USA TODAY US Edition
Passenger shaming won’t solve problem
Ever seen pictures online of airline passengers misbehaving? It’s called passenger shaming.
It’s hard to unsee the images of barefoot passengers propping their feet on their TV screens or seat in front of them. Or of the gross items people put in the seatback pockets. Or of the babies getting a diaper change on an open tray table.
But just in case you missed them, you’ve probably experienced something like it on a flight – and wished you could shame these inconsiderate air travelers into stopping this behavior.
A plane is an enormous pressure cooker of human frustration. Occasionally, people misbehave. So it was only a matter of time before the passenger shaming movement took off.
Yet Christopher Ferguson, a professor of psychology specializing in media violence at Florida’s Stetson University, says shaming doesn’t work.
“Shame mainly fosters resentment and can linger for the target for days after the flight,” he says. “It’s more of a retributive and revenge strategy than one that is particularly helpful for the specific situation.”
There’s no evidence that passenger shaming has made air travel better or more civil. Experts say there are far more effective ways to handle troublesome passengers than holding them up to ridicule. And, in fact, the passenger shaming movement says more about the sad state of air travel than it does about the people who fly.
In-flight incidents on the rise
There’s no evidence that any kind of shaming – whether it’s in real-time or later, online – is having any effect on passenger behavior. The number of inflight incidents has risen 35% to one incident per 1,035 flights in 2017, according to the International Air Transport Association, a trade group.
Of course, there could be a lot of factors in play, but if passenger shaming worked, you’d expect to see that number falling. It hasn’t.
A better way to handle difficult passengers
Dean McKay, a professor specializing in anxiety research at New York’s Fordham University, says there are better ways to defuse an in-flight conflict.
On a recent flight, he watched as a dispute between a flight attendant and a passenger was resolved without the need for any public shaming.
Flight attendants are trained to resolve the most common conflicts and normally, these procedures to de-escalate a conflict work. Taking photos and posting them to Instagram, or holding the passengers up to public ridicule, isn’t part of their education.
How to avoid being passenger-shamed
❚ Always follow crew instructions.
Remember, the flight attendants are there for your safety. When they ask you to sit down and fasten your seat belts, it’s for a good reason. They’re trying to protect you.
❚ Imagine you’re at a dinner party.
Set your plane etiquette at “formal dinner party” level and keep it there for the duration of the flight. That means no bare feet, no invading other people’s personal space, and for the love of all that is good and holy, keep all of your clothes on.
❚ Take a hint. If you have any doubts about your in-flight behavior, ask a fellow passenger. Is it OK to recline my seat back? Do you mind if I leave the light on during an overnight flight? And don’t worry, if you do something unapproved, your seatmate will let you know. Be alert for the throatclearing or the tap on the shoulder. And heed it.
What passenger shaming is really about
Part of it is for the amusement of disgruntled crewmembers and frequent air travelers, who post these images online as a way to cope with rising incivility on aircraft. But why people who behave well on the ground turn into animals on a plane?
A plane is a small, confined space. And lately, if you fly in economy class, it feels smaller than ever. Maybe the reason passengers are acting up is that when they fly, they’re being treated like something less than human.
Airlines have cut their product so that it’s unrecognizable from what it once was – the gold standard for customer service in the travel industry. Airlines don’t respect their customers, sometimes denying them basic necessities like food, drink and a civilized amount of space. No wonder passengers are crossing the line.
Passengers shouldn’t be shamed. But maybe airlines should.