The Knee Defender: complete review

The so-called Knee Defender has been around for some time and many newspapers have covered it – focusing more on the controversial aspect of actually preventing the passenger in front from reclining their seat. But few have actually written about it after having tested it. So we wanted to cover it in-depth.

According to their website, the curiously-named manufacturer Gadget Duck claims that the Knee Defender helps you defend the space you need when confronted by a faceless, determined seat recliner who doesn’t care how long your legs are or about anything else that might be “back there”.

Apparently, USA Today called it a “must-have travel gadget”.

Not a whole lot bigger than an everyday front door key

The design is actually ingenious. Each ‘defender’ measures about 4cm by 5cm, weighs just 32g and has a very solid and robust feel. It simply slots over the fold-down tray table extension arm. It’s then wedged as far up against the seatback in front as possible. You see, the mechanism that allows economy class airline seats to recline moves independent of, and in-between, the fold-out tray table frame and extension arms. If it didn’t, every time someone in front of you reclined their seat, the tray table would also extend and just about cut you in two above the waist.

The Knee Defender acts as a wedge in-between the back of the seat and the fold-out tray table frame, meaning that when the person in front tries to recline, the seatback is blocked by the device that itself is using the tray table frame as leverage. Plus, the Knee Defender is intelligently painted roughly the same colour as the tray table framework, so from a distance it blends into the background making it difficult for a member of the cabin crew to spot.

Now, the big question, why would you use it? Well, it purely comes down to whether you have scruples. But, if you travel in economy class enough, it is possible to lose any remaining shred of ethical decency you might have left and soon you’ll find yourself sliding down that slippery slope, embracing the ideology that it’s an unforgiving, dog-eat-dog world out there in coach. If this is already the case, then the Knee Defender is for you.

Sneaky. Devilishly sneaky...and morally questionable at the same time

Aside from the obvious little bit of leg room that’s successfully retained, in our opinion the biggest advantage is that this makes it possible to use a laptop comfortably, without having to try and look at a half-closed screen and slide half down under the seat in front. You’ll find this is the case in many economy class seats, from Virgin to Etihad to Air New Zealand. The Gadget Duck website does lay it on quite thick about the advantages of more leg room, referring to DVT and so on. Maybe this is an attempt to appease their conscience and justify selling it.

According to the website, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was asked about the use of Knee Defenders, and as reported in the October 28, 2003 edition of the Washington Post: “FAA spokesman Paul Takemoto said the clips were not against federal aviation rules as long as they weren’t used during taxiing, takeoffs or landings.”

The Knee Defender cannot be used unless your tray table is actually down. So, that’s fine if you want to watch a movie on your laptop or do some work, but should you remove the device in order to put your tray table away, the person in front might then recline his or her seat. And that fits in nicely with what the FAA says.

But of course, everyone is entitled to recline their seat, so unfortunately that “faceless, determined seat recliner who doesn’t care about anything else that might be back there” is well within his or her rights. However, it’s always polite to lean around and just double check with the person behind before you do, something not enough people do.

So, how well does it work? In a seven-hour, trans-Atlantic flight from London LHR to New York JFK we tested it, in economy class on a British Airways 747-400. The results were, we’re ashamed to say, hilarious. We were located in seat 46B, which is one of three down the left hand side of the aircraft. The flight was pretty full and the three seats in front were also all taken. Soon after take off, once the seatbelt sign was off, we lowered the tray table and put the two reinforced rubber grips in place, ready to undertake a little work on the laptop and perhaps even watch a few episodes of Modern Family that had been saved specifically for this journey.

It was only when the two friends either side of Passenger 45B reclined their seats and he tried to do the same, did it become clear how effective this simple device was. Poor Passenger 45B tried and tried, showing to his friends that pushing the little button in the armrest and pushing back as hard as he could in his seat simply wasn’t working for some reason. He begrudgingly gave up and just assumed his seat was faulty.

We’re not particularly proud of this…but it was all done in the name of research, of course. And yes, OK, we laughed a little bit too. But that was totally down to the fact that no one expected this thing to work, let alone as well as it did. It goes without saying that we later admitted to, and then repented, this sin at the first confessional we could find after landing.

But, with the Knee Defender in place, you can open up a laptop as much as you need, safe in the knowledge that the seat won’t in front won’t suddenly come crashing down and break your screen in two.

The Gadget Duck website also has a link to etiquette on a plane section, where it goes into an inordinate amount of explanation and justification about using the device. It even offers what they call a “Knee Defender Courtesy Card” for their customers to use.

click for full-size image

We suspect this would just result in a punch in the face

According to the site, the card is designed to be offered to a passenger seated in front of our customer, explaining the situation, indicating that our customer will, if asked, do whatever is practical to allow as much safe reclining as is possible, and urging the forward passenger to “complain to the airline” about the situation. The card closes with the following: “Maybe working together we can convince the airlines to provide enough space between rows so that people can recline their seats without banging into other passengers. Thank you for your understanding.”

However, we’re not convinced that this will change decades of profit-driven policy or interior aircraft design implemented by the world’s biggest airlines.

The Knee Defenders, should you feel inclined to purchase them, are available for $17.95 per pair from the Gadget Duck website.

Alternatively, you could follow the apparent advice of Microsoft product manager and frequent flier Angus Logan, who believes that, when flying: “When the person in front reclines your productivity declines.”

A little risky if you're using a laptop..?

He wedges a water bottle between his tray table and the seat ahead of him to prevent the person in that seat from reclining. This suggestion, apparently from his blog,  appears on all sorts of websites, but sadly the blog itself no longer appears on the web is the way it obviously once did, so all the links to this article are out of date and dead. However, we’ll test this particular solution at our very next opportunity.

Scott Snowden

Related stories
Vinnibag inflatable wine carrier
Flight Test: Virgin Atlantic – economy class
Flight Test: Etihad Airways – economy class
Flight Test: Air New Zealand – economy class
Flight Test: Emirates Airlines – economy class

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

8 Responses to “The Knee Defender: complete review”

  1. Lucy Kewney-Sherriff says:

    Pure evil.
    Defensible ONLY if you have not reclined your own seat.

  2. Steve Frog says:

    If you want more leg room then get a first class seat.

  3. scubatony says:

    As all plane floors are constructed with rails where the seats bolt into, it will be very easy for the airline to remove one complete row of seating and thereby giving everybody just that bit more room by moving the rows forward a little bit.

    BUT I am dreaming that will never happen ! ! ! !

    The airlines don’t want to lose any money for a quiet life, let the cabin staff sort out any problems.

    As a KLM frequent flyer, I say this your ticket is for your meals ( if applicable ) your luggage and handling and your seat.
    When I say seat I should point out that includes an unrestricted space in front.

    i.e. from your seat back to the rear of the seat in front of you.

    In an emergency you need to be able to leave your seat and not be hindered by reclined seating.

  4. dave king says:

    Hey, if you need to lean back, what, two inches? You get a first class seat. I’m 6’4″, and my knees are against the seat in front of me when I first sit down. I can’t wait to buy this product, and hope someone like you wants to lean back.

  5. Tony Clark says:

    Any selfish POS who tries to use one of these on me is going to be in for a rude awakening! Maybe, I’ll start something on the plane, maybe I won’t! I might just decide to follow you when you leave the airport after we land, and then I WILL RECLINE YOU! I paid for a reclining seat and if you don’t like it, tough! Buy yourself a first class seat next time!

  6. Tim McCurdy says:

    When I was a buis. traveler I did the water bottle trick to keep the person in front of me from reclining so that I could get some work done on the flight. I found it worked well and never had any problem with flight attendants for doing it as no one can complain about anyone having a water bottle on your tray table. Only one time did anyone really complain about it and they guessed that the seat was out of order.

    Good Luck to all you travelers I am retired now.
    And My wife and I stay home or go RVing.

  7. Jim Jumbo says:

    To ALL the seat Nazi’s out there you are sooo rude. If you don’t want the seat in front of you not to recline then buy that seat. Just like the fat people who have buy an extra seat.

  8. Robin says:

    Well, Dave King, as a 6’4″ person, I’m sure you’d like to recline your seat too, and I expect you’d be pretty frickin’ angry if somebody behind you used these things. Personally, if somebody did it to me, I’d offer them a punch in the middle of their face. This product is completely inexcusable. Air travel is filled with enough misery for everybody to share equally. If you’re unhappy with the person in front reclining their chair, SUCK IT UP! You can recline your chair too and get that room back, and it’s a domino effect all the way to the back of the plane. I’m pretty damn tall, too, and a frequent air traveller, and I’ve never had the temerity to complain about something that is built into the design of the aircraft, and has been for decades. If you have such an inflated sense of self-importance to deny somebody else a little extra comfort that is not being denied to you, you are not mature enough to travel by air in the first place.

Leave a Reply