Passenger ethics

Mostly I’m seeing people agreeing that Elan’s first commentary-tweets were ok but his actual confrontation of Diane was not ok, but I’m also seeing a sizeable faction insisting that Diane deserved everything Elan dished out to her and perhaps more.

So I think we need to think about passenger ethics a bit.

Suppose Elan had been sitting next to Diane, as opposed to several rows behind her. Assuming for the sake of argument that she was being actively rude to the flight attendant, and/or that she was being obstreperous enough to annoy passengers all around, I think it would be ok for Elan to say, mildly, that we’re all upset about the delay and the flight attendants really can’t do anything about it, so how about we all try not to make it worse for each other. Something along those lines. I think it would be ok for him to try to persuade her to pipe down. If he wanted to go the extra mile he could nicely offer to buy her a drink.

But that’s about it. It’s really the flight attendant’s job to defuse the situation, not the passenger’s, or the passengers’. Neither singly nor collectively are passengers responsible for enforcing etiquette on other passengers.

Suppose Diane was Don, and got violent. That’s a different story – then it might be right for passengers to intervene quickly.

Suppose they’re not on a plane, but a city bus, and Diane or Don physically attacks the driver. Then the passengers really should intervene, and fast, and together.

But what the actual situation was, assuming Elan reported it accurately (and that’s apparently in doubt, since he’s reported to have a habit of making up stuff for the sake of Twitter stories), was that Diane’s bad behavior had stopped, and that Elan took it upon himself to punish her for having behaved badly.

That is not acceptable. It’s not acceptable for a whole list of reasons. It’s none of his business; it’s not needed; he doesn’t know enough; it’s much more likely to re-ignite a quarrel than it is to teach Diane anything; he’s ignoring the likely meaning of her face mask; they’re all on an airplane, a confined space that they can’t exit; he’s not very good at ethics or manners himself; his behavior was incredibly intimidating. That’s not even an exhaustive list of the reasons his intervention was not acceptable.

So that’s a start on the knotty subject of passenger ethics.


  1. screechymonkey says

    I’m wondering what the “Team Elan” people — the ones who think that everything Elan did was 100% justified — think would have been a sufficient act of contrition by Diane to require Elan to knock it off.

    A quiet apology to the flight attendants? Or does she have to stand up and give a speech to all of her fellow passengers? (Which would probably annoy me as a passenger more than her silence — I’m trying to get to sleep or read my book or just enjoy some quiet, and you’re creating another disturbance to apologize for the first disturbance?)

    Is a simple, “I was out of line, I’m sorry” sufficient? Or should Elan continue to tell her to “eat a dick” until she breaks down and cries and admits that she is an awful, awful person?

    At what point should Elan knock it off with the notes and the “I’ll be back” comments and the “eat a dick” stuff? At what point has Diane suffered enough for her horrendous egregious crimes?

  2. quixote says

    I don’t have anything to add to your summary of This is Okay : This is NotOkay. Spot on.

    And I know you asked for a discussion of ethics, not practicality, b-u-u-u-t…. Just as a practical matter, if what you want is peace and quiet, surely it makes more sense to help the situation rather than whack at it?

    One of the several international flights where I was plunked next to somebody with kids (They always do that to me. It’s a plot.) the young mom was obviously frantic and mortified about her cranky crying toddler. I made sympathetic noises about how tough it was to fly with small kids, had her put some of the kid’s toys in my seat back, which I wasn’t using and where she could get at them, and the like. The mother calmed down, so the kid calmed down, and we all wound up okay. Much simpler than having them turn the plane around on the runway and throw either her or me off the plane.

  3. says

    Why is it okay to respond with punishment anyway? Being frustrated and annoyed and even taking that out on others by being cranky isn’t really a moral failing that requires discipline (putting aside for the moment that it’s not some guy’s job to discipline a woman stranger). It’s an understandable human failing that demands compassion and sympathy.

  4. says

    screechy – ha – the speech to the passengers idea reminds me of an early episode of Modern Family, in fact probably the first, in which Cam and Mitchell are taking Lily home after adopting her, and Cam is all tense about how other passengers will react. A woman passes them and remarks to her companion, “Aw look at the baby with the cream puffs.” Cam swells with outrage and, over Mitchell’s protests, stands up to denounce her, until Mitchell finally manages to show Cam the bag of cream puffs he’d just opened. So then Cam switched to a passionate apology and statement of love for all the passengers, sat down embarrassed, and then added “We’d like to pay for everyone’s earphones.”

    I LOVE that punchline.

  5. tagbtr says

    I caused a scene in an airplane once. I’m not at all the scene-causing sort, but it was the last straw in a long two days of traveling. I got stuck in Philadelphia, trying to get home to New Orleans. The weather finally allowed us to get to ATL, where we were delayed once again. Finally the plane boarded at around 1am (when I should have been home by 9:30pm). While I was still waiting for the plane in Philly to board, I went online and upgraded my seat from ATL to NO so I could deplane faster. It cost me $20 to upgrade to a seat in the second row of coach.

    When it came time to get on that flight, I was assigned boarding group 3. There were many people in boarding groups 1 and 2 who were seated in the middle and back of the plane. Lots of them put their luggage in the overhead bins *in the front of the plane* before proceeding to their seats. So, when I got on the plane, I had to put my luggage about 10 rows behind my seat.

    Upon landing, I asked people behind me to please pass my luggage up to the front. They all just stared at me. Really? I paid extra for that seat so I could deplane immediately, and now I can’t because my luggage is way back there, because inconsiderate people in the back put their luggage in the front?

    End of my rope. I started LOUDLY proclaiming the rudeness of people who put their luggage in the front instead of where they’re sitting; I then LOUDLY stated I wasn’t moving out of the aisle and no one else was leaving until someone passed my luggage up. I also LOUDLY explained that all of the passengers waiting to deplane could thank the rude, inconsiderate folks who put their luggage in the front, for having to wait for me to get my luggage before they could deplane. My luggage was retrieved and passed up to me. And people glared at a guy who had run up from the back as soon as the plane landed, and who got his luggage from the bin above my seat.

    Probably very bad behavior on my part, but — can’t people think past their noses occasionally? Thoughts? Criticisms? I still don’t feel bad about doing it, though I can see where it might have annoyed a lot of people. But probably not as much as I was annoyed at the situation!

  6. Twinky says

    Ophelia, while Elan wasn’t polite, Diane was annoying everybody else on the plane, and yes, it was an act of courage to put her in her place. He could have done it politer, yes, but Diane could have just shut up about “her” thanksgiving. As for her alleged cousin, you didn’t bother checking out how valid that claim is?

  7. says

    I really don’t feel like what Diane did was that big a fucking deal. I have never made such a scene myself but have occasionally found myself considering it. I have witnessed it and found it annoying but the idea of going out of my way to “punish” someone for it is just stupid and offensive. Yes, it’s better to treat flight attendants politely. But, when someone is not doing that, it’s not some stranger’s responsibility to FORCE a person to do so. That is, after all, what the flight attendants are trained for and paid for.

  8. says

    it was an act of courage

    Oh, fuck you and your ilk forever. It’s not courageous to bully a stranger. It’s not an act of courage to mock a middle-aged woman for her appearance. It’s not an act of courage to assume, as per sexist stereotypes, that she was wearing a medical mask because she’s a hypochondriac. It’s not an act of courage for a man to tell a woman that this wine will shut her up. It’s not an act of courage for a man to tell a woman that his penis will shut her up.

    Fuck you.

  9. says

    Elan Gale is just another manifestation of call-out culture. He saw someone behaving in a way he disapproved, and he took it upon himself to punish her because he could, using the weapons he had.

    Call-out culture is very often just cruelty, disguised and legitimized by group approval.

  10. says

    But that’s about it. It’s really the flight attendant’s job to defuse the situation, not the passenger’s, or the passengers’. Neither singly nor collectively are passengers responsible for enforcing etiquette on other passengers.

    Nothing I’ve read from him was in its slightest useful if he wanted to defuse the situation and make everybody feel better.
    Everything he did was aimed at escalating the situation which he obviously enjoyed very much.
    So, he got a kick out of upsetting an already upset person even more, making things worse.
    He’s the equivalent of a person who shouts “shut up” at a crying baby.

  11. says

    @6 – courage? How was it an act of courage, exactly? Because she was likely to be able to beat him up?

    Jeezis. No, it was in fact in the classic sense an act of cowardice. It’s conventional wisdom (hence “classic sense”) that people who bully others who are less strong than they are are not courageous but cowardly.

  12. says

    Actually, we once got into a somewhat similar situation.
    On a holiday, Mr. and I decided to have lunch in a restaurant. It was one of those very touristy places, and usually we don’t eat there because quite often food, prices and service are horrible because they’ll never see you again anyway. But somehow we ended up there and we were positively surprised: Wonderful food at a decent price and a polite and friendly waiter.
    Then the table next to us got taken by three people. They were the kind of tourists who thnk that if you speak your own language LOUDLY and s-l-o-w-l-y enough those damn foreigners will understand it. They asked for stupid things and were upset when they got them. They organized themselves a horrible time with bad service (in their perception) and yes, they annoyed us and they treated the waiter poorly.
    Well, we kept our mouths shut, winked at the waiter and smiled that “oh my god I’m so sorry you have to deal with those jerks” smile and gave him a good tip.
    Nobody got thrown into the habour that day…

  13. thetalkingstove says

    it was an act of courage

    No. An act of courage would have been for him to go and talk to Diane and ask her if she was ok and if he could help.

    Sure, there are some pretty crappy, selfish, entitled people in the world. But who the hell knows what a stranger is going through? It doesn’t cost much to be tolerant instead of immediately trying to police someone’s behaviour, and generally making the situation worse.

    But of course, cancer patients must always be 100% noble and stoic. Not weak and human. Wouldn’t want to give them a ‘free pass’ or anything.

  14. screechymonkey says

    I think the important question here is, did any of the passengers have to suffer the horrible indignity of having his honey confiscated?

  15. A. Noyd says

    thetalkingstove (#13)

    But of course, cancer patients must always be 100% noble and stoic. Not weak and human. Wouldn’t want to give them a ‘free pass’ or anything.

    Seriously. What the fuck? I had no idea so many people thought that. It’s so completely dehumanizing to demand absolute moral perfection of the sick and dying. It’s possible to have deep sympathy for someone with terminal cancer without condoning it if they take their upset out on others. Possible, yet so many fail at it.

    And the way they say “I’m sorry she has cancer, but” should follow the same rules as “I’m not racist, but” or “I have nothing against gay people, but“: everything after that “but” is guaranteed to disprove the sentiment before it.

  16. Jackie: ruining feminism one fabulous accessory at a time says

    Oh, fuck you and your ilk forever.


    It’s so completely dehumanizing to demand absolute moral perfection of the sick and dying

    ^Also, this.

  17. Pieter B, FCD says

    Twinky @6

    Diane was annoying everybody else on the plane

    Oh, please. Since she was in row 7, it was first class and 80% of the plane didn’t know she existed. I’m really skeptical of Elan’s claim to have heard her breathing over the background noise of a plane in flight from five rows back. I think the whole deal is about as real as one of his TV shows.

  18. Dave Ricks says

    I relate to Giliell’s comment 10 here as it relates to comment 117 on the original thread, where davidjanes cited a story Stephen Covey told.  Covey is a management consultant, and his story was in the vein of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936).  Without being a social justice warrior, I can ask myself, how do I get results from people, and a crucial step is to see their point of view, genuinely and sincerely, then align our interests. Then I don’t get sidetracked by whether cancer is carte blanche to behave badly; instead I see cancer is relevant to see the other person’s point of view, as a step to be effective. Team Elan fails to assemble something effective.

    Management should find it in their self-interest to weed out Team Elan from the workforce by The No Asshole Rule (2007).

  19. ismenia says

    I the approval comes from the fact that everyone has wanted to get angry with someone on public transport at some point.

    I was furious when feeling ill on a train and a woman with two young children was playing with an electronic toy that kept counting in a loud and very irritating voice to the whole carriage. Unlike people with audible headphones there was no way that she didn’t know that everyone else could hear it.

    I didn’t say anything because I thought it would distress the kids if I got angry with their Mum (and I was feeling terrible as I’d had a tooth removed the previous day) so I just went to the next carriage. I arrived at work with bad headaches triggered by the racket.

  20. shari says

    wow this whole thing is so disturbing. I have been trying to follow the chain of events, but what is standing out to me is the expectation of terminally ill people being so kind.

    My brother, two uncles, one cousin, and one grandparent have all died of cancer or a terminal illness. I was there first hand for scenes of really, really intense anger. I got reports from my family (when I wasn’t there) about the very tough days the nursing staff had with our family. I saw emotional breakdowns with no apparent cause that could not be easily calmed.

    Not because my family is vile and selfish. Because they are hurting and human. And pain is sometimes bigger than we are.

    I am sure people have had terminally ill family members behave like saints. I just don’t think that’s the full story. The full story here is probably not getting told either, but I really hate hearing people say “sick people don’t have to act out”.

  21. MadHatter says

    I am sure people have had terminally ill family members behave like saints. I just don’t think that’s the full story. The full story here is probably not getting told either, but I really hate hearing people say “sick people don’t have to act out”.

    ^ This ^ I got injured really badly at one point. Not a terminal illness, but injuries that left me extremely fearful and in a lot of pain. It also should’ve been obvious to people around me, I wore a body brace and used a cane. I was liable to lash out at people who came too near me, or brushed by me out of fear of pain they might cause. Thing is, those people were also being quite rude. It takes very little effort to be aware that a person with a cane is unstable, or a woman wearing a mask might be very ill. It takes even less effort to reach out and offer them a bit of help and comfort. The people who did reach out on the very rare occasion made a huge difference in my ability to be calm.

    I’ve watched people nearly push over older folks using a cane, or be completely unwilling to offer a seat to someone on the bus who could barely stand. It takes very little to offer a little bit of compassion and help to people around us and it can make a huge difference in their day.

    Instead we have many people like Elan (and Twinky) who think their oh-so-clever or daring to be total assholes because everyone else should just suck it up.

    Which is really all besides the point. He was a complete ass.

  22. says

    Mad Hatter
    Absolutely. I think those of us who are not assholes realize that people are people and that under stress we often behave not at our best. You don’t need to have experienced severe health issues to know that, and you don’t have to study psychology to realize that severe health issues add a lot of stress.
    However, as I sad before, I think those people who defend Elan and who think that Diane got what she deserved think of themselves as perfect. It’s not that they don’t behave like that, it’s that in their case their behaviour is always fully justified. Doesn’t matter what Elan did, because it was justified.

  23. shari says

    @21 – Oh man. I was waiting in store at the Mall of America, after a foot surgery, my foot OBVIOUSLY in a boot, and on two crutches. A guy on a cell phone starts walking toward me distractedly as he is talking, swings his foot back, and pretended he was going to kick my crutch away.

    Might i add that I am 5’2 and female.

    He then made a gesture like “I would never do that”!! Just kidding!” he then kept on chatting.

    I didn’t feel saintly at the time. My mouth certainly wasn’t

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