Are you a recliner? Or the one who forcefully jams a knee into the recliner’s back? This summer of crowded skies has devolved into a national shouting match over in-flight etiquette, but it’s the airline industry itself that has us fighting with each other.
Earlier this week, three U.S. flights were diverted within an eight-day span due to passenger kerfuffles over reclining seats. The Great Knee Defender Debate of 2014 has pitted “recliners” against “push-backers.” And the blogosphere has lit up with vitriol, framing these in-flight battles as short versus tall, thin versus fat, adults versus children, business travelers versus vacationers, rich versus poor. I’ve even read it as passengers versus flight attendants.
Let’s be clear: No one can justify violent or inappropriate behavior. But as with all crimes, there are root causes to consider. All the internal squabbling among passengers has obscured the real culprits in this drama: a new generation of airline execs who value cost cutting above all else (as I note in my book “ Attention All Passengers”). These execs view passengers the way cargo airlines view cardboard boxes; back in economy class, we’re all just freight.
Nowadays, our in-flight comfort is not something the airlines are overly concerned about, except insofar as how it can be leveraged through additional fees. If a restaurant charged you high prices but seated you at a cramped table right up against other diners, would you express your anger to your fellow customers? Or would you blame the owner? All too often, irritation at airline executives is misdirected toward passengers or crew members. And in the worst cases it’s led to the deplaning of some passengers in handcuffs.
WATCH: Reclining Seat Disputes Prompting Cases of Air Rage
Here are seven ways the airlines have divided us by turning passenger against passenger in recent years: