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Diverted plane has a happy landing for one entrepreneur

United Airlines Reports Strong Quarterly EarningsUnited Airlines Reports Strong Quarterly Earnings

Last night, Ira Goldman learned that something had happened to him for the first time — the product he’d invented had caused a plane to be grounded.

Goldman is the inventor of Knee Defender, a product that airplane passengers can use to prevent the seat in front of them from fully reclining. Last night, someone on a United flight from Newark, N.J., to Denver got angry when the man behind her used a Knee Defender to stop her seat from reclining all the way. After the man refused the order of a flight attendant to remove the device, the woman threw a cup of water in the man’s face. The flight made an unscheduled stop in Chicago, and both customers kicked off the plane.

“After 11 years, one of my customers behaved badly,” Goldman said.

The press has been good, though, for Goldman and Knee Defender, a device that’s sold through the website Gadget Duck. Goldman said the website has seen traffic increase “300 fold” — something he said has happened in the past when the product is mentioned in the media or on Reddit, the online discussion board.

In light of the latest surge in visitors to his website, Goldman said he had to make some technical tweaks to keep it from becoming overloaded (Gadgetduck.com was not working at the time of this story’s publication). “It was like a nightclub,” he said. “You can only let so many people in.”

Goldman said the increase in sales has continued today. But he acknowledged that could be related to story earlier this week in USA Today that mentioned his product.

Most people agree that neither the Knee Defender user on the latest United flight nor the water thrower behaved very well here. Airline analyst Bob Mann, though, thinks United also made a mistake.

“I think you could have easily arbitrated the case without having to resort to the diversion, because it’s very costly,” he said. Mann estimated the diversion cost United around $10,000, not to mention the travel time added to all the other passengers’ trips.

Mann also said he thinks this case illustrates how far the passenger experience on airlines has fallen. As long as people continue to buy airline tickets, airlines won’t improve the passenger experience, he said.

“It’s unfortunate, but it’s the reality.”