When you fly you’re traveling with other people. Diverse people. Stuck in a metal tube. And flying is very democratic and surprisingly affordable much of the time.
In economy you’re in tight quarters with people you don’t know, thrown together randomly with other passengers who may not share your values. Although bad behavior is hardly limited to economy.
And that’s what is so difficult about stories like the one of the sleeping teen girl groped and kissed by a man on an Alaska Airlines flight from Portland to Anchorage this week.
She pushed it away, according to a police report obtained by the Alaska Dispatch News, thinking the unsolicited touch might have been a mistake. Then it happened again, and suddenly, the girl told authorities, the man sitting beside her was kissing her on the mouth. He used his tongue.
The girl pushed him away, the Dispatch News reported, and tried to decline his advances. But the man grabbed at her thigh about five times, she told police.
The pilot was informed and the flight diverted to Seattle:
It’s one of a number of recent flights where passengers have been accused of molesting women. In April I called a man the creepiest passenger ever after he rubbed lotion all over the bottom (underneath the clothes) of a sleeping passenger.
But there are even stories wondering how passengers are supposed to protect children after a spate of minors being molested.
Last week a man was charged with “abusive sexual contact” after inappropriate touching of an unaccompanied minor on an American Airlines Dallas – Portland flight. Apparently the flight wasn’t full but he chose the middle seat next to the young girl rather than the empty aisle in his own row. Creepy.
The problem isn’t lack of penalties, or ‘getting tough’ on bad behavior. Flights divert, people end up in jail. And passengers behaving badly isn’t limited to touching other passengers.
In May a drunk Alaska Airlines passenger started demanding hugs. In April two drunk women played music on their speakers, became abusive when flight attendants wouldn’t serve them more alcohol, went to the lavatory declaring “I’m a suicide bomber” and started an argument with a flight attendant over whether other passengers were behaving properly.
That same month a drunk American Airlines passenger urinated in his seat. A JetBlue passenger did this recently as well.
American Airlines Passenger and Urinating Anti-Hero
Flight attendants had to take down a drunk passenger using an ice pick and a pot of coffee.
In the case of the Alaska Airlines flight that diverted, the ordeal was stopped when another passenger intervevened. They got a flight attendant’s help, who brought the incident to the attention of the captain.
To borrow a politically-charged slogan from the NRA, the only thing that stops a bad passenger on a plane is good passengers on a plane. The problem, though, is sometimes knowing which are which.
- Young children should learn to speak up when they’re made to feel uncomfortable. That’s true in any number of situations, not just on a plane.
- But inflight we’re all exposed to other people, difficult people, with their own problems and challenges.
- It’s difficult to know when to intervene, and goodness knows flight attendants have been known to go on power trips. “See something say something” creates problems, because when you ask amateurs to do security you get amateur security. You get economists reported for doing math because it looks like a foreign language. You get flight attendants kicking off Muslim passengers for changing seats because that’s scary.
We need to speak up, but do so with humility. Instead of confronting passengers, flight attendants and fellow customers need to ask questions. Doing so without raising the stakes is difficult and we aren’t all good at it. So there’s a fine line, which most passengers won’t be good at.
Which is why at the end of the day we’re always going to have problems, and we’re going to have false reports in a society driven by fear as well. Because with 3 billion passengers a year, some of them are awful and some of us are too.
There are terrible people in the world and the more flying becomes accessible to everyone the more some of those people will be in the skies. There’s nothing you can do to make your fellow passengers better than they are because there’s nothing we can do to make humanity better than it is.