Sex On The Plane: Felony and Filth.


Sex on the plane is a disaster from a flightcrew standpoint, plain and simple. This isn’t a  question of morality, which is none of my business. Rather, it’s a question of the captain’s responsibility and accountability for everything that happens in flight. So forget the nudge-wink-“stays in Vegas” marketing and “mile high club” mythology promoted by aging pinky-ring lotharios like Virgin Airlines CEO Richard Branson. Contrary to the fantasy, reality includes both filth and felony.

Consider the situation objectively and the problem becomes clear. First, the aircraft is a sealed environment with little personal space and nearly zero privacy. The latter fact alone should discourage behaviors that would lead to arrest and indecency charges in any other public place, but it doesn’t. And there’s an even darker side.

An NBC News report cited a recent increase in sexual assaults in flight. FBI agents say these crimes are difficult to prosecute because upon landing, potential witnesses scatter and are difficult to locate for testimony.  Neither the FAA nor the NTSB keeps track of these crimes statistically, making organized prevention difficult. Adding to the challenge is the reality that a darkened aircraft, particularly on late night flights, is tough to monitor, especially with an average ratio of one flight attendant per 50 passengers on a full flight.


There’s little personal space between airline passengers, often strangers, and many times the victims are asleep at the time of assault. Frequently these cases involve unaccompanied minors with little ability to defend themselves and on a full flight, in the air, there’s literally nowhere to go to escape. According to FBI Supervisory Special Agent Drew Ptasienski, victims of inflight assaults have also pretended to sleep through the attacks and this coping strategy may make an assault appear consensual to nearby passengers when the situation is really anything but.

Flight attendants are prepared to handle assault reports from passengers in flight, and the cockpit crew is more than willing to have federal law enforcement officers meet the aircraft on landing to investigate every case. Nonetheless, many assaults go unreported due to the shocking effect they have on the victims. According to Ptasienski, “Victims are so shocked they’re being assaulted, it takes them awhile to process it.” By the time they do, witnesses are dispersed and evidence gone.

Clearly, there needs to be a viewpoint shift among passengers in particular, to see “intimate” behavior in flight as completely unacceptable, consensual or otherwise: in many cases, passengers assumed what they’d witnessed was consensual, but in reality was a predator assaulting a victim. Yet if all passengers immediately reported every instance to the crew, no matter how things “appeared,” (a simple chime of the call button will bring assistance) the risk would be reduced for all potential victims.

Although such a strict and uncompromising vigilance and action would likely deter sexual assault in flight, such customer awareness runs counter to some marketing strategies. For example, according to a recent Slate article, Virgin Atlantic promises “a more intimate flight” than other airlines, and Virgin CEO Richard Branson encourages passengers to flirt and hook up on board:

Seriously? Consider the fact that a Today Show scientific analysis  rated the aircraft lavatory as the “second germiest place” you’ll ever experience–virtually a flying outhouse, a mile high Petri dish–and rethink the “romantic” aspect.

Consider also the question of what behavior should be tolerated by nearby passengers, especially when faulty assumptions can mask criminal actions, as noted above. Definitely, at least on the part of the crew, zero tolerance is essential, because notwithstanding Virgin’s claim that their crews “are not the type to interrupt” an amorous romp on the plane, after-the-fact accusations, questions of legal age, STDs, and unfortunately, drugs or alcohol will have to be accounted for by those responsible (read: the crew) for the safety of all aboard.

Then the question would be, why didn’t the crew intervene? Why did the crew allow this?



Ironically, despite the cheesy Virgin ad campaign, the reality for frisky Virgin passengers can be anything but romantic. Worse, the “more intimate flight” and such leering Branson “mile high club” marketing may backfire on an airline if a liability suit regarding an in-flight assault lands in court. Ultimately, airline crews have zero tolerance for any behavior on board that violates the law and victimizes any passengers. Flight attendants work hard to spot threats in the cabin, including human trafficking and illegal, threatening behavior.

But that’s not enough: two crucial changes are vital. First, passengers need to be both aware and intolerant of any such activity on board, never assuming that it is consensual. All incidents must be brought to the crew’s attention immediately.


And second, airline marketing strategy needs to evolve (most have–but not all) from the sniggering throwback sexual innuendo to less risky, more proactive and twenty-first century intolerance for a potential felony masked as “intimacy.” If Richard Branson wants to encourage membership in “the mile high club,” he should advertise hotel rooms in Denver.

Sex on the plane? More than just indecency in a public seat or a filthy lav–although it is every bit of that–worse, it’s a real threat, with real victims: see it, report it, stop it. Anything less makes you part of the disaster.




16 Responses to “Sex On The Plane: Felony and Filth.”

  1. Having just spent two hours in an A320 jetting between Barcelona and Vienna, I can certainly say that respecting your fellow passengers’ limited (pretty much non existent) personal space is paramount when traveling by air.

    Having traveled in economy class, I can see where it would be all too easy for a predator to hide an assault as flirting or as a well placed and seemingly accidental brush while reaching for something.

    • The beyond reasonable inflight libido is like alcohol on board: the crew is responsible for the safety of all aboard and excess in these areas is often considered “funny,” there’s a liability for passengers and crew alike. The crew has the accountability for whatever happens, so ignoring the situation is not an option.

      • True that. I don’t envy the crew at all, it must be a bear of job with the levels of responsibility it comes with.

        I never could quite figure out why alcohol has continued to be served served on flights when it’s long been known to have adverse effects on some passengers.

        High libido and alcohol intake is just asking for trouble on a flight I would imagine.

  2. Oh, don’t get me started on this topic. I was once subject to watching a couple going at it, and I still have such disgust for them. I even blogged about it, as a way to try to erase the visual from my head.

    Gross people these are, with no consideration for people around them.

  3. Wow, I have never had the desire to have sex on a plane let alone with a stranger. The idea that unaccompanied minors are getting molested is abhorent. I am going to share this on my facebook and reblog as this article needs to be read by everyone who flies. Thank you for addressing the reality of sex on a plane.–ugh

  4. Reblogged this on Sex, Spirit, Soul Mates and Chocolate….Ivonne's Journey and commented:
    If you fly the friendly skies you must read this post. Pilot Chris Manno addresses the realities of “sex on a plane” and even touches upon unacompanied minors that get molested inflight. A must read i need.

  5. Richard Branson disgusts me. I always thought there was something sleazy about naming your companies “Virgin”. Now he’s erased all doubt. And as a victim of sexual assault 36 years ago, and rape 33 years ago, his encouragement reeks of being an accessory before the fact. And he’s putting his crews, professionals, in an awful position. He’s scum.

  6. world webcams Says:

    To be honest Richard Branson is one huge attention seeker to increase is popularity and brand. This guys as tried many things that have failed to reach a high social status, and only cares about is business and high attention

  7. Oh please! I was a flight attendant for 42 years, and I never once witnessed a sexual encounter between two people on an airplane. I think there are just too many people who like to sensationalize this ‘so-called event’ just for the sake of sensationalism! Richard Branson, who is running a very profitable and exciting airline, (and certainly not a mile-high club), has been unfairly ostracized because of so many ‘proper and pious’ people who probably have a few skeletons in their own closets! Appreciate the fact that Branson is a very savvy business man who is laughing all the way to the bank, and quit being so jealous, because that is what we all wish we could do!

    • Guess you must be half blind–especially back then. Plus, you say it “never happened,” yet you imply “skeletons in the closet.” Can’t have it both ways. Ditto your notion that what you say never happened should be opposed by those who think it’s wrong.

      Jealous? Of you and your cats? Probably not.

    • I work for a law enforcement agency at IAD. Sexual assault is a regular occurrence on flights coming into IAD. So imagine what it is in the entire US. And what is even sadder than the occurrences, is that the US Attorney’s Office usually declines to prosecute due to lack of witnesses hanging around. I wonder how many you failed to witness.

    • Oh, and I must say that, as a woman who was a victim of sexual assault by coworkers, who had her name dragged through the mud and accused of having skeletons in my closet, I’m always very sad when a woman fails to believe other women.

  8. Bill Leader Says:

    Sir Richard Branson began his career selling records. According to a bio the name Virgin was a sly joke among the female workers during the Swinging 60s. How did Sir Richard somehow finagle a deal where a British airline flies inside the United States? We all know British airlines have been wanting to do this for years since the U.S. is the largest airline market in the world. Don’t you think Jock Bethune does a great job — it’s a great substitute for the old DFWpeople. Bill Leader, former editor DFWpeople

  9. Joesepeh Banks Says:

    One thing you need to do if you want to stop that kind of behavior is get the alcohol OFF the plane. Their is no room on a potentially dangerous machine flying miles in the air for a bunch of drunken passengers who couldn’t put on a life vest or anything else if they had to. Not to mention the loss of inhibition.

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