Inside Passenger Shaming, the notorious Instagram of bad travel behaviour

When it comes to air travel, your fellow passengers can make or break the experience.

Before 2020, travellers clashed over reclined seats, in-flight grooming and public intoxication. Then the pandemic ushered in a new genre of conflict.

While we have been still dealing with the standard complaints of flying (like people going barefoot on planes), we have also been seeing passengers fighting over coronavirus issues (such as mask protocols).

In the front row of the action - virtually speaking - is former flight attendant Shawn Kathleen, creator of the popular Instagram account Passenger Shaming. Even during a year when the number of people flying dropped to historic lows, Kathleen never stopped receiving videos of travellers behaving badly on planes.

We caught up with Kathleen - who is launching a podcast this year - to hear what it's been like to monitor the tirades and bizarre moments captured on phones throughout the pandemic.

How has the content that people have been sending you changed since coronavirus started?

It's two things: In general, it's been more physically and verbally violent. It's people losing [it] on planes. Before, there was all of the hassle of flying, like you have to park, then go through TSA, et cetera, and now we're adding the masks on top of that and social distancing - which, of course, makes sense.

Then I'm getting a ton of mask content. People send in people who are wearing it incorrectly, or a mask would be just a hair underneath somebody's nose for five seconds, or off because they're eating. I turn into the mask police.

You can see on the account, a lot of it is both of those together. There's an incident because of the mask, it's causing delays and causing people to be removed from airplanes because they're not following the policy.

Although I promise you, I'm still getting the bare feet and stuff we typically show on the Instagram account, like changing babies' diapers. But, you can watch the trajectory of the account going from the crazy stuff that people do that makes us giggle and laugh to the increase of physical and verbal abuse. It's crazy that it's passengers with other passengers and passengers to airline staff. There have been fights between everybody.


Both of those, right, I mean, that's always been a thing. But it's usually involving maybe alcohol or something of that nature. Not that people aren't still drinking, but I'm told it's not as widely available.

Now it's just sheer frustration, people being pissed off, they've been in quarantine. I get it, but I don't get hitting somebody.

In the caption that I wrote about the fight in Tunisia, I said we need to be really cognisant and aware that everybody else is in the same situation. We need to be giving a little grace and a little more patience.

It's not just your fellow passengers, it's also your crew. The pilots, flight attendants, gate agents may have been furloughed for the last year. There's going to be a learning curve for everybody. And we can't expect to get back to the airport and just assume that it's going to be back to normal, which people hated already.

How are you feeling about travelling again? Is it something that brings you joy or anxiety or all of the above?

I'm feeling a little bit of both. I'm already setting myself up to be patient, and there is a factor of anxiety for me, and I'm assuming with a lot of other people. Travel wasn't always awesome anyway, and this is a whole different level.

Even if you aren't overly concerned about catching the virus as much as you were a year ago, the vaccine isn't 100 per cent. Having to go through that, wearing a mask the entire time, the delays, it's going to take a lot of patience and understanding which a lot of us don't have right now.

But then on the flip side, at this point we're willing to do anything to be able to travel anywhere other than our living room to the bathroom to the kitchen to the grocery store.

I've been doing all of my deals with God, like, "OK, just let me get on a plane somewhere. I don't care, anywhere. I'll go to all the places I used to complain about."

Do you have any trips on the calendar?

As of right now, all I'm doing is going to New York City to see my sister and Florida to see my mother. All of my children live locally, so I'm lucky, and they're all vaccinated because they're nurses and teachers.

That's my priority, to see my family. Once I do that, then you know what? The sky's the limit. That's so cheesy, but I mean literally. I will go anywhere. I'd love to go to Antarctica or Alaska; it doesn't have to be tropical.

I do feel very confident in flying, although I did not travel personally throughout the pandemic - that was my own decision. But I think it's safer than going to a restaurant or bar. I'll feel safe as long as everybody's complying with all of the rules.

As people start to think about travelling again, what advice would you give people before they take their first trip?

I would say be prepared. You really have to do your due diligence on where you're going and the actual travelling process because things definitely are different. Be prepared for delays, and be more patient.

Really listen to the crew, whatever the policy - and it might differ from airline to airline. I really think that's incredibly, incredibly important to have grace for the people who haven't been at work for X amount of time and are dealing with all of these people.

Don't be that [jerk] on the plane who sits food in front of them for three hours so they look like they're eating to not wear their mask. That's ridiculous.

The Washington Post

See also: Eight ways to avoid being an annoying plane passenger

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