The worst people in America – maybe the world – are people who recline their seats on airplanes. This is known. Airplane seat space is a zero sum game. When you recline your seat, if someone is sitting behind you, you are infringing directly into the area where their knees would otherwise occupy. Plus, as everyone who’s been on a plane knows, you are destroying their ability to accomplish work on their laptop or any other device that sits on the table.

If you recline your seat on an airplane, you have to know all of this, and know the extent to which you are inconveniencing the person behind you (or, in many cases, causing them outright pain), and not care. You have to believe that your ability to lean backwards about 2 degrees is more important than their ability to have basic comfort on their flight. You have to, in other words, be an inconsiderate jerk.

The problem, right now, is that the airlines take the side of the inconsiderate jerks pretty much all the time. Over the weekend Southwest Airlines actually had to ground a flight because of a violent altercation between an inconsiderate jerk and a normal person who didn’t want their knees to get sore or their lower legs to fall asleep or maybe who had some important work to get done on the plane:

A Southwest Airlines flight landed at San Francisco International Airport five hours late after an incident onboard forced the pilot to return to the gate at LAX.

Southwest flight 2010 returned to LAX after the pilot declared an emergency. The plane was only in the air for 13 minutes. Law enforcement met the plane at the gate and took one person from the flight. The other passengers and crew switched planes and took off for SFO about two hours later, landing at 1:43 a.m.

A passenger says she witnessed a man harassing a woman about a reclining chair.

LAX to SFO is roughly a one hour flight, you guys. You’re going to be allowed to recline for roughly 30 of those minutes – in other words, you’re not even going to be able to get in a nap. This is a person who just wanted to recline just for the sake of reclining. The story does not say, but I’m betting you money that the person who was removed from the flight was the person who complained about the behavior of the inconsiderate jerk and not the entitled brat who viewed her own comfort as being exponentially more important than the comfort of the person behind her.

The airline policy of always taking the side of the inconsiderate jerk has to end. I cannot count the number of times on an airplane that someone has reclined their seat into my knees, then attempted to push back farther. If you recline and the seat meets physical resistance there’s only one possible explanation and that is that your seat is now digging into my knees. If you either continue to attempt to push back or just leave your seat there in physical contact with my knees, you’re going to have an uncomfortable flight yourself. If you don’t care that my knees are getting sore, I don’t care that I’m going to “accidentally” kick your chair repeatedly. I’ll be darned if you’re going to sleep comfortably while I sit there in pain. And I’ll be darned if the airline is going to automatically take your side just because their equipment physically allows you to recline.

If it were up to me, people who recline their seats and refuse to straighten them when the person behind them complains would be thrown off the plane while the plane was still in midair. But in the absence of that, airlines should begin doing one of three things: 1) stop cramming planes so full of seats or 2) either stop allowing their seats to recline, or 3) explicitly permit the use of devices like Knee Defender.

Maybe in some cases, shorter passengers won’t mind if the person in front of them reclines, and in some cases of course the seat behind someone might be empty so reclining should be permitted. But airline passengers should be permitted to defend their own seat space and to declare that they don’t want the people in front of them to recline into their space. Devices like knee defender allow these confrontations to play out peacefully and without the anger that comes when an inconsiderate jerk reclines their seat painfully into someone’s knees and then refuses to sit up.

The contrary policy, which airlines currently uphold, is basically begging for more violent confrontations as airline seat space gets smaller and the American population gets taller and taller.

If I were a Democrat I would say the government should step in and dictate this policy to the airlines. However, since I believe in freedom and capitalism, I say instead that the airlines should begin realizing the benefits of allowing passengers to protect their seat space as a means to capture bigger pieces of the market share.

In the meantime, don’t be an inconsiderate jerk on an airplane.