When Does Passenger Shaming Cross The Line?

Filed Under: Misc.

As much as I love meme culture, I feel like some of the shaming we’re seeing of airline passengers is starting to cross the line.

Passenger Shaming

People do some pretty crazy stuff at airports and on airplanes. Sometimes it’s really funny, while other times it’s just really disgusting.

So in theory I’m amused by the concept of “passenger shaming.” There’s an Instagram account dedicated specifically to this that has become popular. It contains some real life pictures, and also some memes. The Instagram account now has a million followers, so it has become pretty mainstream, and I find it amusing.

However, at times it leaves me scratching my head, and I can’t help but wonder if some of this stuff really crosses the line, and especially displays the unprofessionalism of some US airline flight attendants.

Sharing this? Totally fair, disgusting, and hilarious.


This? Also totally fair.


When Does “Shaming” Cross The Line?

Is there a point at which this kind of “shaming” content crosses the line? Is it fair for flight attendants to share this kind of stuff on their public Instagram accounts?

For example, @thenonstopdan points to the below picture that’s shared by a flight attendant, in which she tags @passengershaming, and writes “6 hour flight & you’re GONNA WAIT TO PUT ON YOUR BOOTS AFTER EVERYONE HAS ALREADY DEPLANED. I hate you.” The @passengershaming Instagram account shares that on their story.

It’s always nice to know when our flight attendants hate us! She doesn’t have a private profile, so while I won’t share her information, she is a United flight attendant, and she also seems to enjoy complaining. Her previous two stories are about how:

  • “Flying 6 days in a row sounded like a good idea until I realized how unpleasant I am on only day 4”
  • “Legal for my next trip by 8 minutes. Kill me.”

She sounds like a real delight to fly with!

In this case I don’t even think the passenger deserves to be shamed, without knowing more. Now, I do have questions about him taking off his boots to begin with, but I’m not sure I could put on boots in a regular economy seat to begin with, and the second the seatbelt sign goes off, it’s not like you have much space in the aisle.

Bottom Line

I think the concept of passenger shaming can be done in a way that’s humorous and points to the things we all think about when flying. To me it totally crosses the line if flight attendants are sharing pictures of passengers, not to mention saying they “hate” passengers, even if it’s meant more as an expression than anything else.

It’s one thing if something egregious is happening and it’s a zoom-in on feet or something (though that still crosses the line, in my opinion), but if a passenger putting on their boots makes you hate them, maybe it’s time for a new job?

What do you guys think — when does the passenger shaming concept cross the line?

  1. I’m generally against but if it’s definitely not okay when:
    1. it’s not anonymous and people’s identities are not protected
    2. it’s regarding something that is beyond the passenger’s control (health, disability, size, etc)

    Generally speaking, I think shaming isn’t okay. Especially public shaming. Politely asking someone to put their feet back, get their hair out of the way, stop kneeing the back of the seat – things like that – this is best. Get a flight attendant involved if necessary. Publicly shaming? That’s medieval. But if you’re going to do it, keep it anonymous. That means keeping flight info and identities out of the equation. People end up getting harassed for stuff like this all the time and often wrongly so.

    And a flight attendant doing this publicly? Definitely not okay. If she has this much stress with her job, she needs to re-evaluate her career choice. Or at the very least, get some stress management going on. Or, if her working conditions are actually bad, get on working to change them for the better.

  2. Yeah I don’t think this is a good thing in general. I think the internet’s utility as a vehicle of shame is one of its worst qualities, summoning up that puritan who lives inside all of us who wants to see others flogged in public for minor offenses. Since it doesn’t actually accomplish anything (unless the passenger in question happens to stumble onto the blog) other than making the readers feel haughtily superior, and encourages people to sneak photos of strangers onto the internet rather than attempting to address the problem like an adult, I think it’s …well… shameful.

  3. It very clearly crossed the line in the case of the American guy asking for toileting ‘assistance’ on Eva Air. Yes, the story was gross: but to see his picture, uncensored, splashed across various sites, as well as his name…clearly went too far , IMO. No one had his version of events, or knew anything of his physical or mental health ( other than what could be surmised from the story)…but these seem germane as he was dead just a few short weeks later.
    The behaviour should be called out…but not by publicly identifying a person.

  4. Back in the 90s AA and Delta tried a program of very low fares on all their flights for a while. I had status on Delta then and recall hearing FAs complaining about all the “bus people” on flights.

  5. You don’t have to post these memes and photos.

    Bloggers such as you can help by not spreading these things in the first place.

    Actually the boots one is ok but that’s because the passenger had no concept (or if he did he just ignored it) that he was preventing the FAs from finishing their shifts and the turnaround crew doing their stuff as well because they can’t leave the flight or start their work until all the passengers are off the plane.

    If it took them 5 minutes to put them on then that’s 5 minutes less to prep the plane or 5 minutes potential delay.

  6. Ok. I think I’m going to be unpopular here, let me start by saying I agree with Ben, the boots being put on after landing is a ridiculous complaint.

    Paolo – I agree in part with what you say. But frankly it is not in a flight attendants job description to wipe someone’s backside, no matter what individual circumstances there are. If an individual needs that level of personal care he or she should be flying with someone paid to provide it. Frankly it’s disgraceful there was even an assumption that cabin crew might do it. Behave like that and you deserve to be shamed, the reasons for that need were known before he flew – there is no excuse.

    Frankly a bit of shaming isn’t a bad thing if it improves behaviour. If you don’t act like a selfish, thoughtless, unhygienic idiot, then you have nothing to worry about.

    I also have an issue with overweight people (no let’s call them what they are – fat) if you can’t stay within the confines of your seat then why should that impede on someone else? I was once on a flight where a ‘larger lady’ was moved from an emergency exit row seat as they couldn’t provide an extension seat belt for those seats and she couldn’t get the regular seat belt on. As the guy sat next to her said, it’s not like she’d have been able to fit through the emergency exit anyway. She was extremely upset, but (and I know this is harsh and doubtless it’s not her fault, gland problem, blah, blah blah,) but most people,are fat because calories consumed greatly exceed calories expended. And that’s no ones fault but your own.

    As I say. I await the opprobrium.

  7. Just flipping the coin here and pointing out the other side of this…So just to be clear, then Passengers taking videos of Flight Attendants when they are unhappy with the crew is also crossing the line…???

  8. Let’s just make it fair: the crew can shame passengers, and passengers are free to shame the crew too.

    In all seriousness this becomes a discussion of freedom of expression and free speech to decide what’s “crossing the line” and what’s not. Who are you to say what’s crossing a line? And who defines said line? Why is there a line to begin with?

    Real life is tough, and in the real world people are mean. In real life people say mean things to you and you get your feelings hurt. The sooner you realize that (in general to everyone, not directed at lucky), the sooner you grow up. People are going to be mean to you and you have to cope with mean people. It’s called reality.

  9. As you know, TPG and his cohorts wholeheartedly endorse her and all that the account stands for. Acting like first grade ‘elites’. Yes, some people cross the line, but these ‘elites’ forget that they too took a flight for the first time and they too must have had some faux pas. No one called them out, but they and this account in general has made a business out of making fun of the masses!

  10. I suggest that the United flight attendant applies for a flight attendant job on a cargo airline. No more shitty passengers to hate, so she can do her job of taking care of passengers in peace! Or… wait…

    Seriously, unless someone shows obviously abject behavior (which to me means showing behavior that negatively affects fellow passengers or staff), there’s no need to shame everything that you personally dislike. Those examples of smelly and rotten feet are worth shaming. It’s really too bad that a lot of passengers apparently don’t have any common sense or social skills or just don’t care about other anymore and that this is necessary in the first place.

  11. @ChrisC: I doubt it. It happens quite often that, for example, a plane needs to go in a hold position and lands a bit later, stairs or buses are delayed at a tarmac position, that the gate bridge isn’t functioning, that a disabled passenger or less mobile passenger requires more time or help to get out of the aircraft. Most of those are in fact encouraged to stay on board to get help, after everyone else left. It even happens that I chat a bit with the flight crew after landing, sometimes even for 5 minutes, and sometimes even after the rest of the passengers has already left the aircraft. My cousin recently got invited by a pilot to have a look at flight deck, that also took 5 minutes (gave him the experience of a lifetime, though).

    Should those disabled people, those ground crew, those ATC staff, me, my cousin, those pilots and those cabin crews now be hated for delaying the next flight? It would only be fair to hate everyone, according to your point of view, right?

  12. I don’t think Ben actually cares about this imaginary “line” and this whole post is a bad faith excuse to tell this story.

    When are we going to shame the voyeurs who take photos of shirtless men in lounges and publish entire conversations of strangers on planes?

    I really wish I could filter garbage posts like this. Typical Schlappig Slop.

  13. I mean, TPG loves that account and shaming passengers, while their own staff behave in some pretty awful ways (and that’s apparently okay).
    One guy kept putting his feet in shoes on the business class seat (on the part where you are supposed to sit), another one has her kids putting their dirty shoes on the airplane seats and restaurant seats, third one kept showing up to fancy restaurants in inappropriate attire (bathrobe or a swimsuit with some large shawl over that), many other ones vlog loudly in public. None of them saw anything wrong with it, while posting for the website that endorses shaming other people. Funny.

  14. Theres a reason americans are fat and the rest of the world hasnt been. were greedy pieces of shit. we overconsume, we care to much about material shit, and we of all people deserve to be shamed cause as dumb americans weve come to represent the worst there is in the world.

    – mass shootings (american)
    – being beyond obese (american)
    – having way more material shit then you need when your broke af (american)
    – leaders in food waste ironically (american)

    you damnnn f8ckin right we should be shamed

    our ill conceived idea of being the best and greatest has brought us all these things.

    I recently heard MIKE TYSON of all people say the most interesting thing…

    “If you kill any other species on the planet the ecosystem falls apart, birds, fish, plants….. but if you kill all humans, the world ecosystem flourishes”

    WE are the virus, and when you think about it we as a species deserve this fate as a whole because weve been terrible shepards to the planet. So yeah we deserve shame, shit, we need more of it. FOR CHILDREN, NO, FOR ADULTS, YES. For disabilities and issues that someone cant change, never, but for people that have an issue that can be fixed with WILL POWER, you better believe it!!

    People not getting bullied anymore is ironically why everyones kids are soft and killing themselves. Anyone over 30 aint hurt by words cause we were here before the internet. If your an adult and you been hurt by someone telling you to change a behavior get over it, those same people tell me to change cause of my skin color, who looks more stupid.

  15. Tom – we live in a a state of constantly being filmed, if your not competent enough to be awaree that at anytime you step out of your house your no longer protected and can be filmed then your super short sighted.

  16. What’s that saying about glass houses?

    And TPG is an embarrassment by himself. Talk about egotistical people.

    Unfortunately all of the social media tools have made things much worse in many areas since it allows everyone to have a forum. We see it politically and in every arena.

    As far as the boot guy goes, that is just a reflection of people. In his case it could have been anything from a medical issue and trouble bending over in a chair, or someone who isn’t catching another flight and just doesn’t have anything to rush for.

    And what one person thinks improper, another person doesn’t. A friend of mine can’t stand guys who wear sleeveless shirts in public. I tend to agree with him. Others think it is unacceptable to be poorly dressed in a nice restaurant.

    Unfortunately airlines generally treat people poorly, especially in coach, so you aren’t going to get the best behavior in return.

  17. I would assume UA, like any major company, has a pretty strict policy regarding social media use by it’s staff. This FA’s actions certainly reflect poorly on her and by extension, her employer. UA should absolutely reprimand this employee.

    Overall, the official Passenger Shaming account has done a good job keeping people anonymous, and she makes a point not to share stories like the EVA lavatory incident. It gets old though after a while. Like most aspects of air travel, it greatly exaggerates how bad it actually is.

  18. While I agree, in theory, that “shaming” can be a good way to handle something the problem lies in the ease with which social media allows it to be done. We see it in every avenue of life now but the fact is social media took out the courage and/or conviction required to speak up about something from discourse. People treat “the internet” like its their best friend and they are just going to talk s%$t about other people to it as though its a private conversation between friends.

    The fact is very few people will actually ever go up to that fat lady in her seat and call her fat to her face and tell her she takes up too much space. They wouldn’t want other passengers to think badly of them, they wouldn’t want her to talk back…they wouldn’t want to seem mean. It doesn’t matter if you think it, it matters what the effect of saying is. And the effect of constantly talking s*$t about others is that everyone starts to think its okay and all of a sudden we don’t care about anything except how many people we make laugh with us at the disgusting foot person.

    Which is fine if y’all want to do that…but when it stops being fat people, or it stops being disgusting feet people, and if it ever swings back to same-sex couples or a black man and white woman together (or anything else a dystopian future society might consider “unacceptable”), well, you were warned.

  19. While passengers doing such things are undoubtedly rather boorish behaviors, secretly photographing people for online ridicule and “shaming” is even worse as it is nothing short of cyberbullying. Someone causing a problem on an airline should be handled by the airline crew, especially if specific rules are being violated. In that way, the behavior will stop immediately, and the offender will know not to do it in the future.

    An online secretly taken picture not only does nothing to stop such behavior in the future, the real message being sent is that the poster himself/herself is a coward who enjoys anonymously hurting others who have no way of defending themselves.

  20. “Shaming” in general is an awful concept.

    I used to follow Passenger Shaming on Instagram until one day I commented on a post. (There was a visible amount of debris across the entire cabin, like too much to attributed to bad passengers. I pointed this out and did I make a mistake.)The account replied to my comment and then the whole group started pilling on me. It flat out is a mob of crabby people who have forgotten how to maturely handle disagreements.

    What’s scary is that the woman in charge of the account in now a police officer. That should scare everyone! I do not want that person making decisions that involve a loaded weapon.

  21. I think this is an excellent article. I not only agree that “passenger shaming” has definitely crossed the line, as one commenter put it above, “There’s a line?” In other words, no one should ever be surreptitiously photographed for the purpose of posting online for humiliation and “shaming.” It is unethical and morally repugnant.

    I wrote a blog article about the very topic recently, that you can read at https://borntolivebarefoot.org/hate-sites-promote-shaming-of-barefoot-airline-passengers/

  22. @Humans are a Virus — “… we of all people deserve to be shamed cause as dumb americans weve come to represent the worst there is in the world.”

    So WHEN are you (if you’re a citizen) renouncing your American citizenship? As that old saying goes — “Love it or Leave it!”

  23. The world is becoming a populace of people like Kriss. “It is unethical and morally repugnant” to take a picture of obnoxious behavior in cramped public spaces, but the behavior is OK and should be protected from a cell phone photo. It’s like the loud mouth on their phone in an airport lounge who gets offended if you act distracted while trying to concentrate on work; they somehow think the entire lounge is their private phone booth. What I find extraordinary in most of these cases, is, if confronted, the offender believes and acts as if their rights are being unfairly criticized and that they are the victim.

  24. @David, nobody said obnoxious behavior is “OK.” But “obnoxious” can be a subjective term. If someone is truly bothering you by invading your space in some way on a plane, it needs to be dealt with, then and there. Secretly taking a picture of what’s happening and posting it for “shaming” purposes does nothing to stop the behavior, either then or in the future. The offender may not ever even know his or her picture is being viewed and laughed at. So what’s the point?

    On the other hand if your definition of “obnoxious” behavior is somebody minding their own business but not dressed exactly as you would personally prefer, then it’s really none of your (or anyone else’s) business. Attempting to “shame” that person simply because they don’t live up to your own personal standards would indeed be “unethical and morally repugnant.”

  25. While I understand it is not easy or glamorous being a flight attendant some of them certainly have no class!

  26. Passenger shaming is just a way to be shitty towards someone behind their back. If you have an issue with someone’s behavior, say something to them, or just let it go. Posting a picture online does nothing to solve the problem.

  27. @Abe – perfect!

    “ You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We’re all part of the same compost heap. We’re all singing, all dancing crap of the world.”
    Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

  28. Kriss, does the smell from someone’s bare feet invade your nose space? Do the sounds from their cell phone invade your ear space? A person can close their eyes; how do you close your nose? Do you really think most of the people who act that way actually care if their feet smell or if you are offended? Saying “it needs to be dealt with, then and there” is a non-specific non-solution and, depending on the maturity of the entitled offender, might escalate into an altercation.

  29. @David, how does taking a picture of someone’s smelly feet solve the problem? If someone is offending your personal space – yes, including smells and sounds – secretly taking their picture and posting on some “shaming” site does absolutely nothing. Maybe it would make *you* feel better to do that, if you don’t have the guts to confront them personally or tell a flight attendant.

    That is no different from sneaking around and keying someone’s car that you have some kind of grievance with. It’s a cowardly response that does absolutely nothing to solve the problem.

    BTW, feet themselves do not smell. It’s closed shoes worn for hours at a time that smell and create foot odor. So, the feet of someone not wearing closed shoes to begin with are highly unlikely to have any smell.

  30. William,

    I was not talking about the legality of it. And if a city wants to have cameras everywhere, then fine.

    I am talking about individuals taking images of other individuals. If I caught someone doing that with me it would not end well.

  31. @Kriss
    I was in an airport lounge yesterday, sitting in close proximity to a guy who had his feet on the furniture. It was offensive to me but I’m not going to take a picture of it, or confront him…or even complain to the staff. I regard it as the role of staff to monitor these things ( probably something they don’t relish and are not trained for, as minimum wage employees). I do a good glare, but that rarely has any impact.
    On the other hand, I would complain directly if someone’s feet appeared in my space on a plane, but it’s very rare ( 1 time in thousands of flights and I simply swatted them away with the newspaper).
    The guy in the lounge turned out to be some kind of ‘celebrity’, as people kept stopping him for selfies as we headed for the plane. If ever I see him in media, I’ll recall him as the guy with his feet on the furniture.

  32. @Paolo, you did exactly what a reasonable and rational person would have done. Out in public you see someone doing something they shouldn’t be doing and something you would never do yourself. But they weren’t really harming you or directly causing a problem for you in any way, so you just let it go. It would be really nice if everyone we may encounter on a plane or anywhere in public had that attitude.

  33. I must be on a one person crusade when traveling to be nice to everyone. Its not hard or costly to say Hello to the flight attendant, and to say please and thank you to them and good bye when getting off the plane. As for passengers, we all have done annoying things often without realizing it. If someone’s hair is blocking your screen for more than a moment tell them, don’t post it on social media. If being kind doesn’t resolve the issue ask the flight attendant to help. Bottom line flying in the back generally sucks. Lets not shame those that might not know the rules. And remember you’re likely not a total joy to be next to for 10 hours either.

  34. It’s all good and dandy to judge until you do the job of a flight attendant. She has a right to complain. You don’t know the difficulties of this job and you never will until you go through the grueling process of becoming a flight attendant and then learning all the behind the scenes.

  35. @Demetrius Don’t mess with TX 😉 (My favorite state in USA is Texas.)

    @John You should think there is a line, start traveling USA domestic and you notice there is none. A few weeks ago, Ok I understand you need to take all your luggage onto the plane (I mean you with the 4 cases) but still you have the nerf to take my (small) backpack out of the overhead bin and try to put your Guitar (!!) in. Everyone can see this will not fit. When I confront you with the fact that I don’t like you moving my luggage, I’m wrong? Well I try to take not more then allowed onto the plane. FA did not react (first domestic)

    I normally like to fly United (yeah I’m probably one of a few) Only NOT when flying US Domestic. Please enforce the luggage restriction so I don’t have to put my luggage 10 rows back in economy, fight my way back to my seat and when deplaning wait to get my luggage for a long time.

  36. No. People need to be called out for bad behavior. Online and in person. People think they are special and can do whatever the hell they want. They’re not. How hard is it to act like a decent human being when out in public.

  37. @Jill, I disagree. You are not a judge and jury appointed to “call out” perfect strangers in public that in your opinion are not behaving as you would yourself. Sure, if someone is actually invading your space and directly causing you a problem, you should say something. But “need to be called out…online”? How does that solve the problem? Unless you mean you know the person by name and send them an email or post a message on their Facebook page.

    But I don’t think you mean that. You’re obviously talking about anonymously “passenger shaming” them, and that is just as bad a behavior – or worse, in many cases – as any perceived transgression they may have committed in your judgment.

  38. Kriss, it is now obvious to me that you have had your picture taken while doing something that “crossed the line” and are now on a crusade to defend and justify your behavior.

  39. @David, to my knowledge, my picture has never been taken by anyone on a plane. My wife has taken a couple of pictures of me in an airport, but no one else has to my knowledge. I did extensive research before writing the article I linked to in a comment above, which entailed looking at hundreds of “passenger shaming” pictures on the Passenger Shaming site and other sites. I didn’t see myself or any recognizable part of my body in any of the pictures.

  40. @john JOHNSON — “Real Americans don’t use the term “love it or leave it” since they know our history.” —

    Huh? This was commonly said during the time period of protesting the Vietnam War back in the 1960s! Perhaps *before* your time? Or are you letting Political Correctness overcome you?

  41. lol classic slow news day article. sorta like on a food/restaurant blog “quick, post an article about tipping customs so we get some engagement today!”

    this blog has straight-up doxxed people before, so I don’t think the question about “where is the line” is actually being asked in earnest. If it gets clicks, you’ll do it, there is no line.

  42. Agree. It’s a sad that people shaming has become a tool to dispense a jolt of reality. Picking feet, coughing and sneezing openly, encroaching on the space of your neighbours, it’s Just not cool. Rude and often insanitary, and we wonder why virals spread oh so easily…
    Seems there’s two things (minimum) at play here. Low awareness, forgivable if the person amends their behaviour, and the second is arrogance/defiance (so whose gonna tell ME to stop). The type of person who knows they’re out of order, but likely to get mouthy or belligerent if they’re asked to stop.

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