Skewed News — Behavioral scientists conducted experiments during the 1960s to test the effects of overpopulation. What happens, they wanted to know, when there are too many rats and/or not enough food or water to nourish them, in a cage?
Some rats withdrew from the colony, taking to a corner to groom themselves. Others mutilated themselves.
Other rats turned violent.
Since airline deregulation turned the coach section of the skies into a Hobbesian hell in the 1980s, passengers subjected to shrinking leg and thigh and armrest room — on many flights, without even the option to buy a hot, horrible but actual meal (as opposed to a “cheese” and “fruit” box) — are reacting just like those long-dead lab rats.
Some people hide in the bathroom. (Thus the long waits.)
Others — many of them no doubt perfectly civilized individuals in their normal, less-stressed life away from seat 54E — lash out.
The latest victims of sadistic airline seat configuration efficiency experts were aboard Southwest Flight 2010 from LAX to SFO Sunday morning, October 18th. (Bear in mind, this was a relatively short flight aboard a relatively well-managed airline, one with a heart in its logo.)
According to The Los Angeles Times, a woman who reclined her seat was struck in the head and choked by the man sitting behind her about 15 minutes after takeoff. The pilot flew the plane back to LAX, where security forces removed the alleged choker-hitter.
There was no word about whether the reclining woman was detained.
There have been numerous similar incidents.
A November 2014 seat-reclining dispute on a Virgin Australia flight led to a court fine of $600 against a man who struck the back of the recliner’s seat so hard that it caused the latter man whiplash. “No one reclines their seat between here and New Zealand,” the defendant said. “I’m not a violent person. I’m not an angry person. It was just bad timing.”
There were three seat-space rage bouts during a three-week period late last summer, including a Parisian man charged in federal court for a fight with a reclining passenger. That flight from Miami to Paris was diverted to Boston, which though charming, proved a disappointment to passengers hoping to journey to Paris.
Then there was this: “This woman who was sitting next to me knitting actually just tried reclining her seat back,” passenger Aaron Klipin told CNN about the incident aboard Delta Air Lines Flight 2370 from LGA to Jacksonville. “The woman behind her started screaming and swearing and then a flight attendant came over and that just exacerbated what was going on and then she demanded that the flight land.”
A United flight from EWR (inexplicably Newark) to Denver was diverted on August 24 after a passenger deployed a “Knee Defender,” which blocks reclining. The passengers threw water at one another. “It seems at least one of the passengers was not completely satisfied with the extra space in the Economy Plus section where they were seated, which provides United passengers up to 5 inches of extra legroom compared with standard coach seats,” reported CNN.
The seat-space controversy comes down to this question: which has precedence, your right to recline, or the right of the person behind you to pain-free knees, use a laptop computer and not have his nose shoved into the back of your head?
Passions have not cooled on either side of this matter. It has even resulted in a reversal of the usual ideological divide in America.
Mark Hemingway of the right-wing neocon magazine The Weekly Standard calls anyone who reclines their seat “without a darn good reason…a monster.” Josh Marro of the liberal New York Times, on the other hand, says he’ll recline his seat — using space which he deems his as a property right — if he’s paid enough money.
As a 6’2” American, I applaud the brave heroes who are saying enough is enough — if you want to make seats 17” wide and 31” apart, you’re going to have trouble. How much does it cost an airline to divert a flight? When does that cost exceed the savings of packing in people like sardines in a can — dead sardines who can no longer feel?
We need a rule: no reclining unless it’s an overnight “red eye” flight.
Either that, or mandate minimum seat pitch (the distance between rows) that conforms to the specifications of American human beings.