Tired of dealing with flight attendants? Well, they’re just as tired of you and me.
Crabby passengers led Shawn Kathleen, a flight attendant for seven years, to start a blog she called Rants of a Sassy Stew (rantsofasassystew.com). Among the features was a section she called Passenger Shaming, which highlighted the ridiculous and repugnant things airline passengers did, usually involving sockless feet.
Shawn Kathleen (who doesn’t use her last name in her blogging life) said she was fired from the airline that she worked for — which she also declined to name — and suspects it was because of the blog.
Yet Passenger Shaming, now spun off into its own entity (passengershaming.com, plus a Facebook page and Twitter and Instagram feeds), has become an Internet sensation. Despite the profiles on the Today show, Good Morning America and Time magazine, Shawn Kathleen, a 45-year-old mother of three in Columbus, Ohio, hasn’t cashed in on her fame. Instead, she is taking undergraduate medical courses as she figures out what to do next.
Here is an edited interview about the frustrations of being a flight attendant, the rise of Passenger Shaming and the state of the state of flying.
Q: Why did you start blogging about your experiences as a flight attendant?
A: There was a lot of frustration. That’s where the blog was born – the crazy things that happened and the crazy things that people did. I would be professional and courteous to their face, but then I would walk to the back galley and grab my journal and start writing: “Oh my God this guy just asked me for black coffee for the 10th time, and he got pissy and said, ‘Where’s my cream and sugar?' “ and things like that. Or they would ask if they would make their connection, and they would want me to call the captain and ask him to fly faster.
A: Absolutely! I’d get asked all sorts of ridiculous things. One time a woman rang her call button. I said, “Can I help you?” She said, “Are we moving?” We were at 35,000 feet. I didn’t know what to say. I had never been asked that before. I put it on the website, and all these flight attendants said, “Oh my God, that’s happened to me!”
Q: Judging by the state of the airline industry, I’m going to guess it got worse as time went on.
A: Absolutely. Behaviors got progressively worse. The sense of entitlement was really gross. “Get me there quicker.” “I want this and this and this and this.” “I’m in coach, but I want you to get me a drink every few minutes.” The main thing with the entitlement – or what I feel is narcissism – is they act like there aren’t 200 other people on the aircraft. It’s their world. There’s one flight attendant for every 50 passengers. We can’t be 50 places at once.
Q: Passenger Shaming, which began as a feature on Rants of a Sassy Stew, has really taken off – no pun intended. How did that begin?
A: It was me ranting about passengers and telling stories of ridiculous behavior. I was so careful about it. I took a few photos of bad passenger behavior and was careful not to identify people or even the airline I worked for. Then other flight attendants and crew were giving me photos too. I was getting a ton of them. And then it was like, “Passenger shaming! Hello!”
Q: What are some of the bad behaviors you’ve seen that are on display on Passenger Shaming?
A: A lot of bare feet. That’s my thing I can’t stand. I don’t get it. I don’t get how it’s possible that someone would take off their shoes and socks – shoes are OK; we want you to be comfy – but I don’t understand how a person thinks bare feet are OK. They’re not OK, period. The majority of people are great, but you run into these situations, and it’s awful. Passengers clipping their nails. Drinking too much. Putting dirty diapers in seat-back pockets.
Q: Ewwww. That happened?
A: All the time. Changing your baby’s diaper on a tray table that the next person is going to eat off of – it’s unbelievable. People looking at porn magazines with kids around. That happened. It took three attempts, but I finally got them to put them away. One thing I like about Passenger Shaming is that you can see I’m not exaggerating. There’s no exaggeration about how awful people can be in a public place. When Passenger Shaming started, I got all these photos from crew members. Almost everything I got was from crew members. Now it’s 75 percent from passengers.
Q: What does that tell you?
A: The majority of fliers are horrified by this disrespectful behavior. They’re fed up with other people’s BS. They don’t want to sit next to someone clipping their toenails! You'll see someone with an elbow on an armrest and a bare foot right behind them. That’s disgusting! Passenger Shaming struck a chord.
Q: Any guess about why people increasingly act badly on airplanes?
A: The only thing I can think of is that they think they purchased this ticket for $400 so they can do whatever they want. We had a joke in the industry that when you get to the airport, you check your brain with the luggage.
Q: I wonder if part of the reason is that flying has become less pleasant – more bodies crammed into planes, fewer perks like meals and an increasingly combative experience, such as the battle for overhead space.
A: I think that’s part of it. And the accessibility has become greater. People who might normally drive, they can afford a plane ticket now. At this point flying is like a bus with wings. Well, maybe a little better.
Q: When did you realize Passenger Shaming was taking off?
A: I think it was Sept. 16. I had maybe 18,000 followers on Facebook, and after Good Morning America and the Today show, it went up to like 250,000. I wrote a BuzzFeed article called If You Do Any of This on a Plane — Everyone Hates You. Someone wrote an article about it, and then there was another article. And suddenly I got a text saying, “Hey — your website is on Good Morning America right now!” I have a German camera crew coming this weekend to follow me around and watch me do my thing.
Q: Have you figured out how to monetize Passenger Shaming and turn it into a job?
A: No. The best reward — this sounds cheesy, but it’s true — is for people to recognize their own behavior and change. We’ve had some people say, “Oh, my God — I used to do this, and I won’t do it anymore!” I’m like, “Thank you! My work here is done!”