Digital Manners: Watching Porn on a Plane

Navigating the intersection of etiquette and technology.
Dec. 20 2011 7:29 AM

Porn at 30,000 Feet (Transcript)

Farhad Manjoo and Emily Yoffe debate the question: Should you alert the flight crew if a nearby passenger is watching porn on the plane?

Farhad Manjoo:  Ladies and gentleman, for our in-flight entertainment this afternoon… porn!

Emily Yoffee:  I’m Emily Yoffe, Slate’s Dear Prudence advice columnist.

Farhad Manjoo:  I’m Slate’s technology columnist, Farhad Manjoo. And this is Manners for the Digital Age.

Emily:  Today’s question is from a listener who takes issue with her fellow airplane passenger’s taste in movies. Her name is Sally and she’s on the phone with us. Sally, thanks so much for your letter and for talking to us today. Why don’t you just go ahead and read what you wrote to us?

Sally:  Okay. On a seven-hour plane trip, the man squished into the third seat in our row spent most of his time watching male porn movies on his DVD player. I was traveling with my daughter and her young child and it was almost impossible not to see from time to time the screen with some pretty raunchy acts being performed. Since he was on the aisle, I suspect that others were also sharing in his viewing. Any suggestions or is this just another surprise dividend of air travel in the digital age?

Farhad:  Wow.

Emily:  Talk about snakes on a plane, huh?

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Farhad:  I’ve always wondered whether people actually thought to do this because you’re on a plane ride for so long, but I can’t believe you actually saw this. Sally, what did you eventually end up doing? Did you just stay there throughout the whole flight?

Sally:  I did, and I did not do anything other than try to avert my eyes, but it’s hard to not see. The spaces are so tight.

Emily:  Did he make any attempt to shield you and your family from this?

Sally:  No, uh-uh, nope!

Farhad:  Do you know if other passengers saw it, and especially if the flight attendant saw it?

Sally:  I don’t know. I don’t know what people see when they go up and down the aisle. It was one of those little private DVD players. Maybe there’s glare on the screen. Nobody said anything as far as I could tell, and none of the flight attendants said anything.

Emily:  I’m always the one to call in the authorities in these chats, but this is just gross. And you’re absolutely right. You’re not in your own private little space on a plane. You are inches away from other people, particularly if you’re sitting next to a grandmother, mother, and a young child, it’s absurd. I think you would’ve been perfectly justified excusing yourself, going to find a flight attendant, explain what’s going on and say, “Can you handle this for us? Either you need to move our family, you need to move him, or you need to tell him he just can’t be viewing this on a row with a small child.”

Farhad:  I suspect that watching actual pornography probably violates rules on the plane – maybe even federal … the law in some way. I think that the flight attendant would’ve done something in that instance.

Emily:  People have to recognize, even if you think you’re in your own private sphere, you’re in a public space.

Farhad:  Emily, did you hear about this other story? The European airline, Ryanair. The chief executive said recently that they may consider adding porn to their in-flight lineup. So perhaps it’s something that many customers have requested.

Emily:  Is this an all first-class, one of those you’re in your little…

Farhad:  No. This is actually one of the budget airlines.

Emily:  Oh, my goodness.

Sally:  My goodness.

Emily:  Okay. Well, then everyone will be given a parachute and the option of either watch porn or get off the plane.

Farhad:  I think that we’re all agreeing that watching porn on a plane is really out of bounds, and that if you see it, you should alert the authorities. But Emily, I think a more common scenario is not watching porn, but watching an R-rated movie, which I’ve done on a plane. And then, suddenly, you’re not expecting it – this racy scene comes on and you wonder what you should do. Should you turn off the movie? Can other people see?

What do you think about watching an R-rated movie on a plane?

Emily:  I have to say an R-rated movie is fine. It’s not explicitly porn. Yeah, R-rated movies can be racy, but they’re shown in theaters. You’re not just watching a piece of something explicitly sexual just for sexual arousal. You’re watching a movie and there could be a scene of a plane crash. Try to turn the screen if you see there’s a kid next to you.

Sally:  What about a slasher movie or some very violent movie?

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