Airline Wars Continue: Passenger Chokes Woman for Reclining Seat

An altercation over a reclined seat allegedly led a Southwest Airlines flight to San Francisco to return to LAX. (Photo: AP)

The battle over reclined seats on airplanes allegedly has gotten violent again.

On Sunday, a female passenger aboard a Southwest Airlines flight claimed a man tried to choke her because she’d reclined her seat, according to witnesses. The reported altercation forced the San Francisco-bound plane’s captain to turn around and make an emergency landing back at Los Angeles International Airport.

Comedian Mark Curry, star of the 1990s sitcom Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper and a Bay Area radio personality, witnessed the incident. He described the commotion to NBC. “I thought it was a terrorist, so I jumped up. I didn’t know what to do. A guy got into it with a lady and choked her or something,“ Curry said. “They wanted me to put restraints on the guy. They asked me if I would help. I said, ‘At 30,000 feet, yes! I’ll beat anybody down.’ It was an incredible situation.”

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Comedian Mark Curry was onboard the plane where the alleged brawl took place. (Photo: AP)

Another witness also reported that when the woman tried to recline her seat, the man sitting behind her “started choking her. She shouted for help and the crew came to see what happened. The man stayed very calm during the whole situation.” The witness also says that afterward the woman moved to another seat and the cops met the plane back at LAX after it returned.

Neither Southwest nor the authorities have confirmed the choking, but they are saying some sort of altercation took place. In a statement to media outlets, Southwest simply said the flight “returned to Los Angeles to allow police access to the cabin because of a rapidly escalating situation involving passengers who were not traveling together."

An FBI spokesperson reportedly said Monday a passenger was detained but no arrests have been made.

Related: You’ve Got to Fight For Your Right to Recline on Airplanes

If true, this is the latest example of violence breaking out because a passenger dared recline his or her seat. Last year, two passengers aboard a United Airlines flight got into it after a woman tried to recline her seat but found it blocked by a Knee Defender — a device the male passenger behind her, James Beach, had clipped to her seat to keep it from reclining.

The ensuing brawl, in which Beach claims the woman threw a soda at him, led to the both of them being met by police once the plane landed. Neither one of them was charged. Beach later told the Associated Press, “I’m pretty ashamed and embarrassed by what happened.”

James Beach says he’s “ashamed and embarrassed” by his headline-making brawl with a fellow passenger who tried to recline her seat last year. (Photo: AP)

"It seems more people today aren’t traveling with their manners,” etiquette expert and ex-flight attendant Jacqueline Whitmore told Yahoo Travel. Whitmore believes passengers have every right to recline their seats, but they should do so politely. “Do it slowly and take a peek behind you because that person might have a laptop or food on their tray table,” she said. And when food service begins, bring your seat back up so the person behind you can eat comfortably.

Related: Rules of Flying: Ex-Flight Attendant’s Top 10 Airline Etiquette Tips

But it appears that with the state of air travel today, passengers might have to be given another etiquette lesson: that one should not attack anyone just for reclining their seat.

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