Air travel ain't what it used to be! Whether you've been stuck next to a smelly passenger, a drunk traveler or a belligerent space hog, several online forums have cropped up to provide airline employees and customers an opportunity to vent about their awful fellow fliers.
It's called passenger shaming.
Shawn Kathleen has worked as a flight attendant for the past six years. In 2010, she started keeping a private journal to rant about her worst customers. "I shared it with a couple of colleagues," Kathleen said. "They said, 'Oh my God, this is hysterical. You need to put it online.' "
She then started the blog RantsOfASassyStew.com, which has garnered more than 16,000 likes on Facebook. In January, she launched Passenger Shaming, a Facebook-based photo blog that features anonymous pictures of bad-passenger behavior captured by flight attendants and travelers.
Kathleen said these sites' popularity owes to the "air rage" that flight attendants and passengers feel when they encounter distasteful, unsanitary and even hostile behavior. Like an airline version of Waiter Rant, both of her blogs strike a nerve with anyone who's ever had a bad experience with a fellow passenger.
So what kinds of complaints are we talking about?
Kathleen mentioned people who don't flush after using the lavatory, or who enter the bathroom without shoes or socks. And speaking of inappropriately dealing with human waste, she said there are "people who change their babies' dirty diapers at their seats, on the tray table. Then they will leave the diaper in the seat back pocket."
Gregg Rottler, an occasional air traveler, launched the group blog FlightsFromHell.com in 2007 based on his own bad experiences. He has received about 1,100 passenger shaming stories; the site's traffic peaked at 70,000 hits in one day. "There are separate categories: the crying babies, people that are hogging the bins, people that just don't smell very pleasant," he said. "There isn't any Mile High Club sex going on in the bathrooms, but there are stories about couples cavorting under blankets."
However, one of the most bizarre stories came from Kathleen: "Probably my most notorious story is the gentleman who — during a flight — went into the lavatory, smoked crack, caught his hair on fire, and set off the smoke detectors."
The rise of passenger shaming blogs comes from the plummeting quality of the air travel experience — for airline industry professionals as well as customers. Claudia Helena Oxee, a station manager at JFK Airport for 16 years and the author of "Tales From the Tarmac," said: "The quality of the passenger has been downgraded." She also noted a lack of training among airline personnel. "It's a whole different world from 10 years ago. The economy has a lot to do with it."
So for these frustrated airline professionals and passengers, Rottler said FlightsFromHell.com "provides some therapeutic benefits. I want the website not only to be about entertainment but to help enhance communication so that both flight crews and passengers can kind of see things from each others' perspectives."
However, Heather Poole, a flight attendant and the author of "Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet," cautioned airline professionals about ranting about passengers publicly: "Airlines are very strict about their image. One false move and we’re gone. Buh-bye. Adios."
But Kathleen lamented that, though the majority of her passengers are pleasant, "This job makes you crazy." So she's studying to earn her nursing degree so she can leave the airline industry for a career with more manageable clients. "I'm getting my BSN to be a psychiatric nurse. How funny is that?"