Nominated for the Al Copeland Award: Ira Goldman

(Guest Nomination by Lindsey Burke)

Americans prize personal space. And nowhere are infringements upon personal space more insufferable than 30,000 feet above Earth, in an airplane in which the confines of your chair – and heaven forbid if you’re in a middle seat – and your armrests, and the miniscule amount of “legroom” in front of you, are the only things that separate you from your neighbor and his delusions of airline Manifest Destiny.

Until recently. In 2003, Mr. Ira Goldman recognized this injustice, and invented the Knee Defender.

The concept is simple. You simply slide the Knee Defender, which fits in the palm of your hand, onto the arm of your lowered tray table, then slide it down the arm of the tray table until it fits flush against the seat in front of you. As one website selling the Knee Defender explains:

“Whether you are intent on protecting yourself from being crunched, want to maintain enough leg room to do some in-seat exercises because of health concerns – such as Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), sometimes called “economy class syndrome” – or you just want some warning so you can move your notebook computer out of the way before the seat is reclined, Knee Defender™ works ‘like a charm’.”

The product even comes with a Knee Defender courtesy card, which the user can hand to the passenger in front of him to let him know he’s using the leg-saving tool. “If you would like to recline your seat at some point during the flight, please let me know and I will try to adjust myself and my Knee Defender so that it can be done safely,” the card reads.

Had Ben Franklin lived during the time of aviation and been able to fly to Paris, he would have surely invented the knee defender.

This humble piece of plastic has been the cause of derision from opponents and cheers from proponents. “The person who wants it most will end up owning the rights, but the person with the recliner button holds an advantage. The Knee Defender reallocates the rights. Now I can claim the four inches in front of my face,” wrote Damon Darlin recently in the New York Times.

Indeed. Is there nothing more callous than a passenger who chooses, without any regard to the poor soul behind him, to recline his seat, without the slightest regard as to what pain and inconvenience he might be bringing upon his fellow traveler? Is nothing – kneecaps, lap tops, small vodka tonics – sacred? For the person bent on reclining – because a modest change in the angle of his spine is more important than every aspect of the flying experience for the person behind him – nothing is.

And for us lowly folks who ride coach to spread the word about education reform – Mr. Goldman, we salute you. Indeed, it’s the little things in life that make the biggest differences.

Like Al Copeland, Ira Goldman surely invented the knee defender out of his own 6 foot 3 inch necessity. But in so doing, has made the flying experience that much more comfortable for thousands of long-legged travelers.

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