Would You Notice – and Intervene – If a Guy Was Creeping on a Teenage Girl Inflight?

The Mile High Club is over 100 years old. The very first couple to try it were using a Curtiss Flying Boat C‑2 off Long Island. The woman was cheating on her husband who was serving abroad in World War I. They managed to disengage the autopilot while engaged in their congress, sending the plane into the water. They were found naked by duck hunters.

There’s something about a plane, or maybe it’s being away from home, that gives people license to do something they wouldn’t otherwise do in semi-public. And they can escape their usual inhibitions and talk up strangers thinking something might come of it.

Last year I watched a coupling happen perhaps in world record time.

However in the air, just like on the ground, giving attention to fellow passengers may be unwanted. I remember talking to a co-worker years ago about the number of times she noticed married men on planes taking off their wedding rings when they sat down next to her. She avoided Southwest Airlines because of their open seating policy, a virtual invitation for men to choose the seat beside her and make unwanted advances.

A universal sign that your seat opponent doesn’t want to be chatted up, by the way, is having noise cancelling head phones on. That’s true whether you’re making furtive glances or conversation about the grand kids.

Some passengers go clearly over the line, way past conversation that could be reciprocated. We’ve seen plenty of examples of bad actors engaged in unwanted touching or even worse touch a passenger that’s under age.

When it happens, what should you do as a fellow passenger? Do you intervene? One woman on a flight recently did, a journalist from Canada shares an inflight experience on twitter.

At this point in the story I’m not really seeing anything necessarily improper. But then:

While the man was gone in the lavatory passengers approached the teen and suggested changing seats. A flight attendant intervened and asked the man to change seats. He became belligerent, but when the response was a threat to divert he settled down.

The journalist notes,

  • No male passengers said anything or intervened
  • The first time she flew solo without her parents an older man flirted with her, though it didn’t go anywhere
  • Another time she traveled solo and was kissed without consent by a passenger she had just met

Your Seatmate Might Be a Creep

The man from this flight was met by security, and may also have an uncomfortable conversation coming with HR at work.

I think the lesson here for guys is that there are lines (1) around age and (2) becoming overtly sexual with minors. Those seem pretty darned obvious to most of us, but not everyone. Would you have noticed this was going on? Would you have said something?

(HT: @hansmast)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I’ve been that teenage girl – on a train, not a plane – and would have loved to have someone intervene. Knowing when and how to make a fuss is learned with age/experience, which I didn’t have. BTW, nearly all the people in the train car noticed, and the moment the lech got off the train, they all looked at me to see what the fuss was about and joked about it. At least they noticed, I guess. It was the late 80s.

  2. My teenage daughters have both flown coach on transatlantic flights while my wife and I were in J. I worried exactly about what is described in this post. I went back regularly to check on them and to make sure that the guy sitting next to them knew there was someone much bigger than them on that flight.

  3. I have also been that teenage girl – on a greyhound bus, not a plane. Obviously this is way more common than people think. In my instance, other passengers assumed that the older man was my “boyfriend” and didn’t say anything when he switched seats to lurk next to me when I fell asleep. People need to speak up when they see things like this. Bravo to Joanna Chiu for making an issue and protecting that girl – that guy was just getting started.

  4. Yes, I would say something. If you hear inappropriate conversation or you look the victim in the eyes, and you see fear, then intervene or speak to cabin crew. Better safe than letting it happen.

  5. Intervening is fine, the girl’s safe and no harm done in the end. Guy got hauled off to security for questioning. But sending a potentially career-ending note to the employer is taking things a little too far, especially in the #metoo era where the employer will be compelled to take action for fear of negative publicity.

  6. I would if it got physical but otherwise I’d mention it to the FA’s as they should be trained better on how to deal with this.

  7. Not only would I say something to the offender but I would offer to switch seats with the teenager. It’s never ok to take advantage of someone and I would stop it – period. Nikki

  8. While I applaud the passengers and FA for what they did, there’s no reason for that nosy Joanna Chiu to send a note to his employers. His actions were inappropriate but that likely has nothing to do with his job.

  9. I would alert the flight attendants immediately. A direct confrontation might lead to a whole different set of unanticipated problems. A flight attendant could marshal resources (other FAs, the pilot, an Air Marshal or other law enforcement personnel known to the crew to be on board, etc.) to make sure that the young person is properly and promptly protected.

    I also do want to note a clear bias that the journalist has. She seems to ignore the fact that there are female predators as well. While we know about more male predators, her choice of gender (rather than using gender-neutral language) is troubling to me and makes me wonder if she is another agenda well beyond the very altruistic motive of helping a young person in distress.

  10. It’s unfortunately, but I don’t think we’ve learned any lessons from the Kitty Genovese murder. The more people there are in a space, the more likely that someone noticing a problem (any problem) assumes that someone else has surely (1) noticed and (2) reported it. I have no idea what goes through the mind of an adult who thinks it’d be a great idea to hit on a minor and ask for dirty pictures. I do know what goes through the mind of someone who sees it happen and says nothing and this is what we have to change.

  11. @GL @hal

    oh so you guys must work for employers that are okay with adult men who ask for explicit photos from children? I wonder why you work there….. lol

  12. My story happened at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport about a decade ago. I was at the gate waiting for my flight. I noticed this older, grungy looking guy eyeing this teenager. Then he started asking her some questions that were strange. I was getting ready to call for security. Then he showed her his badge, he was an undercover officer and apparently her checked bag had drugs in it. He told her he wouldn’t embarrass her by putting handcuffs on her if she would follow him.

    At least he claimed to be an officer!

  13. According to Joanna Chu’s About page: her “report on #MeToo cases in Asia was named one of the best Foreign Policy long-form stories in 2018.”

    No girl/woman wants to sit next to a guy who is hitting on them, if they do not like the guy. The way Chu framed this story, it looks like the guy was a Pedo, should be arrested, have his job and career taken from him, and should be added to the Sex Offender Registry. Based on Chu’s reporting, it is easy to virtue signal in this case.

    However, we have to be careful of unintended consequences of the MeToo movement. Mike Pence has a much criticized rule to never be alone with a woman not his wife. Bloomberg has a story that men are afraid of being alone with women. Article link attached.

  14. @will not clear that this was a child. The tweet said teen so she could have been an adult 18 or 19. Seems like if it was a child the tweeter should have said child or underage neither of which were said. Some journalist. Im thinking the teen may have been of legal age otherwise what happened was a crime. If this was a woman of legal age then the reporter was way the heck out of line notifying the guy’s employer.

  15. And yet some frequent flyer websites have commenters defending their right to watch porn on their laptop computer screens while flying.

  16. @andy it is not clear to me this was a minor. Seems like a journalist would have said it was a minor if that was the case.

  17. @Andy11235- most of the “traditional” story about the Kitty Genovese murder is a myth based on inaccurate reporting and very incomplete psychological facts about people.


    “Yes, “people in a group do, individually, become less likely to help. It’s the volunteer dilemma: ‘If there are 7 billion people who could save the world, why should it be me?’ ” Krueger says. But drill down, and the picture grows more complex. In situations where there’s a clear threat—when someone is trying to extinguish a raging car fire, rather than merely struggling to change a flat tire—the bystander effect actually diminishes. “It’s counterintuitive,” says Krueger. “As the costs of a behavior become higher, you should be less likely to help.” Why that’s not so lies deep in our lizard brains. We know danger when we see it, and when we do, it induces higher levels of arousal and, therefore, more propensity to help. Even more heartening, when the costs of intervention are physical—a punch in the face or being run over by an oncoming train, instead of merely being late for work—“the bystander effect goes away,” Krueger says. And if the perpetrators are still on scene, the bystander effect can turn positive.

  18. Offering to switch seats with the young lady seems like the best solution . I don’t really want to start a fight on a plane but, I get pretty angry over things like this , I wouldn’t rule it out .

  19. @Frank. Passengers should not be watching porn. However, there is a grey area. I was watching “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” for the first time on American Airlines entertainment console. The flight attendant asked me for my meal pick, so I paused it. Right, I paused it on the full nude shot. Actually, I was a little embarrassed.

  20. @NealZ: the man in question was in fact a man so your complaint about gender neutral language is silly. Also, I could not find a single reported item about a woman inappropriately soliciting an underage boy on an airplane or other mode of transport

  21. @Other Just Saying: You’re such a killjoy. Next, you’ll be saying it’s NOT ok to watch kiddie porn at Chuck-e-Cheese or in the McDonalds children’s play area.

    What? I’m not taking this seriously? Why else would I hide behind a screen name? (and no, lounge abuser isn’t about sex abuse)

  22. As someone who’s only 28 I think it’s pretty irresponsible to say well if she was 18 or 19… look I get that’s the legal age (and I will agree if they were that age MAYBE they shouldn’t lose their jobs) but as someone who’s driven ride share more then my fair share of times I can certainly tell you an 18 or 19 year old male or female may be an adult by age but not by maturity or even understanding. At that age they might have been harassed by boys for a while but are only beginning to deal with men who’ve been courting women for years with the different tactics they picked up over time.

    To say that the journalist didn’t specify wether the teen was an adult or child, leading some of you to defer to “well she could have been of legal age” only tells me one thing, you must click “teen” on pornhub a lot don’t you?

    Because when I hear teen I don’t assume 18 or 19. I think child. Considering there’s a greater chance by percentage that someone is 13-17 than 18-19.

  23. So glad someone was watching out for this girl, but I certainly hope her mom had a discussion with her regarding getting up and reporting scumbags like this or at least just telling your family. What is wrong with these deviant men that think hitting on kids and soliciting dirty pictures from them is okay?? And good for her to let his employer know. Too many of these scumbags get away with no consequences other than making the female feel taken advantage of.

  24. I’m not about to second-guess the reporter who was there about how old the young woman looked, etc. She did the right thing. I believe it is important to look out for young people. Also, I believe that once it’s established that the attention is unwelcome, age doesn’t even matter. I’m a fairly assertive woman and I’ve intervened on behalf of younger AND older women on the receiving end of pushy men several times. And while I’ve never witnessed a woman acting in a predatory way towards a young man, I would also intervene in that case.

    This made me think of a separate issue – if an airline requires a parent to pay extra to make sure they are seated with a child is that unfair? Are they, in effect, charging a premium for safety?

  25. @will nooo people are thinking she is 18 or 19 because if she was 13 or 14 most people would use the term child in this context and we would be talking about serious criminal charges.

  26. @GL, @Hal, @L3

    From your comments, I believe you’ve never been sexually victimized. If the guy is on a business trip, he is representing the company for which he works and that company should absolutely know this happened. The guy is the one who took things too far, not Joanna Chiu. Sexual abuse and manipulation is hugely damaging to young victims and all victims. This guy should be held accountable. And yes I would absolutely intervene.

  27. @DS: Words have meanings. That fact is apparently lost on people who think words mean whatever they want them to mean at any given time. The described words do not constitute sexual abuse, and “manipulation” has whatever meaning one wants to assign to it to fit one’s view.
    This is only the beginning where you’ve started to dive down the rabbit hole with the conclusion that these things are “hugely damaging to young victims and all victims.” So now it’s a crime to be offensive, whatever you decide that means?
    We are not entitled to take criminal action because we’re offended by someone’s words. This isn’t Germany. Unlike that country, which has criminalized offensive speech, we’ve chosen not to.

    In short, your version of “icky talk” isn’t sexual abuse. I’m not sure what you would “hold the guy accountable for” or in what way you might do so.
    As to intervening I can foresee a situation where the FA tells you to sit down , you disagree and assert some non-existent right to intervene, and you end up violating an actual, not imaginary law.

    Be my guest if you want to directly intervene when you don’t like what someone is saying.
    Call his employer? Up to you to decide if you want to risk being sued.

  28. Wow, an awful lot of really defensive straight men. There’s a reason why they’re all so defensive – because they KNOW that this is pervasive, unacceptable behaviour. “Icky talk” is indeed sexual harassment, and in most companies, you can get fired for it.

  29. Too many people seem to think intervening in a situation that they witness may be ‘uncomfortable’ and instead hope ‘others’ will take care of it instead.
    This way of thinking actually creates enablers of individuals with questionable behavior. Because they have chosen to do nothing about the situation. Self preservation by choice.

    If you have noticed an incident is happening that you feel compelled to watch because it is questionable in your mind…then that alone should be a clue to you that something is wrong.
    Predators always find others to prey on as they search for situations and victims who are the least likely to stop them. And they most certainly count on others around them to ‘mind their own business’ so they can take full advantage of the situation ‘embarrassed’ bystanders allow them.

    Intervene and don’t enable.

    I respect the commendable way Joanna Chiu was not complacent in allowing the creep to get away with his lewd, disgusting and reprehensible behavior. I’m sure the young lady involved was more then grateful.

    And if the creep loses his job so be it. No sympathy there. Instead it will just give him more time to get some professional help and stop victimizing others.

  30. Also, maybe the creep’s job was in some way related to children…social work, teacher, priest…

  31. I’ve been the mother in this type of scenario. It happened in a work environment to my young teen daughter and a friend. I notified the employer, and they were very upset about it. You know what they did about it? Absolutely nothing.

  32. @Bear: I don’t recall anyone appointing you to speak for straight men, for which you’ve assumed the mantle of knowledge of their thoughts…in fact you’ve made assumptions about the writers of the posts and you may be incorrect on that .
    You’ve also transferred the described conversation to a workplace. As much as you might like that to be factual, it isn’t .

    But please, be my guest in taking charge of the words spoken on an airplane instead of contacting an FA.

    An example: A few weeks ago, I was seated in 2F , and a guy asked me to trade to a window seat so he and his wife could sit together. I refused, and his response was, “”That’s mighty white of you.”
    The limit of my response was to say, “Excuse you.”
    What were we going to do? Find his employer? Ask he be removed from the flight for what I deemed to be his racist language?
    For those of you spending your time trying to limit people’s speech and get them in trouble for things they say you don’t like, I can see why your life must be really exhausting.

    As I’ve said, words have meanings. This seems to have escaped some of you. You don’t get to claim sexual harassment unless you know the legal definition.
    Finally, I won’t gertrude to some peoples’ implication nothing can be done.

  33. @andi: Maybe , maybe , maybe you’re creating imaginary situations so you can justify your opinions.

    BTW, Wanna go out on a date? I’d love to discuss this with you over a six pack of soju.

  34. The guy was not within her age group.
    The guy asked her for *gasp* a porn pic of her.
    What is wrong with you men on here?
    What don’t you get?
    This is not appropriate and as fair punishment I am delighted the woman contacted his employer.
    Now he’ll know not to treat young women inappropriately.

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