NEW YORK: It’s been dubbed the legroom wars.
For the third time in nine days, a US commercial jet has been forced to divert by enraged passengers flying into a temper over a reclining seat in the cramped confines of economy class.
A 32-year-old woman trying to snooze on a tray table on a flight from New York to West Palm Beach, Florida became the latest offender on Monday when the woman in front slammed her seat back, bashing her alleged victim’s head at the end of the Labour Day holiday weekend.
The woman allegedly struck became loud and verbally abusive, and when cabin crew tried to calm her down she got worse, forcing the pilot to divert Delta Air Lines flight 2370 to Jacksonville, northern Florida.
Jacksonville Aviation Authority police identified the woman as unemployed Amy Fine of Boca Raton, Florida, saying she was escorted off the flight after it landed at 9.30pm.
Fine became “very combative... to the point that they were concerned for the safety of themselves and the passengers. For that reason they diverted the plane,” said the police report.
Fine denied that she had been disruptive, and told officers that she had two dogs die and was “just very emotional.” She was then released without incident, police said.
Delta Airlines said that flight 2370 was re-routed “out of an abundance of caution” due to a passenger disruption, and continued onto West Palm Beach after the passenger was ejected.
On Thursday, a Frenchman was arraigned in Boston after becoming disruptive when the passenger in front of him reclined their seat on American Airlines flight 62 from Miami to Paris.
Edmond Alexandre, 61, similarly flouted efforts from the cabin crew to appease him, chasing after a steward and grabbing his arm before being handcuffed by a security guard.
He was thrown off the flight in Boston and admitted to hospital at his own request, then charged with interfering with a crew member while he was at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Alexandre is due back in court on December 29, a spokesman for the local prosecutor said, and faces up a maximum penalty of six months in a house of correction and a $500 fine.
On August 24, United Airlines said flight 1462 from Newark to Denver diverted to Chicago and two passengers ejected owing to a disturbance.
One of the passengers used a $22 gadget dubbed the “Knee Defender” which blocks the seat in front from reclining.
He refused to remove the device when asked by a stewardess and his neighbour threw a glass of water in his face.
Airline industry analyst Robert Mann said that diversions over a reclining seat were an “overreaction” and called for a better standard operating procedure in such circumstances.
“This is a case of passengers overreacting and behaving badly. It’s just hideously expensive in terms of cost to the airline, and very inconvenient for everyone on board,” he said.
Average legroom in economy on US network carriers is 30 to 32 inches (76 to 81 centimetres) and with August the peak travel period, the timing was “not surprising,” he said.