Rude Recliners

The dark side of business travel includes packing bags, leaving family, inching through security, and – all too often – wedging into a middle seat in coach.

At 6’2”, 210 pounds, I rub elbows – literally – with my new neighbors because the average coach seat is 17 inches wide.  If my neighbors are extra-large, we rub more than elbows.

On a recent flight to Minneapolis, I was assigned the dreaded middle seat.   As I shimmied my butt and frame into 35E, I gave a half-hearted apology to 35D and 35F knowing they were sorry to lose the elbow room but happy they weren’t me.  I stuffed my bag under the seat, fished for the seatbelt and turned on the reading light.

Although my knees scraped the seat pocket and my elbows were pinned to my torso, I was able to read The Tiger’s Wife, a magical novel that transported me from Flight 1281 to Galina, a small town in the Balkans that was being stalked by a Siberian tiger which escaped from the zoo.

Just when the village blacksmith sets out to kill the tiger with his not-so trusty antique gun, I was jolted back to reality by my evil neighbor in 34E. Like a mouse trap, the upright and locked tray table snapped down, hammering my kneecaps and sending The Tiger’s Wife flying.

On a good day, I rationalize the pain.  Now Jim, the pioneers who crossed this great land endured so much more: starvation, disease, attacks, broken wagon wheels, etc.  It’s not like I’m being asked to ford a river teeming with water moccasins. Certainly, I can endure a few hours of extreme immobility given the relative convenience of modern travel.

On this day, 34E deserved to die.  He was sitting in the exit row with his right foot on this left knee reading the newspaper like he was on a park bench.  Despite his expansive living quarters, it apparently wasn’t perfect enough so he slammed his seat back with a violent thrust as if to say, “There!  Now I’m comfortable!”

Unbeknownst to Mr. Comfortable, his scalp was only inches from the piping hot French Roast I picked up before boarding.  It miraculously dodged his assault.  I imagined dumping it on the intruder the way medieval Normans poured boiling oil on Saxon invaders as they scaled the castle wall.

“Oh, I’m sorry, 34E.  I didn’t realize your chaise lounge reclines 60 degrees.  Yes, your bald spot is bright red and blistering, but I think it’s only a second-degree burn. ”

Of course, this fantasy of swift justice was overcome by my fear of jail: 34E was spared as I sat and seethed.

Speaking of seething, wouldn’t it be fun to see Alec Baldwin in a middle seat in coach?  His head would explode.

Rather than injuring fellow travelers, there are better ways to solve the problem of rude recliners:

Memo to flight attendants,

We know how to buckle our seat belts.  Replace your “this-is-how-to-buckle” demonstration with the following announcement:  “In order to make this flight affordable, we had to pack you like sardines.  If you have a neighbor behind you, don’t recline.”

Memo to smart mechanical engineers,

Please invent a universal locking clip that prohibits a seat from reclining.  I  would store it in my travel bag and snap it into place on crowded flights.  You can call it the KneeSaver and sell it for $50.  (Update:  There is a device!  It’s called the Knee Defender and it’s only $17.95.  See

Memo to fellow travelers,

I may be sitting behind you with hot coffee.  Sit up straight.

Note:  I guess I’m not the only one being squashed in coach.  Click USA Today link below.

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