The seat-to-seat chat function on Virgin Atlantic is a confusing feature that I’ve only used once, which was when I was flying with someone else and we didn’t have seats together. (And even then, our only correspondence was “a/s/l,” because...what else is there?) Still, any possible utility the chat function might have is nothing compared to its potential for abuse. As one woman found out during her London to D.C. flight on Saturday, just because you’re 30,000 feet off the ground doesn’t mean you’re safe from sexual harassment!
According to CNN, Jessica Van Meir got up to use the bathroom when unsolicited messages started appearing on her screen:
The unwelcome messages appeared to come from a group of passengers sitting behind her, who she passed on the way to the restroom.
One message named her seat number specifically and called her “tidy babe.” Another message from a different seat number says “welcome to hell.”
Ugh, what the fuck. Airplanes are nightmarish enough without being bothered by the pig people behind you, who, wouldn’t you know, turned out to be an actual rugby team. Fortunately Van Meir, a paralegal, was not about to be cowed into her seat for the next eight hours, typing back, “i work for a law firm that specializes in online sexual harassment. enjoy being reported to virgin.” She alerted flight attendants to her situation, who got Van Meir’s permission to speak to the men sending the messages. Per CNN:
The harassment stopped after that, and the crew checked on her throughout the trans-Atlantic flight, Van Meir said.
But Van Meir she said she was left thinking about this for the rest of the flight.
“It’s on a regular basis that women are catcalled,” Van Meir told CNN Monday. “It’s exhausting and it makes you feel unsafe.”
“I was also appalled and disappointed that someone would be so disrespectful and entitled as to send me messages on a flight when I’m traveling on my own just trying to enjoy my flight peacefully and not be harassed by anyone.”
Yes, imagine. Van Meir pointed out the happy irony that the rugby bros chose her to target:
“It’s definitely an odd coincidence that they picked the wrong person to send these messages to because I deal with these kinds of incidents on a regular basis with my work,” she said.
Virgin has said it’s phasing out seat-to-seat messaging across its fleet. It will not be missed.