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Legroom wars spark heated debate over the right to recline airline seat

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A second flight in less than one week was diverted over a dispute over someone reclining their seat. (iStock)

The legroom wars are heating up as a second dispute over reclining airline seats has forced another passenger plane to be diverted in less than a week.

Edmund Alexandre of Paris was arrested and the American Airlines Miami-to-Paris flight he was on diverted to Boston after he became enraged when woman in front of him reclined her seat. Alexandre allegedly became even angrier when a member of the flight crew attempted to calm him.  He grabbed the crew member by the arm before an air marshal intervened.

This comes just days after a United Airlines flight was diverted to Chicago after a female passenger threw water at a man seated behind her who used a device known as Knee Defender to stop her from reclining her seat on the four-hour flight.

These latest incidents have sparked fervent debate over the right to recline airline seats.

The discussion over reclining airline seats is not new. Budget airlines Spirit and Allegiant Air have removed the reclining features from their seats. Yet, most people believe that when you buy an airline ticket, you’re buying the right to use your seat’s reclining function.  

A survey by Skyscanner in 2013 suggested nine out of 10 travelers wanted to see  fixed seats banned. 

The problem is that most Americans are not comfortable being up close and personal with strangers--and crowded airplanes designed to fit more seats doesn't help. An average airline seat is 17-18 inches wide and legroom averages 30-31 inches. Physical contact with the stranger next to you almost inevitable.  

So why do airlines do it?  Spirit chief executive Ben Baldanza may have summed it up best last year when he said: “You don't get a Mercedes S Class for a Ford Fusion price,” Spirit chief executive Ben Baldanza said last year. “If you want more legroom — go pay for it at another airline.”

While many people may be split over the debate over to recline or not, good manners must prevail unless you want your flight diverted.  If you need to recline your seat, look before you lie back to make sure you're not getting people's kneecaps.  And a little warning that the seat is going down won't hurt either.