Passenger Shaming

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Feet on bulkhead walls, diapers being changed on tray tables, people taking off too much clothing in flight – these are just a few of the interesting things I’ve run into on recent flights.  Many of those behaviors often become the subject of  “passenger shaming”  – a practice where individuals take photos of the individual passengers and/or their behaviors in an effort to embarrass them, discourage future behaviors, and/or poke fun at them.

Once something that one might surreptitiously take a photo of and share later with friends, many now look for opportunities to take passenger shaming to a new level by reposting the photos on social media for others to see.

Are these the worst airline passengers ever?  (photo from

Are these the worst airline passengers ever? (photo from

One of the latest making the rounds is this one – 21 of the Worst Airline Passengers in the History of Air Travel.  In it, we see everything from passengers wrapped in plastic to individuals sleeping on the floor.

I’d like to say I’m surprised at some of these but I’m not.

I’ve personally sat next to the child with out of control stickers (as have other friends of mine – one once had a child place the stickers on HER during the flight and she unknowingly connected to her next plane with Winnie the Pooh affixed to her buttocks).

I’ve also been seated near the child who colored on the window shade (while her parent watched in amusement).

I’ve seen many (so many!) diapers changed on tray tables or aisle floors with not a changing pad in sight and the dirty diaper deposited in the seat back pocket.

I’ve actually been traveling with the guy who took his shirt off in flight, although I was in a different cabin and only heard about it after the incident from a mortified friend who was seated next to him.

And I don’t think I’ve ever deplaned after an international flight – at least not on a US carrier –  that the cabin has NOT looked trashed no matter what class of service I’ve been in.

I will also admit that I have occasionally found ways to elevate my own feet in flight when I’ve been stuck on a long flight with no footrest (although I’ve gone out of my way to keep them out of sight of other passengers).

And I too have gone to sleep across a row of seats, with permission of the flight attendants of course, and have tried to keep my body parts confined to the seat area.  It pains me to think that this could have offended others.

I do think that a lot of these behaviors that end up as passenger shaming examples  have no place on airplanes.  But I’m also not a big fan of taking pictures of strangers and then posting them online as a form of social remediation.  I don’t think it fixes the problem and may instead encourage outrageous copycat behavior.

A couple of the social media travel groups I participate in have had to repeatedly ask individuals not to post passenger shaming photos – and yet every few days another batch seem to make the rounds.  Some truly are of gross behaviors that would offend almost anyone.  But others sometimes are subjective – sometimes a traveler is offended by the casual clothing of another passenger, for example.  And in a few cases, I’ve seen photos where fat shaming seems to be the ultimate tactic.

Let’s face it – air travel these days can be not much more glamorous than riding a bus (with no offense to buses intended) – we are all crammed onto a metal tube together for hours.  It’s best to practice some degree of decorum and treat other passengers with dignity.  Part of that means politely confronting situations that might truly be offensive and dealing with them tactfully.  And part of that means occasionally putting up with something tacky that we encounter along the way in a graceful manner.

Readers, what is the worst passenger behavior you have personally witnessed?  Was passenger shaming involved?  Share in the comments below.

(Edited to add – for another perspective, Shawn at Miles to Memories posted an entry about this same topic at almost the exact same time as I did – I guess great minds really do think alike!)

About Jennifer Moody

Jennifer is a management consultant and avid volunteer. Her career and volunteer duty travels have helped her log top-tier airline and hotel status annually for the last nineteen years. In addition, she embraces the opportunity to maximize her vacation time by planning extracurricular trips that have taken her to over 60 countries and 48.5 US states. Once an "every week" road warrior, she now only travels around 100 days a year. She resides in her native Fort Worth, Texas where she enjoys cooking, gardening, sewing, needlepoint, wine, and playing with her Border Collie/Great Pyreness mix puppy Harley Quinn.

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  1. Wow. I just posted an article about that latest meme as well. (Great minds think alike?) I will go back and add a link to yours since I like your insight.

    I agree that I don’t feel it is right to take photos of other passengers, but that is me. With that said, I did look at and laugh at some of these photos so I guess that doesn’t make me any better!

    By the way I am too tall to sleep across a row of seats. I would hate to see what it would look like to others though.

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