If you're a woman who's ever traveled alone, I'm sure you know just how creepy men can be. Granted, chances are everyone these days has seen or experienced firsthand the effects of toxic masculinity, but somehow these behaviors appear to be magnified on airplanes. Is it the altitude?
Today, writer Joanna Chiu tweeted about a recent experience on a plane in a Twitter thread that's so relatable, it's already been retweeted 11k times. "I'm on a plane from a late-evening stopover and was very tired and had a row to myself to sleep but couldn't avoid noticing what was going on in the row behind me," she wrote.
The setup is one we've seen all too many times: an older man is delighted to be seated next to an attractive young woman and uses the fact that she's alone, sitting away from her family, to his own advantage. "He started off by asking about her career plans and laughed when she said she wanted to be CEO and kept giving her ridiculous advice," Joanna continued.
By ridiculous advice, Joanna probably means this guy was condescending and mansplaining to the young woman. "She was friendly and he seemed to take that as a welcome cue to get very familiar and started teasing her and kept saying that he wanted to take her out to eat, which she was ignoring," she writes. Why do men think politeness and friendliness mean their advances are welcome?
Do we have to flat-out tell you off in the first few seconds of meeting you for you to realize we're on a plane to get from Point A to Point B, not to randomly end up hooking up with a man who's twenty years our senior? If we did, we'd be immediately accused of being "man-haters" and of "flattering ourselves" for assuming you're making a pass.
Luckily, Joanna realized she "had to stay awake in case anything went further than" this man's unwelcome offer to take the teenager out on a date, and it unfortunately did.
Soon, the creep was asking for "a 'dirty' photo while leaning close to her." Well, that escalated quickly, wouldn't you say? As soon as he did, Joanna stepped right in. "I turned around and rage-whispered exactly what I thought of that and he didn't say anything back and went off to use the washroom," she explained.
And she wasn't the only person on the plane who took notice. "Another woman seated behind him was listening and monitoring too," she mentioned, "and while the man was gone she let the teen know that she had the right to change seats and that she was just behind her if she needed any help." Joanna got up to inform a flight attendant of what was going on.
Although this experience could have gone very sour had no one been present to stand up for the teen, or if the flight attendants had decided to turn a blind eye, everyone's behavior was truly exemplary (creep excluded). It turned out to be the best case scenario in an airplane scenario that happens so regularly, it's practically normalized.
The flight attendants "checked other witness accounts," as Joanna recalls, then "the head of the flight service (a woman) asked the man to move." As one would expect, the creepy, clueless man had no idea his advances were a cause for concern and resorted to cursing our narrator out. He asked to "talk to the boss," because of course he did, and the head flight attendant was like, "I'm the boss."
What a shero. She even threatened to land the plane if the guy didn't move! Eventually, he did. "The attendants check in with the young woman and wrote up a report," the thread continues. "They handled the situation well as far as I could tell, and it's good to know other adult women passengers on the plane were paying attention and taking action while trying not to embarrass the teen."
"But none of the male passengers seemed to show they noticed what was going on," commented Joanna. "Maybe fellow women are more likely to pick up on warning signs early on in the conversation because we used to be teenage girls too?"
If you're reading this and identify as a guy, it'd be super cool if you could observe and question the ways you see other men acting toward people who identify as women. Even if you end up being wrong and embarrassed for a fraction of a second, your action is appreciated.
Because this kind of thing happens on planes way more often than you'd think. "The first time I traveled without my parents, the man next to me spoke with me most of the flight," Joanna shares, "which made me feel adult and important, and he said things like I must be flirting because I was touching the zipper on my jacket. To his credit, he stopped and later looked ashamed."
"The second time I traveled alone, an older man struck up a convo while we waited for boarding and he asked about many details of my travels then kissed me without my consent," she remembers. "I was too shocked to say anything."
I've personally experienced guys on airplanes resting their hand on my thigh when they must have forgotten they had their own thighs or armrests (!) for this very purpose.
In conclusion, this thread is a great example of the ways people can deescalate creepy situations before they cross the line of being criminal. "All adults need to be on guard and know there are things we can do to intervene even when a crime hasn't technically been committed yet," Joanna writes.
"Men need to figure out how to 'spot creeps' in their vicinity as well and men can help too to prevent harassment or assault. It's so disturbing there are predatory people out there who act like they have no idea what they're doing is wrong. It's unclear if the man is going to be monitored by flight crew the next time he flies."
Although she protects the name of the airline, Joanna mentions that "this Canadian airline crew handed the situation so well." They thanked her and the woman sitting behind the teenager with handwritten notes, saying their "concern for the young lady ... helped us put a stop to a very uncomfortable situation."
Workplaces, schools, and world at large: take note of how this kind of situation can be handled swiftly and with aplomb. And because this thread has garnered so much attention, men are already sharing ways in which they can call out the creepy guys in these kinds of uncomfortable situations.
Among the top bullet points are "Move closer, call them out, tell them it's unacceptable, suggest alternatives" and "set a positive example." We'd honestly love to see this play out in the real world and look forward to a future where we hold each other accountable for our actions.