By now you’ve probably seen the viral TikTok of a pilot—apparently on a Southwest flight to Cabo—threatening his passengers that he’ll literally turn the plane around if someone doesn’t stop airdropping dick pics to fellow passengers. It was certainly one way to capture flyers’ attention over the intercom, and I daresay it was a pretty fair request.
“So here’s the deal—if this continues, when we’re on the ground, I’m going to have to pull back to the gate, everybody is going to have to get off, we’re going to have to get security involved and this vacation is going to be ruined,” the pilot says on the intercom in the TikTok, posted on Aug. 25 by Teighlor Marsalis (@teighmars). Any iPhone or Macbook within a 30-foot radius can receive photos from other iOS products, and select whether to accept or decline the photos—but no matter what they select, they’ll see a preview of the image. “So you folks, whatever that airdrop thing is, quit sending naked pictures, and let’s get you to Cabo.”
In an email to Jezebel, Marsalis confirmed the video had been taken from her Southwest flight to Cabo last week. According to Marsalis, the rest of the flight “went great,” and after the pilot “addressed the situation, it stopped.” It’s not clear whether the perpetrator of these unsolicited lewd photos was ever uncovered or faced any consequences. “I believe the pilot did exactly what he should have done,” she said.
Unfortunately, this cyber-flashing incident wasn’t an isolated one. As if travel this summer weren’t already inconvenient and miserable enough, there was at least one other documented incident of airdrop abuse: On a separate flight in June—also allegedly on Southwest—another TikToker exposed a man airdropping photos of his genitals to passengers. “’Meet Larry who just airdropped the whole flight photos of his peepee,’” TikTok user Mackenzie (@daddystrange333) wrote in the caption of the video. ”Thankfully, I accepted it, saw who was sending it, and immediately started speaking up. Stay tuned for the police escort.”
In the TikTok, she pulls aside a flight attendant and explains, “This man is airdropping everybody…inappropriate photos.” When the attendant asks “Larry” why he’s “doing that,” despite receiving a reminder that there are children on the flight who could be exposed to his photos, “Larry” casually responds: “I don’t know. Just having a little fun.” In a follow-up TikTok, @daddystrange333 claimed that “Larry” was arrested shortly after the plane landed.
That… tracks. Some states, including New Hampshire as of June and Texas since 2019, recognize the sending of unsolicited nudes—or cyber-flashing—as a misdemeanor. A 2018 study found nearly half of women have received unsolicited photos of male genitalia before, and even more disturbingly, of these women, about half were under 18 years old when it happened to them. Well before covid times made flying a pain, the FBI reported inflight sexual assaults had increased by 30 percent from 2018 to 2019.
While cyber sexual misconduct is clearly becoming an issue during air travel, when many passengers are within 30 feet of each other and locked in an enclosed space, airlines thus far seem ill-equipped to respond. In an email to Jezebel, Southwest said it “didn’t produce or release the TikTok video” in question, and “cannot validate the date, flight or authenticity of the recording.” The airline also failed to respond to requests for specific steps being taken or policies being implemented to protect passengers, or support those who are exposed, instead simply stating: “The safety, security and wellbeing of Customers and Employees is the Southwest Team’s highest priority at all times. When made aware of a potential problem, our Employees address issues to support the comfort of those traveling with us.” Spirit, United, Delta, and Alaska Airlines didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment about any actions they’re taking to protect passengers.
It’s discouraging that airlines don’t seem particularly interested in this issue, beyond trying to distance themselves from viral TikToks. But there’s blame to go around: Women and advocates have been calling on Apple to fix its airdrop features for years now, including by removing preview images, changing default settings on phones to allow airdropped photos from contacts, rather than everyone, and to give users a warning when they change their airdrop settings to allow anyone to send them photos. A few small updates from Apple could go a long way in protecting women from cyber-flashing—on airplanes and beyond.
In these covid times (which we are still very much in), flying can be an agonizing ordeal characterized by canceled or delayed flights, high costs, and other stressors. Now, unsolicited dick pics seem to be something else we need to worry about—and airlines don’t seem to care at all.