Airline Passenger Code of Conduct, Part 2

Last week I explored the topic of a universal airline passenger code of conduct. Should there be such a thing, to prevent some jerk sitting next to you on a packed flight from watching hard-core porn on his laptop?

That scenario actually happened to a female passenger traveling from Newark to San Francisco, according to an anecdote reported in The New York Times. She was afraid to confront the man, and when she asked a flight attendant what could be done about it, the response was "nothing."

I recently asked readers of this column to tell me what they found themselves in a similar situation. The responses were often funny, even sometimes outrageous. Without further ado, here are some of the most interesting reactions.

Start a Bidding War

"Had I been the captain on the porn viewing flight, and had I been approached by one of my crew for a possible solution, I would have suggested that my crewmember make a brief announcement as to what the passenger was viewing and auction off the lady's seat to the highest bidder who wanted to swap with her," suggests Beau Sweetwater, a retired airline captain.

Make an Announcement

"I probably would have stood up and announced in a very loud voice that if anybody on the plane wants to watch a porno DVD, I'd be happy to exchange seats with them," writes Ingrid Harrington of Costa Mesa, California. "Surely someone would volunteer." Ingrid adds that the porn viewer "watched it next to her on purpose, just to make [the female passenger next to him] squirm."

Get Over It

"When you buy a ticket, you're entitled to a seat and enforcement of any laws and regulations that pertain," writes Rick Schmidt of Mexico City. "You are not entitled to any guarantee that you won't feel uncomfortable with any of your law-abiding fellow passengers."

If someone is watching disgusting videos, "you can turn away and ignore it," he suggests. Rick adds that "the airline employees were absolutely correct in refusing to intervene. The passenger had every right to watch or read or draw or recite whatever he chose, in the seat that he paid for."

Take a Nap

Since the flight attendant said nothing could be done, and there were no other seats available, the female passenger should have put on eye shades and gone to sleep, writes Berges Malu of Mumbai, India.

Berges believes that an official body, such as the International Air Transport Association, should issue a list of airline passenger do's and don't's. "Otherwise it could become commonplace for people to watch such kind of objectionable matter on their laptops and if there are children on the aircraft it could become a major problem," he adds.

Spill Something

At the very least, the flight attendant "should have attempted to find alternate seating arrangements for that poor woman!" writes K. Peter, of Kingston, Ontario, Canada. "If it had been me, I think I would have 'accidentally' spilled my coffee on his laptop! And if anything else happened to get scalded in the bargain, well...bonus!"

Polly King of Palmyra, Virginia, has a similar suggestion. "Perhaps the woman passenger...could have ordered a glass of water? Sometimes cups, unfortunately, slip from one's hands onto the laps of neighbors while they are being transferred from the airline attendant to the passenger." Polly adds that the female passenger "could have turned her head away...and read a good book." Another option: She could have constantly interrupted the porno watcher "by frequently getting out of her seat to stand up."

Add Your Own Commentary

"I would probably be so annoyed that I would start a running commentary," writes Tish Pasqual of Minneapolis. Tish would peer over the porn viewer's shoulder and says things such as, "Oh, my, isn't that nice? Do you know her name? Oh, now stop that ... That's just wrong!" She would also have asked the man personal questions, such as, "Do you and your wife enjoy the movies together? How many children do you have?" Tish writes that she'd keep this up "until the creep got the message. I guarantee I would not just sit there silently."

Ignore, Reason, Suggest, Report

Now for my strategy: My first step would be to try and ignore the video. However, if there were children nearby, or if it was obvious the video was making others uncomfortable, I would have politely pointed this out to the man. I would have added that I'd read not long ago about a woman thrown off a flight because others had complained her T-shirt was offensive (a true story). If the man weren't careful, something like that might happen to him. I'd tell him this as if I were concerned for him.

Being passive aggressive, of course, the man would probably continue to watch the video, regardless of what I said. At that point, having tried to ignore and then reason with him, I would have informed an airline attendant of the situation and let him or her handle it (or not).

Is this a perfect solution? Hardly. But in my opinion, anyone who watches a hard-core porn video on a crowded airplane is being passive aggressive, for whatever reason. And at 30,000 feet, I'd be extremely cautious of turning someone's aggression from passive to active.

If you're hungry for more horror tales of how we mistreat one another in public with our gadgets, read my earlier columns, "Avoid Committing Ear Spray," "High-Tech Etiquette, Part 1," and "High-Tech Etiquette, Part 2."

Mobile Computing News, Reviews, & Tips

Svelte T-Mobile Wing: The T-Mobile Wing ($300 with a two-year contract) is a slender, multimedia-friendly smart phone that delivers impressive call quality and battery life. Unfortunately, the phone has some design drawbacks, writes our reviewer, Melissa Perenson. Among them: Some buttons, such as the volume slider, are difficult to press and poorly constructed.

How to Dump Your Current Cell Phone Contract: You want an iPhone, but it works only on AT&T's networks, and you're locked into a contract with another carrier. Is there any way to wriggle out of your contract and avoid the $150 to $200 early termination penalty? One solution: Transfer your current contract to someone else, using an online service such as

Telepresence Lets You Avoid Travel: Videoconferencing has matured into what's called "telepresence." Instead of herky jerky, grainy video, telepresence systems from HP and others feature high-def plasma screens in a specially constructed room. Conference attendees appear on the screen in life size, and the movement is fluid and realistic. While some telepresence systems are a tad pricey--HP's Halo goes for about $425,000--upstart firm Telanetix offers one starting at $1000 per month.

Suggestion Box

Is there a particularly cool mobile computing product or service I've missed? Got a spare story idea in your back pocket? Tell me about it. However, I regret that I'm unable to respond to tech-support questions, due to the volume of e-mail I receive.

Contributing Editor James A. Martin offers tools, tips, and product recommendations to help you make the most of computing on the go. Martin is also author of the Traveler 2.0 blog. Sign up to have the Mobile Computing Newsletter e-mailed to you each week.
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