Southwest Passenger Crackdown: Flight Won’t Leave Until People Clean Up After Themselves

A major league pitcher just took to social media to blast United Airlines after his pregnant wife was forced to pick up popcorn their child dropped all over the floor of the aircraft.

That wasn’t the only airline-passenger trash standoff in the past several days, though. A Southwest Airlines passenger spilled food on the floor of the aircraft prior to departure. And a flight attendant wasn’t having it. She demanded that the culprit fess up and clean up – otherwise nobody would be going anywhere.

The crewmember continued the lecture even after the rice was finally cleaned up. Who does that, just making a mess in a public space and leaving it? You’d think that would be the end of it but it wasn’t. Since they took a delay for the spilled rice, passengers got up to use the lavatory. That meant they weren’t all seated by the time the plane was ready to go.

Eventually the flight did get underway. And there was ‘turbulence’, and that meant no drink service. Or were all of the passengers just being sent to their room without drinks and snacks for their bad behavior?

Usually an airline wouldn’t risk taking a delay over a mess, because delays mean missed connections (which are expensive for the airline) and unhappy customers (which are expensive for the airline) and crew potentially, eventually, timing out (which is expensive for the airline).

And the idea of collective punishment for the bad behavior of a single passenger is troubling. At the same time I certainly appreciate the impulse of the crew of that Southwest Airlines flight, willing to take a stand against the declining behavioral standards of today’s airline customer.

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, 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. WN is notorious for suspending drink/snack service for anticipated turbulence. I believe it’s in their contract. I’ve been on numerous flights where this has occurred in the last year.

  2. In all seriousness passengers are so messy. I went to the lav after a young man came out and he had a nose bleed …he left blood all over the bathroom. Loads of it . They had to close off the lav and it was a long flight. The flight attendants are fed up

  3. Perhaps that Southwest flight attendant should be its next CTO, since someone needs to also clean up the multi-billion dollar IT mess made by CEO Bob Jordan and friends…

  4. So this particular FA went out of her way to be somehow less than the normal useless.

  5. Accidents happen. The FA needs to get over it or get a broom. Shaming passengers is pretty much always the wrong solution.

  6. No LUV anymore. A pay raise including boarding pay might help along w stable operations

  7. Seriously, can we just get rid of flight attendants at this point. Their initial purpose was never “safety”, it was service. The “safety” argument came around with unionization and lazy employees who didn’t want anything to do with “service” and want to try and make their job seem more important than it is.
    1 security guard is all we need. And 1 pilot.

  8. I think the FA already knows that people can really suck. Having said that, would it not be easier to grab a small broom, clean the mess and move on vs. playing the role of stern mother?

  9. Oh shame…
    Reminds me when I was a schoolboy at UK secondary school in the 1970s..
    Yes we still got corporal punishment – from blackboard rubbers thrown at your head, to 6 strokes of the cane across the hand of arse!
    But worse was the class detention after school. If one lad (it was an all boys school) caused too much trouble in class, the whole class would be kept for up to an hour after school end. And yes – I grew up pretty normal !

    So boo hoo to those passengers on that flight for the delay. Clean your mess up, you wouldn’t leave it like that at home – and while you at it – no shoes or smelly feet on the furniture!

  10. WHY didn’t the person responsible clean it up – even after being asked? Shame on that slob. FA is right – some people aren’t raised with manners.

  11. That is obviously an accidental spill. What, is everyone supposed to travel with a broom now? Ould that count as a carry-on, a personal item, or what?

    That flight attendant should be fired on the spot. I agree that personal behavior standards are declining. I would make a comparable argument against flight attendants as well.

  12. Not a fan of WN FA’s “turbulence” excuses for suspending service, but this FA deserves support.

    It’s one thing for passengers not having a broom but it’s another to not fess up and offer to help with the clean up. Just yesterday there was the guy who trashed the AA gate after he didn’t get a window seat. Let’s get basic public decency back.

  13. So it is beneath WN’s FAs to pick up after a messy passenger, to the point of inconveniencing all passengers with an unecessary delay and demeaning them with a self-righteous lecture. What a bunch of cry babies.

  14. Whomever made the mess should have gotten a FA right away and taken care of it proactively! What is wrong with people??!

  15. I remember (a long time ago) Southwest flight attendants running a carpet sweeper up and down the aisles at the end of the flight.
    Things have changed.

  16. When people are boarding it would be next to impossible to have a chance to clean up a mess in the aisle. My guess is they were not going to serve drinks anyway. It’s the new thing on SWA flights since covid.

  17. If that rice stayed in the aisle the passengers would complain. If they are asked to clean it up the passengers complain. Should the FA do all the dirty work? Is that part of their job? Probably not their job to clean. This FA had probably had it up to here with bad behavior and wasn’t taking any more of it.

  18. If it was my mess I’d have grabbed a safety card to sweep it into a vomit bag. That said, accidents happen and pausing takeoff for rice is beyond stupid. Travelers lately can really suck but if you cant deal with them then go work in a coal mine.

  19. Although nice of passengers to clean up after themselves, cultures differ, and in many, there is no expectation of a paying customer to perform any custodial duties. In any case, cleaning is not spelled out as a requirement in the Contract of Carriage.

    What concerns me is as follows. An FA’s primary role is to ensure safety, which means keeping cool under stress, and giving effective instructions to passengers in volatile situations. This FA has shown, at a minimum, a temporary lapse in these abilities. This FA should have been offboarded, voluntarily or otherwise, and replaced with one in a suitable emotional state to carry out the primary safety duties of the role.

    Taking a delay to find a replacement FA would have been not only acceptable, but preferable for the safety of all onboard.

  20. So a flight attendant is a flying maid for the traveling public now?
    A server,police for what belongs in the overhead bin etc
    She’s their to sell credit cards for the airline and for your safety not to be your personal cleaning slave.
    I saw someone vomit on a plane in coach.It smelled horrific.Should they clean up your barf too? Thankfully at the last minute my upgrade cleared and I was saved from the stench
    I remember them throwing wet towels over it to try and limit the stink

  21. Seriously, for all those comments talking about flight attendants not being a weight in gold, take a good look in the mirror! One of these days one of these flight attendants will save you because they know how to run a defibrillator and is trained to evacuate you off the airplane ASAP God forbid should if ever be a situation. If you spilled something on the ground, pick it up or at least making attempt to. They are not your maids. Hopefully the ones that are complaining don’t leave the diapers inside of the seat back pockets either. That’s gross! Been there, seen it!

  22. Well said MrNonrever
    I watched a well dressed business passenger 40 plus
    passenger collapse pass out on a Qantas flight and 2 to 3 crew members stopped the meal service and cradled him gave him oxygen revived him helped stand him back up and got him back in his seat within 15 to 20 minutes.
    Guess who I am flying home back to the US with today?
    These folks onboard aren’t your personal slaves and housekeepers
    If it falls all over the floor do a reasonable job of picking up after yourselves

  23. No drink service due to turbulence is also very common on DL flights lately. Flew ATL-FLL on old DL 757 packed to the gills. Young crew. Of course here comes the announcement “due to turbulence’ we are unable to offer a drinks service. Not a single bump during the flight except for the flight attendants getting up and down off their jumpseats (where they sat and conversed in Spanish the entire flight).

    Oddly enough there was no threat of turbulence in F and they were all served multiple drinks.

  24. Sure it would definitely be the right thing to do cleaning up after yourself, asking for a broom, or offering to help.

    But damn, if I were on that flight and had anywhere to be, I think I’d have completely lost my temper. This is the most childish thing I think I’ve ever seen an airline do!

    “We’re gonna turn this car around if you kids don’t clean up the chips! No Disneyland for you!”

  25. Wasn’t the right way to handle it, but I can’t blame the F/A for snapping. People behave so much worse on planes than they do in most public venues or situations. The demeaning comments here back that up, they take a lot of abuse.

  26. There’s no obligation for a passenger to clean a single thing in any contract of carriage I’ve looked at. Cleaning fees are baked in to the cost of the ticket. It might be considered rude not to clean up after yourself, but it’s ultimately up the airline staff to handle any and all messes. I don’t always like parts of my job, especially when other people make my job harder, but that doesn’t change the basic responsibilities of my job. (I’m not saying this is in the F/A job description either, I don’t really know or care, but it’s certainly someone’s job at the airline and there’s ample evidence F/A has cleaning duties in their job description.)

  27. I wonder which airline would’ve made headlines if the celebrity flew WN and Jennifer flew UA

  28. Extraordinary that no one volunteered to clean it up. They deserve what they got.

  29. Here’s a novel idea.
    Clean up after yourselves you filthy animals. You wouldn’t do this in your own home or car (or perhaps you would, and it’s actually how you live) so why is it so acceptable to do it elsewhere? FA’s are not your personal housekeeping crew, grow up, clean up, and stop being so damned entitled.

  30. From the comments, I guess spills on airlines are a new thing. I guess years ago the airlines didn’t have them or traveled with a janitor. But we live in a brave new world. I wonder if the person who spilled the rice (who may have not known they spilled it) was the one who cleaned up. Al least when the flight attendants (not this flight) had a very pregnant lady get down on her hands and knees to clean up the popcorn that the flight attendants gave to the kids, they were sure they got the guilty party.

  31. Passengers are CUSTOMERS. If they were in a restaurant and made a mess, would the manager insist that they cleaned up their mess?

  32. I can’t believe the entitlement of some you folks. This is what is so freakin wrong with the US mentality and culture and it’s an absolute shame. Actually SHAME on you folks who think that the FA is in the wrong. You create the mess, you should LEARN to behave properly and clean up after yourself. If I drop something doesn’t matter it be on the plane, walking at the park, I pick it up and throw it away properly. Being a passenger does not mean you are entitled to create a mess. Why can’t you hardheaded people understand??? American mentality is absolutely retarded.

  33. @ Dwondermeant

    Right on.

    My travelling companion collapsed on a BA first NRT-LHR once when we were chatting with staff in the galley. The response of the cabin crew was immediate and effective at reviving her within minutes. Top marks BA cabin crew.

    Similarly a person went rogue on a SYD-HNL on a QF flight and had to be restrained when biting and spitting at cabin crew in a drunken rage. The QF cabin crew were magnificent.

    Get a grip, people…..;)

  34. The whole vibe around flying keeps getting progressively worse and flying just plain sucks now. I flew last week and every airline employee was angry and impatient. I couldn’t board my flight when my zone was called because almost everyone on the flight had swarmed the gate before boarding started and it was a free for all. Once boarded, the FA had to tell people to take their seats numerous times so we could leave. People just kept milling around pointlessly. There was an airborne peanut allergy on board and the FA chastised us saying that we better comply and not eat nuts because if they have to land for a medical emergency it will delay us all several hours. I found it really telling that the FA had to appeal to people’s selfishness by reminding people they would be late rather than simply being able to trust that everyone would willingly refrain from eating nuts to avoid seriously sickening maybe even killing someone. I get that the FAs behavior in demanding the mess be cleaned up isn’t great but it’s understandable. Passengers are rude, entitled, and have no sense of common decency or manners anymore. FAs are understandably fed up. Flying is also miserable and brings out the worst in people. After being treated like cattle being driven to market from thy time we entered the airport to going through security, waiting around to board a packed flight that was delayed, and being crammed into a tiny seat and chastised by the FAs over the PA all flight, my husband and I were beginning to understand why so many people lose their marbles when flying. I hope to not fly again for a long time after this.

  35. Is cleaning the plane in the job description of a FA? If not, attendants please be seated for departure.

  36. You know what? I agree with the FA on this one. The average American passenger has devolved into an uncouth, self-centered slob and this is no more evident than on a flight. If you dump a bunch of rice all over the rug, get off your ass and clean it up! Or ask for assistance in doing so. Don’t just leave it for “the maid” to do. That’s entitled BS.

    So, good for the FA on this one. I’ve often been critical of over dictatorial and nasty FAs, but I’m with her on this one.

  37. When you start resenting the customers for being idiots is when you should find a new line of work. Not saying it’s right, but just that’s part of the gig in customer service, and you gotta have thick skin. I’ve seen it as a manager a million times. Employees scolding customers for bad behavior is a door that can’t be closed once opened.

  38. In another life I spent nearly 20 years working for one of the legacy carriers. It used to be that a call would be made to operations and someone from the cleaning crew or in a smaller station a ramp worker would come up with a broom or hokie and clean up the spill. Problem quickly solved instead of exacerbating it.

  39. Al, you had me until the last sentence. What is wrong with you is the real question?

  40. In totally with the FA here, society shouldn’t tolerate that anti social behaviour anymore and take a strong stand against it.
    All these assholes should take responsibility for being assholes.
    Preferrredly in front of all the other people, it should really hurt them.

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