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Queeries: The Etiquette of Porn on Planes

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2012-01-03-Airplane.jpgQuestion: "Over the holidays I was squeezed into my coach seat like thousands of jammed-in others, but unlike many others (I hope), I sat next to a straight man watching what seemed to be porn on his iPad. (I say a straight man because of what he was watching, but I guess he could have been gay or bi.) As much as I tried to look the other way, I couldn't help but see some of the action taking place and was glad that there were no children in viewing distance. Don't get me wrong, I like porn -- at home -- but this seemed offensive and intrusive. I was hesitant to say something directly to him, but instead of twiddling my thumbs, what would you have suggested I do?"

Answer: When the Apple geniuses wrote their marketing copy for the newest iPad ("Instant On" and "Everything effortlessly springs to life"), I don't think they anticipated the manners faux pas you're reporting. Like texting while driving, just because technology allows you to do something doesn't mean you should. Sometimes simple, low-tech manners should prevail, and this is definitely one of those times.

Let's be clear: porn is "at-home" entertainment and should never be shared with strangers on a plane. Ironically, the European low-cost carrier Ryanair recently announced the launch of a new in-flight app that would allow passengers to watch pornography at 30,000 feet (for an additional fee, of course). When pressed by reporters, Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary responded, "Hotels around the world have it, so why wouldn't we?" While the smart money says Ryanair's triple-X app will never see the light of day, Kate Hanni, executive director of the consumer advocacy group, says, "Flight attendants get these kinds of requests all the time."

So let me say this to any others who are contemplating loading up their tablets with X-rated fare: public spaces demand consideration for the comfort of others and are not for, er, private activities.

Sure, there are some who make excuses for such boorish behavior by claiming that passengers today simply don't know how to behave because the rules are ill-defined and out-of-date. Yes, it's true that manners often evolve more slowly than the tidal wave of tech advances, but it doesn't take much more than a dollop of common sense to know that porn on planes is wrong. It's not just the possible accidental exposure to children that makes it ill-advised. There's really nobody who needs to see anyone else's private Idaho.

But what to do? As we all learned from Alec Baldwin's recent tarmac tumult, flight attendants are empowered to wrangle rude or unruly passengers into better behavior. While there are no specific regulations regarding public porn viewing onboard, flight crews are responsible for the safety and comfort of all passengers, and we all know from the multitude of video demos shown before takeoff that "federal law requires passengers to follow posted placards, lighted information signs and all crew instructions."

In your case I would have urged you to do one or both of the following:

  • Start by noting to your seatmate, politely of course, that their video is visible to others, which you're concerned that they "might not be aware of." Actually, you're trying to save them from any embarrassment! Still, if it's being played on a seatback, they're already so outside the lines of appropriate behavior that suggesting nicely but firmly, "Would you mind watching your movie in private?" would probably result in a brush-off. Or, as a former flight attendant with 29 years of experience explained to me, "People willing to view porn in public places, such as airliners, are basically pigs."
  • If you're rebuffed with something like "you're a prude" or "then don't look," get up discreetly and inform one of the flight attendants, leaving it with them to do any necessary manners (or legal) enforcement. According to Brian Hamric, who's been a flight attendant for 11 years, if necessary, he and his colleagues can speak with the pilots, who can request that police meet the flight and charge the offender with refusing to follow crew instructions or interfering with a flight crew.

By the way, there's a reason why folks used to cover their racy material in brown paper covers; they wanted to spare themselves embarrassment and spare their neighbors unwanted smut.

And if you're ever the one who simply can't wait to deplane before boning up on your X-rated videos, then please have the courtesy to bring your own computer, plug in the ear buds, and use one of the many privacy screen protectors on the market that make it impossible to see your screen from a side angle. However, do not consider this advice as condoning the indefensible.

(By comparison, becoming a member of the "mile-high club" now seems almost quaint -- at least such activity usually takes place in the privacy of the aircraft restroom!)

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Steven Petrow is the author of Steven Petrow's Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners and can be found online at Got a question? Email him at, or contact him on Facebook and Twitter.