shoulder mid-flight gets the shock of their lives, no pun intended.

Finally, don't board without my number one creation, Foot Odor in a Jar. Put it in your pocket and discretely open it when your fellow passenger removes his shoes. The quickly intensifying smell tricks Stocking Feet Guy into thinking he is the source of the stink. Note: This product is not always needed; I've flown next to passengers whose feet smell far worse than anything produced in a lab.

So Mr. Goldman, the gauntlet has been thrown. Sit behind me on a flight and be prepared for creations you only wish you had designed. We can settle our differences like adults, but you may have to wake me first, as I like to sleep on planes.

Usually while reclining.

Copyright 2014 Greg Schwem distributed by Tribune Content Services, Inc.