If you see me standing in the aisle…

Late last night a horrifying story of vulgarity and harassment on a plane came out. I shared it on Twitter and Facebook, fueled with alternating waves of anger and disappointment and rage and disbelief. Read the full statement. It is disgusting. But for the purposes of this rant allow me to summarize:

A passenger was drunk and spewing sexually aggressive comments at another traveler from the moment they boarded the plane. When the flight crew was asked to intervene they declined, stating that the guy was a known entity and just doesn’t have a filter but is probably harmless.

The good news in the short term is that Alaska Airlines appears to be taking the incident seriously.

The bad news is that it happened at all, of course, but also the way the crew handled the situation. Chatting with various friends over the past 18 hours has caused a number of scenarios to play through my mind. What if I were the guy in the row ahead of this incident? Or behind? Or across the aisle? Or just happened to hear it as I passed by? And that brings me to the title of the post.

Assuming we’re still on the ground, you’ll almost certainly see me standing in the aisle.

The plane isn’t going anywhere with a passengers not buckled in. And if the cabin crew isn’t willing to deal with the situation then a conversation with the pilot, a gate agent or the police can all be a reasonable next step. If getting to that point with a calm, polite conversation in the galley doesn’t work then you’ll see me standing, waiting for the proper folks to show up.

It doesn’t require hovering over the offending party or escalating the situation. Often direct confrontation is a bad play. Similarly, I’m not keen on taking photos and videos to prove the problem. That’s an escalation move, not one that defuses an already stressful situation.

But it is WAY easier to deal with a belligerent or misbehaving passenger on the ground than it is at 500 miles/hour and 30,000 feet. And, quite frankly, I’m not particularly keen on being party to that situation if the crew decides Skeevy McAsshat is cleared to fly. If I’m already standing then collecting my bags and leaving is easier. I’ve fortunately never had to press the issue that far, but I’ve had at least one flight where it was definitely a “him or me” situation with an obviously impaired passenger. I was able to communicate the situation to the crew and get it resolved without much trouble, but I was ready to make the “him or me” decision that afternoon. And that was without the overt sexual harassment; the guy was just drunk and confused. I’m pretty sure the more egregious behavior would not soften my stance.

There’s no need to pick a fight. No need to get confrontational.

Just a simple act of standing up for what’s right. Literally. In the aisle.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Yes, this is disgusting behavior, and the crew didn’t handle it well. But bless you for coming up with a classy – and probably very effective – way for passengers to deal with situations like this.
    As a woman, I’ve run into jerks on planes, but none as bad as this guy.

  2. If you stood in the aisle and didn’t allow the plane to push back, YOU’D be the one in trouble. Do you have time to be arrested, booked, arraigned and later go to court?

    1. Read the full piece. I am well aware that I put myself in a “him or me” position by standing up. And that if the crew decides against me it is time to walk away. I’m not going to start a riot on board but I also believe there is a safe and non-confrontational way to involve more people in making an important decision. I’m open to suggestions for other options. This is the best I’ve got right now.

    2. If that’s the easiest way then so be it. It’s about time we stand up for what’s right, even if that means we have some extra hassle for it.

  3. Not to minimize your point, which is a very important one (and well said).

    But just to have some fun: First time I have ever heard Seth say, “No need to get confrontational.”

  4. It is the responsibility of the airline and the airline alone to ensure passenger safety. The only recourse you have is not to fly with the airline and ask to deplane. That also goes for any other guest who does not feel comfortable. It is against federal law for you to disobey an order of the flight crew and especially the pilot. If you continue with your aisle plan then you should be held accountable and be charged and forced to reimburse any expense incurred by your unruly behavior. All we need is a bunch of vigilantes like yourself creating chaos at airports. You surely have no right to interfere with flight operations.

    1. Read what I wrote again. You’ll clearly see the part where I say if it doesn’t go well I’ll get off the plane. A couple times.

      1. How is you standing in the aisle waiting for a reaction going to help? Just another distraction to the situation at hand. At the end of the day everyone got where they were going and no one got hurt. So looks like the flight crew were correct. Air travel is typically miserable. Maybe the female should grow a pair and stand up for herself.

        1. Sorry, Dan, but “everyone got where they were going and no one got hurt” is decidedly untrue here. The crew was not correct.

          Standing in the aisle isn’t just for show. It is to engage in a further conversation. Perhaps you missed the part where I stated that in what I wrote. I believe that if the pilot were presented with the details of what Randi experienced before departure the situation would’ve been handled differently. Stepping out in to the aisle is about engaging with the cabin crew, the flight crew and potentially gate personnel before the plane leaves the ground.

          Not everyone is strong enough to “stand up for themselves” in a situation where they feel physically threatened. Just like I don’t expect someone who trips and falls to drag themselves up off the curb without a little help. That’s why there’s an opportunity for a third party to do something right and assist.

          The cabin crew isn’t always perfect. The bad situations are extremely rare in my experience and this sort of thing should never really be necessary. I’ve found myself halfway there once in 2000+ flights. But it is something I think about from time to time. And I believe it would’ve been helpful on that Alaska Airlines plane yesterday. You’re free to disagree. Keep your seat. I’m fine with you making that choice. It won’t be what I do.

        2. Did you seriously just suggest that a victim of sexual harassment should “grow a pair” and accept that harassment is just part of air travel? Give your head a damn shake, sir.

  5. Did the “lewd” passenger have a mental condition and was incapable (i.e. had a disability) which prevented him from “filtering” his remarks?

    1. I suppose if you consider alcoholism and general chauvinism mental conditions, then yes. Certainly not anything like Tourette’s syndrome, if that’s what you’re suggesting.

  6. I wonder if Alaska Air would be taking this as seriously as it now seems to be if this wasn’t coming from Mark Zuckerberg’s sister?

    Just a horrible situation and Alaska Air + other airlines seem like they don’t have good policies/training in place to deal with these situations and take them seriously.

    My girlfriend made an interesting point that perhaps if the flight attendants were women they probably have to deal with drunk men treating them like this frequently so they sadly have to shutdown/become desensitized to this horrible abuse in order to carry on and not breakdown. And so hence they didn’t find this as shocking as the general public does and hence didn’t take action.

    Something needs to be done at a policy level to avoid this crap from happening over and over again.

  7. You know he didn’t have Tourette’s or some other problem? Not every drunk on a plane lost their filter.

    I mean I am not on first name basis with Mark’s sister, but if I were hypothesizing what happened and what I would do if I were confronted with such a situation I would eliminate that possibility before I imagined I would hold up a flight. 🙂

    If every time some drunk/loud mouth offended someone, that person stood in the aisle until the pilot remedied;removed one or both of them from the plane, it would probably be statistically observable in the on time statistics.

    Anyone else complain about the flight? If the guy was a known issue seems like there should be a trail.

    1. If people objected every time a man started talking to a stranger about touching himself the world would be a better place. If people objected every time a stranger started asking women about their sexual fantasies the world would be a better place.

      So, yeah, I’m okay with a few flights being delayed while asshats like this guy are taken off the plane. Maybe once more folks start to realize there are repercussions for their awful behavior we can move forward as a society.

  8. I don’t think it’s that Alaska (or any other airline) doesn’t have effective training in place to address harassment / insensitive customers. In fact, airlines typically do a very good job with that type of training. The issue at hand, I think, is the legacy airline culture of avoiding confrontation with high-mile elite FFs and high-dollar full-fare customers. I know in my 10 years at United, especially, we’d avoid any sort of intervention with high-value customers unless they were blatantly violating regulations. Right or not, we would often turn a blind eye to them being obnoxious, loud, and things like that. We were told to never, ever upset our best customers. I’m not justifying the behavior. I’m just trying to explain why the FAs may have behaved the way they did.

    1. But that “culture” is something that is (or should be) part of training.

      Also, it has been a long time since I’ve seen FAs on US airlines accused of obsequious behavior. I enjoyed that.

  9. Mad respect for your excellent classy method here which I will use if ever necessary. Aviation and world are better for your contributions, thank you. Such flagrant disrespect of our ladies will not continue.

    1. Ditto. I enjoyed this piece and will keep this tactic in mind. Sometimes it’s just not an option to leave a fellow human being oppressed, and what you propose is the most diplomatic approach.

  10. I had an FA move me from Biz to First because the pax next to me was drunk and getting obnoxiously ‘fresh’ with me. They also cut him off. Those were the days…

  11. We do seem to go from zero to sixty pretty quickly on allegations these days. From what I understand, in pretty much all these sexual dust-ups (Conyers, Franken, this guy, etc) there’s one person’s word/allegation against another. In an effort to show the rest of the world moral superiority, everyone jumps on the condemnation train without a second thought. For some, like Seth, that’s not enough so he takes to proposing solutions to a problem (despite the problem’s actual existence having yet to be verified). But hey, why get bogged down with seeking out the facts of a case when you can instead skip straight ahead to casting yourself as a modern-day Rosa Parks on a plane, now battling against sexism? What a dream!

    To be sure, a fair amount of the many allegations hurled around in pop culture today could be true. But folks today demand instant emotional gratification. Investigation and fact finding just takes too long. So for the innocent who stand accused? Acceptable collateral damage, right? Cultural Marxism once again rears its ugly head.

    1. Very well said. Thank you for expressing my thoughts about this matter better than I could.

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