What’s the Deal With Plane Passengers AirDropping Other Passengers?

Getting unsolicited images in the sky is not cool

What’s the Deal With Plane Passengers AirDropping Other Passengers?
Unsplash/Miguel Tomás

AirDropping to strangers is not a new thing. A few months back, while waiting in an absurdly line for a ride at Universal Studios with my sister and partner, someone unfamiliar to me AirDropped me a photo of a clownfish overlaid with the question: “Where the fuck is my dad?”

For the uninitiated, AirDrop is a file-sharing feature on Apple devices that lets users “drop” photos and videos, among other things, to other Apple devices using Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, from up to 30 feet away. Via your settings, you can either opt to receive from everyone (literally, everyone), or only from people in your contacts. My settings made me discoverable to everyone.

Could it be argued that the incident at Universal was invasive? Probably. Was it hilarious given the nature of the photo and the particular set of circumstances under which it was sent? Definitely, yes. That said, things have taken a bit of an insidious turn of late…particularly where air travel is involved.

According to a new report from Forbes, nine people were arrested at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport this week after they began AirDropping photos of plane crashes to unsuspecting passengers — even causing one to faint — prior to takeoff. The plane was forced to return to the gate for a full sweep of the aircraft, luggage included.

Similarly, in March, an Alaska Airlines flight was delayed — and police called to the scene — at Orlando International Airport, after 10-year-old boy AirDropped a threat to several other passengers. In another instance, this one taking place last year, a United plane was evacuated at San Francisco International Airport after an image of a firearm was airdropped onto several passengers phone. Again, the culprit wound up being a teenager and the firearm, an Airsoft gun.

Other passengers, still, have used the feature to disseminate porn on flights — even to children — resulting in announcements urging everyone in the cabin to turn off their AirDrop. Just last week, after receiving some pretty salacious requests on a United flight himself, travel writer Kyle Stewart spoke to a flight attendant who shared a specific incident in which a woman AirDropped her Only Fans to as many passengers she could, in an apparent attempt to self-promote her account.

From a legal standpoint, in almost every scenario the sender would likely be the one held liable. But, as Stewart points out, things could also get a little tricky for the receiver if the images, or videos, in question happen to involve minors. Fortunately, there’s an easy fix: just make yourself undiscoverable prior to boarding. You may wind up missing out on the occasional “Finding Nemo” meme, though it’s a small price to pay to not have to receive porn and/or anything alluding to a terrorist attack while 35,000 feet in the air.


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