The dispute occurred on the final leg of Beach's trip back to his home near Denver. He had been in Moscow on business and was given a middle seat for the leg from Newark, New Jersey, to Denver. Beach took out his laptop to review a contract for his company, which develops waste recycling facilities, primarily in Russia. He used the Knee Defender—a Christmas gift a few years ago from his wife—to prevent the woman in front from reclining.
U.S. airlines prohibit use of the Knee Defender, but the devices are not illegal.
"I put them in maybe a third of the time. Usually, the person in front tries (to recline) their seat a couple of times, and then they forget about it," Beach said. The device comes with a courtesy card to tell passenger that you've blocked them, but he doesn't use it.
"I'd rather just kind of let them think the seat is broken, rather than start a confrontation," he said.
Beach, who said he flies 75,000 to 100,000 miles a year, wasn't so lucky this time.
When the flight attendants came through the cabin to serve beverages, the woman said her seat was broken. That's when Beach told one of them about the Knee Defender. The flight attendant asked him to remove the device, and Beach said he did.
"As soon I started to move it, she just full force, blasted the seat back, right on the laptop, almost shattered the screen. My laptop came flying onto my lap," he said.