The year 2017 could very well go down in history books as the year air travel has finally hit rock bottom. Where do we even begin? There's "leggings-gate", that time a pilot freaked everyone out with an unhinged rant, and, of course, the epic PR nightmare where a passenger was violently dragged off an overbooked United flight. And now, yet another atrocity has dawned on the Internet: Last week, Twitter user @jessiechar shared a photo of her not-so-pleasant encounter with a fellow passenger's bare feet two seats away from her.
On Char's flight, someone behind her on the plane was apparently using the armrest as her footrest, but it surprisingly didn't stop there: Said passenger also manoeuvred her left foot to open the cabin window. Char's tweets have since gone viral and sparked a series of memes, with many users also taking to the social media to share horror stories of a similar nature.
Granted that Char's experience was nowhere as concerning (or legally questionable) as the United incident. And while it's fun to regale in these shared nightmarish experiences, the sheer magnitude of the responses over Char's innocuous tweet — at 30,000 likes and counting — did get us thinking: Why do people resonate with these horrible travel experience so passionately?
One explanation could be that having your opinions broadcasted online can be very powerful: It casts a lot of weight against the party you feel wronged by, and you feel validated in the process. However, many people also do it for the attention. Studies have linked social media with approval-seeking behaviour, and the instant gratification of having thousands of people agree with you — and perhaps, a brush with viral Internet fame — are reasons that can't be ignored.
With the ubiquity of cell phone cameras, taking stealth snaps — and subsequently airing your grievances on social media — has become a convenient emotional outlet. It feels like an easy way out, compared to having am uncomfortable face-to-face confrontation about the problem — especially if you're stuck on the plane for the next couple of hours with no where else to run.
"There are a two things that happen when we feel like something or someone has aggrieved us: The emotional reaction and the practical reaction," says Lizzie Post, a celebrated etiquette author and host of the Awesome Etiquette Podcast. "The emotional reactions — ranging from appalled to frustration — needs a place of release. In this digital era, people feel like they can voice that anger and emotion publicly. But, venting to families or friends would have sufficed in order for you to move onto the practical reaction: Confronting the parties involved in a composed manner."
"There are more appropriate ways to be powerful in public: The outcome is always better if you separate your emotion from the issue."
While it may be convenient to use internet outrage to enforce etiquette norms, Post says there are good reasons not to do so. For one, name-calling or bringing other people down is never necessary.
"The more we can exercise our emotions in constructive ways, the better chance we have in making this online forum useful," says Post. "There are more appropriate ways to be powerful in public: The outcome is always better if you separate your emotion from the issue."
So, what's the best way to deal if you find yourself victimised by someone's unsavoury behaviour? It's best to keep the big picture in mind — and check yourself — before turning to Internet shaming at the first instance. As Post puts it: "The next time you compelled to share your complaints online, ask yourself first: What's my real purpose — get a full refund, or be part of a splashy sensation?"