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Censored: Should I watch R-rated videos on a plane?

Nov. 26, 2019
6 min read
Toddler kid on plane
Censored: Should I watch R-rated videos on a plane?
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"Game of Thrones" is one of the most popular (and violent) television shows in recent history. For those who haven't seen it, the series that chronicles the epic battle for the Iron Throne has such savage scenes that even a simple decapitation looks downright tame.

It's the perfect show to binge watch at 35,000 feet. Or is it?

That's the question one Reddit user had for the Internet.

A traveler who recently flew from Europe to the United States, known only as SCM2323, decided to download the popular show and watch it during the transatlantic flight.

"Two days ago, I was on a long-haul flight in an aisle seat," SCM2323 posted in the subReddit AITA, short for "Am I The A**hole", where users share stories and other readers vote on their behavior. "Since I haven't seen 'Games of Thrones' yet, I was looking forward to binge watch[ing] the first season."

"An hour or two into watching, the woman two rows behind me [tapped] on my shoulder and told me that I need to turn it off immediately. A little bit confused, I asked why. She told me that her young son could see the show playing on my tablet, and [that the show is] totally not suited for such young children because of the sex and violence ... While I agree with that, I told her that I'm not going to turn it off. She then basically told me that I am an a**hole for not considering other people around me. Is she right?"

SCM2323 went on to state that the traveler used headphones throughout, and that the inflight entertainment system offered "various movies and [TV] shows that were also not suited for children," although SM2323 added that none of the content offered on the plane appeared to be as graphic as "Game of Thrones."

Less than one week later, SCM2323's post on Reddit has collected nearly 5,000 comments and more than 26,700 votes, with the Internet ultimately deeming SCM2323 "not an a**hole."

"Certainly, 'Game of Thrones' is not appropriate for a child," said fellow Redditor Lord_Void_of_Evil, whose comment earned more than 21,600 upvotes from fellow readers. "But this is a rather unreasonable request. She is two rows behind you; it is not like [the show] is just playing in the kid's face. She could have swapped seats with the kid or distracted him. If all else failed, she could have politely asked if you would mind angling your tablet so he couldn't see it. Instead, she jumped straight to telling you that you had to turn it off...."

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But a number of Redditors also disagreed. "They're on an airplane, not in a bar," khay3088 said. "It's not an adult space, it's a public space. Most flights aren't [exclusively for travelers ages 18 and over]. Public space should be reasonably appropriate for all ages. If he wants to watch [the show], he needs a way to block the screen; privacy screens are pretty cheap and convenient."

Each situation is different, but some universal principles of good etiquette apply. If you find yourself in SCM2323's predicament, what should you do? We consulted two experts — flight attendant Kelly Kincaid of Jetlagged Comic and Diane Gottsman, owner of the Protocol School of Texas — as well as a number of TPG staff members.

Who has the right of viewership?

"In my opinion, the viewer has right of screen," Kincaid said. "With that said, it's the responsibility of the viewer to respect those around them and make conscious choices about what they're watching." Kincaid went on to explain that the airline she works for doesn't have a clear-cut policy around the issue of inflight entertainment, and said that "it's hard to set specific rules on what content people are allowed to watch," although the rules are more strict on content of a sexual nature.

"When in doubt, don't," Gottsman agreed. "When you’re on an airplane, you’re in public domain, and you should be respectful of other passengers. Your taste is not their taste, and what you do at home is different than what you do in public."

Specifically where children are involved, Gottsman urged that adults be mindful of what young children can see. "If you’re sitting next to a young kid, you want to look out for the person next to you. If people are getting maimed on screen, as a civil human being, you’ve got to be respectful of that young child."

"I would parent my child, but there is a line of things adults just shouldn't watch in public," said Summer Hull, aka Mommy Points and a director of content at TPG.

Benét Wilson, TPG's credit cards editor, agreed. "There are things adults should only watch at home."

Gottsman suggests using common sense and courtesy when considering appropriate material for viewing on planes and in other public spaces. "You should have a privacy filter on your computer, the volume down," and the brightness of the screen adjusted to reflect the surroundings as well. "If it's dark and you're watching something and there's a light, that's offensive."

TPG senior writer Lori Zaino believes that, "If it’s on your personal seatback inflight entertainment system, it’s fair game," since most plane screens are designed to filter content so that it's more difficult for anyone other than the seat occupant to see what's playing. Zaino also said that she exercises different levels of cultural sensitivity depending on the region of the world she's traveling through; in more conservative countries, she respects local norms by being more mindful of her viewing content.

How to handle an offensive fellow traveler

SCM2323's situation actually presented two questionable actions up for discussion: Whether or not SCM should have watched a graphically explicit show in a public space, but also the response from the mother of the young child.

"You can ask people to be respectful of your space, but you can’t tell them what to do," Gottsman said regarding the woman's demand for SCM2323 to stop watching "Game of Thrones."

"Rights within reason: Two rows away, she has to stay in her own space."

Richard Kerr, TPG's loyalty and engagement editor, suggested a different approach that would not have infringed on other travelers' rights: "Hey sir or ma'am, can you angle your [screen] away so my kids can't see that?"

At the end of the day, Gottsman's take on both scenarios is that, "If you have to think about it, the answer is no."

If you have to think about whether or not a show is appropriate to watch in a public space, you might want to refrain from doing so. And similarly, if you have a bone to pick with a fellow traveler, you should leave the disagreement in the hands of the professionals. "If you have a problem with someone, let a flight attendant know and they will deal with it," she said. "Don't take matters into your own hands."

Stick with these two rules, and you'll never end up the subject of a Reddit discussion.

Featured image by Getty Images