Passenger Shaming: Sweet Revenge or Tortious Fun?

rtrerte5646456 There may be some interesting tort questions raised by a new Internet sensation created by former flight attendant Shawn Kathleen, who has started a movement to shame passengers who act badly on flights. Passenger Shaming has taken off with travelers on Facebook and Instagram.

Her first blog, Rants Of A Sassy Stew, was a huge success and she decided to start to post pictures from people sticking their feet over seats to men going shirtless to a sink filled with urine. Here sites now have 45,000 and 60,000 followers respectively.

64fb72b01b0e6f532f4bab6abde119eb36c8aab8The question is whether passengers can sue over the images. These are taken in a public space but include passengers who are sleeping and do not expect to find their images plastered over the Internet. Most of the pictures make it difficult to identify the person, but there could be some serious claims of injury. First, airlines may have rules against photographing other passengers. Second, passengers could claim an expectation of privacy, though it could be a difficult claim in such a public setting. As a general matter, you do not have such protections in public spaces. We recently saw such a dubious claim filed by a sleeping fan at a baseball game.

It is possible to make an inclusion claim based on a public encounter but it is difficult. That was the case in Nader v. General Motors Corp., where Ralph Nader was able to show that GM hired detectives to follow him closely. One such instance involved looking over his shoulder at banks to read his bank slips, which was found to be an intrusion upon seclusion even though it was a public place.

The shaming pictures are intended to embarrass or expose the passengers. However, they displayed themselves in a general area and often intruded on the immediate space of other passengers. Yet, a plane is not public place like a park. It is a place of private business, albeit an area of general observation. Some of these pictures could cross the Nader line in getting too close to the subject or intruding into an area where there may be a greater expectation of privacy.

24 thoughts on “Passenger Shaming: Sweet Revenge or Tortious Fun?”

  1. Steve H – you make a good point. We do live in an overly litigious society, especially here in CA. But I sure wouldn’t use an airline where they post pictures of passengers online.

    With today’s technology, shaming can become global. You can no longer just move away.

  2. How are they supposed to avoid being photographed, jump out of the plane?

    Posting stories about badly behaving passengers, without identifying them or posting pictures, would be much better.

    I predict these passengers are going to sue the airline.

    As Darren pointed out, do we all have to worry now that unflattering pictures of us will be posted all over the internet? As for the kid with the potty, I wonder if all the rest rooms were occupied. If there was one open, that’s pretty bad, especially since strangers can see (and smell) everything. Otherwise, when a toddler says he has to use the potty, you’ve got a couple of minutes, tops, to avoid an accident.

  3. Squeeky, My daughter worked @ Target in high school and college. She hates Walmart and always sends me links to that website. It is hilarious.

  4. Airlines abuse passengers. Abusively cramped seating must be made a criminal offense. If this trend persists,

    airlines will soon remove seats altogether and impose


  5. “The legal profession has played a leading role in our transformation from a civil society, policed by citizens into a legal society, policed by lawyers.”

    And of course, only those smart enough, litigious enough, and rich enough get to sue and call in the legal police.

  6. So, let me recap. On one hand, we have folk who complain that we are no longer a “civil society” because there are a bunch of clueless idiots who violate our (unwritten) rules of civil behavior. The “rules of civil behavior” are enforced by society. In the old days, “violators” were shamed or shunned or confronted by their peers. The rules were passed from generation to generation by a combination of parents and peers. These day the shaming uses technology and the enforcers are a broader set of peers.

    Now, on the other hand, we have this blog wondering whether the clueless idiots have legal basis to sue for [insert legal blah]. I’d bet money that one or more of the clueless idiots whose pictures appear on the website have consulted an attorney, and that there is an attorney ready to file suit.

    The constant threat of being sued by someone over the slightest affront is one reason “the rules of civil behavior” are no longer enforced by society. And its why parents don’t get involved, why parents teach kids to not get involved, and why the airlines train stewards to avoid confronting passengers (except for safety), and why

    The legal profession has played a leading role in our transformation from a civil society, policed by citizens into a legal society, policed by lawyers.

  7. I wonder if she could be sued, and the airline, since she is taking the pictures during her work hours in her work environment. ince she’s been doing it for a while it would seem that her employer should know she is doing this.

  8. “Darren Smith
    If this becomes popular I wonder how people will worry to fly and their image pasted to the internet.”

    I won’t have any issues, but then again, I don’t act like a public airplane is my personal rumpus room.

  9. If you are not allowed to engage in acts of sex there is no expectation of privacy.

  10. I agree with Justice Holmes in his Buck v. Bell decision in 1927. “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” So, if we can prove that shirtless guy is the grandson of another shirtless guy, then we can sterilize him while he is on the plane. And his kid if the kid is there. And the grandkid if he is along for the ride. And if the plane flies East of Corfu then throw the schmuck overboard and make him walk the plank when ya do it.

  11. I have much experience w/ the “reasonable expectation of privacy” rule, having done surveillance for over 3 decades. There is no reasonable expectation of privacy on a plane. But, it falls sort of in the category of being in an auto. When people are driving in their vehicle, even though they have windows on all 4 sides, they often think they are in private. We have all seen many people picking their noses w/ their hand up to their wrist digging one out. We’ve all seen people singing, dancing and playing air guitar, in their own world. I have videotaped many people in their vehicle. The main reason is for people claiming to have neck problems. We have all had stiff necks, or legit neck injuries. There is nothing worse than having to back your vehicle out of a parking spot. I have bulging cervical disks and always look for a “pull through” as Larry David calls them. A spot, in a remote area of a parking lot w/ no vehicle in front of yours. So, my surveillance footage of people easily backing out of parking spaces is important. Particularly when they have been posturing for the jury all week, moving their entire body instead of turning their head. I’m always the last witness. On a few occasions, when the plaintiff’s attorney had no other explanation for the drastic difference between the video and the actions in the courtroom, they have tried to get the video inadmissible as an invasion of privacy. They have never won that motion.

    Every day of our lives our images are captured. Surveillance is ubiquitous. My examples of surveillance differ in this case in that my video is only showed to a jury. I’m not posting the images anywhere. HOWEVER, once my surveillance is admitted as evidence it is public record. I have had footage played on TV showing insurance fraud. But, the images of these idiots are not part of a public record. My take is the bozos have a decent shot if they sue. The irony being then the images become public record and can be displayed!!

  12. what ever I carried my baby and squirtted milk on the man’s head n front of me. He whipped it like what the hell.??? A good sport he was. And in the end we are all the same. Just ppl. Who want to leave alone and be left alone. He could have sued me…..but he was a human being….at core human beings just wanting peace. Wiped it off. Live and let live. The sooner we respect that fundmenatl urning to be left alone….the sooner we achieve ….humanity. I wish it didn’t take government. Noo wait it doesn’t we can be decent despite a cause of action.

  13. This is why I will only fly first class. This sort of behavior is expected as airlines continue to compromise their standards for lower fares so they can pack in as many poors as possible.

  14. We have become a nation of the self centered and the childish. The passengers who “misbehaved” are exhibiting the same self centered narcissistic tendencies as the “shammers”. We are no longer a civil society. Many people do what they can get away with and that starts at the top!

  15. If this becomes popular I wonder how people will worry to fly and their image pasted to the internet.

    I wonder if they waive their privacy by joining the group, which takes the photographs.

  16. Why aren’t the stewards addressing this during the flight…
    … “Excuse me sir, but the foot rest is below the seat. Thank you.” Or, “Excuse me sir, shirts are required to be worn at all times.”

    Why not steward shame, instead?

    The yahoo link even shows a stewardess taking someone’s order while not addressing the man stretched out with his feet on the passengers headrest ahead of him. Some people can be shameless, I get that. But for a steward to complain about their passengers unruly behavior when the steward refuses to address that unruly behavior when it happens… I just hope none of them are parents.

  17. I actually cancelled my following of her site a couple of weeks ago when it became apparent that she was more interested in “shaming” people whose actions she took offense with. With the intrusion of TSA in the boarding process and many people choosing to fly with easily removable items, it feels disingenuous to compare passengers on a plane to customers in a restaurant. Really? Serving “food”? Have you never been in a restaurant in Southern California?

  18. i saw some of the pictures and i hope she has money. one of the pics she took was of a toddler using his/her potty in the aisle while i think that is disgusting all the way around. im wondering would she get charged with distributing child pornography by posting that pic. you’re right most of the pics make it impossible for many to be identified by anyone but themselves but isnt that where the problem comes in? some of the pics include people not sleeping or exercising or using a potty in the aisle and yet their images are now posted all on the net

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