“You are not going out with that boy unless his parents are driving and that's that. I'm not just Spitting Grits here, young lady!”

. . . My father, John Thomas Cravey, USAF, to me in 1956.

The Mysterious Case of the Knee Defender

Ok, I’m biting.
Now Consumer Reports has weighed in on its Web site with a Knee Defender piece, and this is after many media reports on an incident at 35,000 feet. Attention includes the New York Times, that stiff and credible publication; unlike other reports, the NYT and CR pieces have something substantial to say. Well, I do too.
At first, responsibility for this incident and others like it was dumped on passengers. When I saw that angle being reported, I ended up screaming to the television “It’s no mystery who’s at fault here, dummy. It’s not the passengers; it is the airlines.” It’s my guess that I wasn’t alone. I’ll bet many, many passengers were thinking, if not screaming, the same thing. Isn’t it just like so many big businesses and corporations shouting, “Oh, no. It’s not us. It’s Halliburton,” or “Oh, no, we’re not the same company now. Those faulty cars were back then, not now.” “Oh, not on our airline; we have Economy Plus.”
It may have been the Associated Press who first put it out there. The Guardian picked it up with these headlines: “Plane diverted as passengers fight over seat reclining”. Then the story of the incident went viral. Whose curiosity could resist? One tall passenger put the knee defender on the tray he ate on to prevent the passenger in the seat in front of him from reclining. That passenger was so infuriated, she threw her cold water on him. Fight on. Then the United plane made an unscheduled stop to dump them both off the plane. Then it went on its merry way. I wonder what descending and taking off costs in fuel and whatever else.
Frankly, I don’t know why the rest of the passengers didn’t rise up in a revolt.
I’m biting because my passengership makes me an expert on this subject. On August 1 my granddaughter and I boarded Delta’s flight 130, a non-stop ten-hour trip to Munich. We would arrive the next morning (because of the time difference) about 8 a.m., tired, lagged, and fuzzy-brained from no sleep. On the 11th, we had to repeat the trip backwards on Delta’s flight 131 to Atlanta. Then I drove us home, with no sleep.
It wasn’t so much that it was grueling. It’s the fact that it was NASTY. Plain nasty.
Which Customers First?
Fourth (I’m going in reverse order), I paid extra for Delta’s version of Economy Plus, seats located behind first class, an area where the airplane hasn’t yet started getting narrow – more room, more comfy, more perks. Are you kidding, Delta? When we got on and found our seats I looked back at “regular” economy and I knew: I had wasted that money. Perks? Have you lost your mind, Delta? We weren’t offered anything, not even water, while I watched some fawning steward offering all the, what, maybe 10, First Class passengers champagne and what could have been chocolate truffles.
Don’t waste your money.
Third, coming back I asked one of the stewardettes in charge of snapping the blue netting together on the boundary of First Class and Economy Plus if my granddaughter, age 7, could use the bathroom between our Economy Plus and First Class. The hag said, No, I’m sorry.”
Then Joanna Leigh spilled about half of her orange juice the stewardettes brought with the one-inch square, tiny bag of pretzels. Juice was dripping off the tray. I was frantically looking for something to sop it up with. I even grabbed napkins off other passengers’ trays. I realize now a fight could have ensued. The stewardette in charge of rolling that blasted cart down the almost too narrow aisle came by. I said, “Please, I need some paper towels or napkins.”
The hag handed me two, count ‘em two, cocktail napkins. I was flabbergasted.
Then came dinner, the “food,” and that’s a real knee-slapper. I wondered if the airlines pay an employee to stop at Walmart or Target to pick up the Fisher Price “food” they serve the passengers. I remember giving some like it to Joanna Leigh when she got her kitchen set for Christmas.
Second, and this one really should be First, the bathrooms. For a 10-hour flight with 250-plus passengers, you essentially have four little cubbies when you subtract the two for all those ten First Class passengers. If they catch the hoi polloi using those, they might disembark them along with any fighters. Those bathrooms were worse than any port-o-potty at the State Fair. Don’t bring your own spray bottle of Clorox or the hidden Air Marshalls would rise up and deplane you.
The bathrooms on a long flight are a health hazard. Plain and simple.
First Class Dumps
Finally, number ONE, the seats, which is where the primary fault lies. Or sits.
Imagine a profile of a seat in the famed “upright and locked” position – with no lumbar support – up to the pillowed “head rest.” Now imagine the poor passenger sitting in it, arched forward all the way up to the “head rest,” which tilts your head down toward your chest, which means that you are sitting in a crescent-moon arched position. That’s against the laws of physics, except for the Dream Works logo of a kid sitting on a moon sliver with his fishing pole hanging into the stars. You need lumbar support and a pillowed area to support not your head, but your neck. Then your head can rest slightly back. Passengers would sleep instead of fight. Like this:

I use this chair at my desk in my study. Look, lumbar support, padded neck support that lets you tilt your head back a bit, and a tilt function for the chair. I think Sealy makes it, and I got it at Sam’s Club. So, duh, what would it take to convert it to an airline chair? As far as I’m concerned, this chair redesign and attention to the bathrooms are high priority. Mystery solved.
I almost forgot -- the baggage. The airlines have you cornered here. Luggage sets come with a monster bag, a “carry-on,” a tote, and sometimes one other. To keep the Monster bag under 50 pounds, you’d have to pack nothing but cotton balls. So you pay. And if your “carry on” is too big to fit in a measuring bag the airlines use, then you have to leave boarding and re-go to the checked bags line. And miss your flight, so that the airlines can assign your seats to someone else who will pay, thereby double-dipping. So you pay.
Delta should be ashamed of breaking the first rule of business: Successful companies put customer satisfaction first. There’s competition out there, Delta; American companies turn on customer service. I’ll end this rant with Consumer Reports angle: “The airlines are largely to blame precisely because they’re shoehorning more people into tighter and tighter spaces, says a travel industry expert and Consumer Reports consultant, William McGee.”
And, “most U.S. airlines have decided to reduce ‘seat pitch’—the distance between rows—in economy/coach sections. In many cases, the existing knee room is inadequate for some passengers, McGhee says, even with seats fully upright. ‘The last I checked, the seat pitch on Spirit Airlines was 28 inches, which is simply cruel’, he said.”
Joanna Leigh and I had a memorable and astonishing trip, Delta notwithseating. Next time I’ll look at Lufthansa or maybe Singapore airlines. It flies east via Europe to go to the Far East.
More on our wonderful trip in future posts.

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