You’ve seen the pictures, haven’t you?
You know, the snapshots of oversized airline passengers violating their seatmates’ airspace. Of travelers propping their bare feet against seatbacks. Or of the trash they leave behind after their flight.
It’s called passenger shaming, or the act of taking travelers — usually air travelers — to task for their boorish behavior.
And while some passengers probably deserve to be called out, most don’t. But it was just a matter of time before something abstract, like uploading a photo of someone’s shame-worthy actions, crossed over into the real word, with troubling results.
To understand how we arrived here, you have to return to the start of the passenger shaming movement. Many of the humiliation-inducing photos came from airline crewmembers who couldn’t believe what they were seeing at work. Some of their customers were acting like caged animals.
Sandra Sanci, a flight attendant for a Canadian airline, says occasionally passengers deserved the negative publicity.
“If they are compromising safety in any way, yes, by all means,” she says. “It really depends on the level of aggression they are displaying.”
But what about ordinary rudeness, like leaning your seat into someone’s personal space or loading your luggage into the bin above another passenger’s seat? Even travelers agree that the culprits deserve a little exposure — and embarrassment.
“These people should be shamed publicly,” says Maryann Lasalle, a retired insurance underwriter from Mullica Hill, N.J. “If I pay for a seat and even pay additional fees to be in the front of the plane, either I or the passengers seated in my row should be the only ones using the bins above our seats.”
Yet in many cases, it’s not really the “shamee’s” fault, at least not to the extent that it seems. For example, there’s an infamous image of an impossibly overweight passenger that made the rounds a few years ago, that shows half of the passenger’s body blocking the aisle. It’s visually arresting.
It was said to be taken by a flight attendant, but was allegedly the product of said attendant’s Photoshop skills. That’s a particularly vile form of public humiliation called body shaming and does nothing to further good behavior among travelers.
Curiously, airlines appear to do little to stop these anonymous protest actions by their employees. Maybe they want them to believe the enemy is us. Experienced air travelers know better.
“I don’t believe that blame or shame are productive ways of dealing with any problem,” says Marjorie Yasueda, a retired travel agent from San Francisco. “If there is a problem, I prefer dealing with it one-on-one and as privately as possible.”
Perhaps, she adds, too much is expected from air travelers. “Unfortunately, we don’t become fabulous people just by walking down a jetway,” she adds.
Agree or not, the online version of this hobby appears to be jumping into real life. Consider what happened to Christina Fabian-Roman, who was flying from Bellingham, Wash., to Phoenix recently with her husband, who is suffering from terminal cancer, and their seven-year-old son. As the aircraft boarded, her son reportedly had an allergic reaction to a dog. Reseating the family didn’t help, so attendants finally asked them to exit the aircraft.
I’m sure passengers on the flight were unhappy with the resulting delay and maybe they were unaware of the family’s personal circumstances. But their reaction — some of the passengers are said to have applauded as crew members escorted the family off the plane — seems like public humiliation taken too far. They didn’t wait to go online to show their displeasure. They did it in public and without seeing the big picture.
Shame on them.
Passenger shaming begs an even bigger question: Are air travelers the only ones to blame for the repulsive acts being committed onboard? At first glance, it appears many of these people are being inconsiderate and ought to be called out online, if not also offline. But did they install the too-small seats? Did they create the fees, the onerous fare restrictions and the customer-hostile, you-get-what-you-pay-for service?
They did not. But you know who did.