Galley Gossip: Groped on the airplane, what to do?

Groped on the airplane, it happens. A lot. Has it happened to you?

A few years ago I found myself standing in the business class galley with a few of my colleagues, when a very large man who worked for a very large company walked into the galley with an empty glass. Now this very large man, the one with the very large job title, had a seat in first class, which should have been my first warning sign. Passengers in first class do not wander back to business class. As I filled his glass with whiskey, I felt a little pinch on my you know what. I jumped, eyes wide, looked at him, looked at the crew, looked back at him, and did not say a word. No one said a word. And then he did it again.

I had forgotten all about that incident until I read a hilarious article (or maybe a not so hilarious article, depending on who you are and how you feel about these kinds of things) about a writer named Jeremy Langmead and his recent experience on a Virgin redeye flight to New York. The story, Get a Grip of Yourself, Madam, Not me, was posted on the website. As the title suggests, Jeremy got manhandled on the airplane by his seatmate, Louise. We’ll get to that later, because what happened next is just as interesting.

Now I had just about finished writing this post (or was it that post?) when comments from another post I had recently written, Middle Seat Etiquette, came pouring in. And wouldn’t you know it, a Gadling reader named Ben had a very similar experience with his seatmate. Only this wasn’t just a young drunk woman named Louise, this was a middle-aged woman with a son the same age as Ben!

Here’s Ben’s horrible (double whammy) experience of being groped in a middle seat…

This could have happened in any seat, but it so happened to occur one of the few times I found myself in a middle seat. I usually have enough notice before a flight date that I can scrounge up a window or aisle, but this time I just found out a few hours before, so I had to take a middle seat. I was between a middle-aged gentleman at the window, and a similarly aged woman in the aisle. The man stayed quiet for most of the flight, but the woman and I got to chatting. She had a son about my age who had recently dropped out of college and was moving back home. She was concerned about is future, and was asking me about my plans and interests. It turned out we shared many similar tastes and hobbies. All seemed like a normal congenial talk until about 90 min. into the IAD-SFO flight. Her right hand had found its way onto my left thigh. We had never bothered to put down the arm rest between us.

I twitched my leg and her hand quickly moved back to her lap. I chose to ignore her action, hoping it was a simple slip, and wanting to continue the nice company. We continued to talk, but about 15 minutes later her hand had now found its way higher up on my thigh, and she was gently rubbing up and down. At this point I had to put a end to it. I very firmly told her to stop, and I took her hand and removed it from my leg. The armrest went down, and I quickly retreated to my iPod and book. We departed the plane four+ hours later without another word being spoken. I still wonder what she was thinking (perhaps I know too well), but of all things that has crossed the line in passenger etiquette, this one has remained one of the most memorable. I suppose such an event could have taken place in any seat, but something about the confining nature of the middle seat made it all the more acute.

And so I added Ben’s story into this post, and just when I thought I was done, another passenger with a similar story shared her experience about being groped on the airplane, only this time it was a woman being groped by a man. Here’s what happened to Brenda…

It happened to me on a flight from Auckland, New Zealand to LAX! I was in the upper cabin of the 747, and sitting next to me was a man involved in the New Zealand government. The cabin had been darkened and almost everyone was sleeping. I was asleep and suddenly found his hand on my thigh, slowly moving – I was shocked! I looked over my seat towards the galley and the flight attendant saw me looking towards her and silently mouthing the words “Help me” She came right over and cleared her throat very loudly ( the dude was pretending to be asleep, but he really wasn’t) He didn’t even look embarrassed at being busted. Don’t get me wrong, I love kiwis, but not that much!

Obviously, with all this groping going on, I had to scrap the original groped post and completely start over. I mean who cares if Louise does not know how to behave on an airplane when there are several passengers behaving badly, very very badly, onboard the airplanes. Originally I had accused Jeremy of not reading the warning signs when Louise, his seatmate, proclaimed they’d be spending the night together, as she sat down beside him, and then proceeded to down not one, but two glasses of champagne. But then look what happened Ben and Brenda. There were no warning signs.

Sorry, Jeremy.

In the first post I had written something about Louise probably being, deep down inside, a really nice girl. That is when she’s not getting drunk on the airplane and throwing herself at strange men. And then I went on to question why the alarm in Jeremy’s head did not go off. I followed that question by posing another question, do men even have the internal alarm signal? That perv alert that so many of my women friends and I have, the one that tells you to move seats NOW? As in GO GO GO! But then I read what happened to Ben and Brenda. There were no perv alerts! Just pervs.

Again, sorry, Jeremy.

Poor Jeremy got poked, and prodded, and had a thigh squeezed, as well as a rib knocked, and eventually began to wonder if he should switch seats. (Gee I wonder?) This was the point in the story where I began to laugh out loud. Again, I’m sorry Jeremy, but I had to laugh! Not because of all that occurred, because it shouldn’t have occurred in the first place, but because it occurred before the plane even took off! Unfortunately Jeremy felt a little odd complaining about Louise to the flight attendants. I’ll let Jeremy explain…

Despite it being 2008, and the genders edging towards equality, it still somehow feels wrong if a man can’t put up with a bit of uninvited, sexually predacious behaviour without seeking help from a not overly butch flight attendant. Fortunately, after one more thwarted attempt to arouse my interest, Louise fell asleep.

Okay, Jeremy, let me give you, and others, a word of advice. It doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman, no one should ever have to go through what you went through with Louise on that flight to New York. I know some of you will find this hard to believe, but the flight attendants are there for you. They are there to help you. Not judge you. And they want to help you, particularly when there’s a groper onboard. Trust me, we live for this kind of thing. No one, not a passenger, nor a flight attendant, should put up with being manhandled on a flight. Unless, of course, you like that kind of thing. Hey, you never know! I’ve seen some crazy things on the airplane.

If you find yourself on the airplane with an unwanted hand on your thigh….

1. Immediately excuse yourself from the situation. Just get up and go. You don’t have to say a word to the groper, no matter how nice they were before they started groping. If you’re the kind of person who needs an excuse, just say you’re going to the lavatory, or that your headset doesn’t work, or that you’re thirsty and you need to get a drink, and then get up and start walking.

2. Look for an open seat. Did you find one? Take it! What are you waiting for? Who cares if it’s a middle seat. Unless, of course, getting groped is better than sitting in that middle seat. I know, it’s a close one.

3. Tell a flight attendant. Tell the flight attendant what exactly is going on. Do not be afraid. This is an airplane, not a bar or a hotel, but a place where people and children travel together in a safe and not so comfortable environment. The flight attendant will gladly help you handle the situation, and make sure this situation does not happen again on a future flight.


Photos courtesy of: (passenger) Davitydave, (empty seat) Simonk