Worst Case Scenario: What Should You Do If Your Seatmate Urinates On You?

This past weekend I wrote about the JetBlue passenger who urinated on fellow passengers as the aircraft prepared to land n Portland.

An Oregon man faces charges after authorities say he urinated on passengers on a flight from Anchorage to Portland, Oregon.

Jeff Rubin…had been sleeping for most of the flight. About 30 minutes before landing, they said, he stood up and began urinating through the crack between the seats in front of him — and onto the passengers sitting there.

The report says he lost his balance and fell backward, splashing urine on passengers, seats and luggage.

The New York Times features a Q&A with me that’s pretty much, what do you do if this happens to you? What recourse do you have?

We asked Gary Leff, co-founder of Milepoint.com, a frequent flier discussion site, to weigh in. The following are edited excerpts from a conversation with Mr. Leff.

And the answer is… not much.

  • Whether in the air or any other public place like a sports stadium, some small percentage of people will behave badly. Sometimes it is alcohol, sometimes the issues they’re dealing with.

  • Odds on anyone that’s going to do something like that to you is also judgment proof. Most people are. There’s little point suing someone without the capacity to pay a judgment.

  • Your only option for help is the plane’s crew. Your hope is to be able to change seats, although many planes are full and if there are empties is probably a middle in the back. That’s not great, but it’s still better than being urinated on.

  • There may not be any seats available. In which case you’re stuck in the seat unless the crew decides to divert. In the case of the JetBlue flight the plane was already 30 minutes out from Portland.

  • You don’t really want the plane to divert, but that’s a decision for the pilot to make.

In the current environment it’s wise not to behave badly on an airplane, or else something bad might happen to you. Like getting sent to Guantanamo. In this case however the charges were surprisingly negligible.

If another passenger does something like this to you, it’s the other passenger that did it — not the airline. Unless the airline was aware of the likelihood of this happening and acted with reckless disregard for your safety you aren’t really going to be able to go after them, either.

Still it’s worth reaching out to customer relations. If you’re an elite frequent flyer especially, they aren’t going to want you to associate an incident like that with their airline. So they’ll probably offer you a goodwill gesture of miles or credit towards a future flight.

Ultimately something like this is incredibly rare, but there are people who behave badly everywhere. So we do see altercations in the sky. Of course there’s plenty of bad behavior in premium cabins, it isn’t just coach.

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. As long as most people are judgment proof I suppose it’s ok to order two cups of hot coffee and accidentally splash it in the guy’s face right?

  2. While not the airline’s fault at all it might be a nice show to offer something to the offended passengers. Cheap way to show you’re a class act company.

  3. I think passengers should receive double frequent flyer miles as compensation if they get dumped on with number two instead of number one.

  4. Well, since this plane was close to landing at its destination….I asked family and friends about what they would do. I love their responses! The peed on passengers, should in group, choke the living shit out of the peeing passenger. After landing, I do not know what the consequences would be? But judgement proof goes both ways!

  5. Stick your finger down your throat and throw up on the bastard. Not pretty, but neither is getting p**sed on.

  6. I think you guys are taking this story too far. I bet this guy had some sort of sleepwalking or other medical issue. Would you guys be talking about what to do if it was a 90 year old grandmother who peed in your seat because she couldn’t get to the bathroom fast enough.

  7. I was on a Southwest flight years ago (towards the end of SWA’s lounge seating, but post-9/11) with an elderly woman who claimed to have been the first female sheriff in her state… Very neat lady… She was the middle seat, I was the aisle. As the plane started the takeoff roll, she told me she had to go to the bathroom. I suggested she wait a few minutes. As we rotated and lifted off, she tells me to get out of the way…she needed to go bad. I stood up, the flight attendant lost her mind, the elderly Sheriff had none of it, told the flight attendent what she was doing and raced forward to the lav…all during a steep takeoff climb.

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