Drunk Guy in the Sky: My Problem?

I wrote a post yesterday about my worst seatmate ever. In this post, I described my experience being seated next to a sloppy drunk guy all the way from Rhode Island to California. He literally cried on my shoulder (think snot and tears), talked/slurred nonstop, and, for his grand finale, braced his body against mine so that he could triumphantly pop a zit.

The guy had clearly been to an airport bar before he even boarded the plane. However, when he first sat down next to me, he didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. He seemed a little clueless, but I assumed he didn’t fly much, and maybe he was nervous about being on a plane, so I was kind and polite. I answered his questions and listened to a couple of his stories. After awhile, I simply put on my headphones and tried to watch Dexter…but he angled in and continued to talk, ignoring the fact that I couldn’t really hear him.

As the flight wore on and the drinks cart rolled by, he began a drinking binge that lasted for hours, and he became more and more intoxicated. This was when he began to sob and drool on my shoulder, and to shake my arm for emphasis. When I asked (politely but repeatedly) him to stop, he sobbed harder. “I’m sorry!” he would wail. “I’m such a !@#*-up!” But he clearly couldn’t stop…he was slurry, sloppy drunk.

I got out of my seat and went to get help from the flight attendants. While they were sympathetic, they also (very nicely) said that they couldn’t do anything about it. I went back to my seat for awhile, but then, in a burst of drunken enthusiasm, my seatmate smashed me against the window as he popped his zit. That was enough to make me leave my seat for the rest of the flight.

The flight attendants rolled their eyes (at the situation, and the drunk guy, not at me) when I told them what happened. They offered me free snacks and drinks (ironic?), and let me sit in their jump seats for awhile. But it was a VERY long flight. When I got home, I wrote a letter to Southwest, telling them my story and suggesting that they reconsider (or better enforce) their drinks policy. It wasn’t a rant or an angry diatribe; it was a description of what happened.

Southwest responded with an apology, stating that they agreed that the drinks policy had gone awry with this guy, and sent me a few LUV vouchers.

And…story over. At least as far as I was concerned. But take a look at the comments on this post! I hit a nerve.

One of the things that has been most surprising to me is that some people seem to think that by writing a letter to Southwest, I was somehow trying to blame the airline for what happened, and that the blame instead rests squarely on my shoulders.

You should have spoken up and said you do not want to be disturbed and need privacy. However, you did what I would expected…. “When I got home, I wrote a long email to Southwest, and they gave me free flights”. Not sure why the airline is responsible.

Your mission accomplished. Shameful.

Here’s another:

The shameful part is that you failed to control the situation and then got LUV to give you free flights (I assume you meant to type PLURAL) for something they have no accountability or responsibility for.
This is the same as getting drunk in a bar and then blaming the bartender.

Yes, the dude was annoying, but not LUV’s fault. You could have handled it better unless you felt the guy would physically assault you if you spoke up. Which he did not sound like based on your account.

But bravo, you finagled a free flight (or more)


This guy was way over the line. Totally in my space. (And it wasn’t like I could walk off the plane!) Was that somehow my fault? Was I “asking for it” by kindly answering his questions?

Should I have “controlled the situation” with the drunk guy? “Handled it better?”

Kept quiet instead of writing a letter to Southwest?





  1. The only thing SWA did wrong (in all the tellings of your story I’ve read) is in continuing to serve this guy alcohol. Now that’s a very real thing and worthy of a letter to the airline.

    Everything else was just annoying – and we’ve all had seatmate who did similar things, although probably not all at the same time. :). If he was in your space, or you did t want to talk to him anymore it was in you to stop that. Sometimes you have to be rude to make a point to someone else.

    I think you’ve been painted with the brush of the entitled frequent traveler – those types of films who believe that every negative thing that happens is the provider’s fault and worthy of a write up/complaint in the hopes of compensation. Many people (myself included) think that’s far more annoying than a zit-popping seatmate.

    Again, I think if your letter was about the alcohol policy that’s valid. The rest, well, you got a great blog entry about it.

    • Points Pixie says:

      Alex – Thanks for your comment. My issue (and my letter) was all about their alcohol policy. I was not looking for compensation – I just stuck to the facts!

      I was grateful that SWA listened and clearly took my feedback seriously.

      I think that an “entitled” complaint about a broken IFE or armrest is a very different story than feedback about a slobbery drunk guy.

  2. I’m shocked at people’s responses to your story. When you have bad service at a restaurant your meal gets comped- by the restaurant. Not by the server, even though the server was to blame. It wasn’t like you asked SWA to send you vouchers. You paid for a service and it wasn’t up to par. Your flight should be relaxing and enjoyable. And they shouldn’t have continued to serve someone so intoxicated.

    • Points Pixie says:

      Nikki 😉 I was certainly hoping for a relaxing and enjoyable flight! On the positive side, I did get an entertaining story. Glad you got from my posts that I didn’t ask for vouchers 😉

  3. So interesting to read these perspectives! Those readers who thought your letter to Southwest was written from the perspective of an entitled traveller miss the point about being a savvy consumer. I believe those folks might find fault with my mother (a consumer par excellence) who has been known to return open milk if it smells like cigarettes (due to handling, etc). You could no more control the ingredients of a spoiled soufflé than you could control your seatmate’s poor behavior. I would not expect you to silently eat the spoiled dessert any more than I would expect you to suffer through a long flight drunk and unsanitary seatmate.

    • Alexander Stevens says:

      Hm – “savvy consumer” I think is a euphemism for someone who is willing to take advantage of a situation for their own gain when no gain is necessarily merited.

      You do not get to choose who you sit next to on a flight any more than you do at a theater or a restaurant, and if that person is rude it is not the restaurant or theater’s fault and they owe you nothing. A “savvy consumer” may press the issue and get something because the vendor thinks of that as good customer service, but they didn’t do anything wrong and don’t owe anything.

      Again in this are SWA was likely wrong jn serving the customer more alcohol, but that’s it. The rest of it is just advantage-taking, savvy or not.

      • alexander stevens, if it were you, would you just next next to that awful drunk throughout the flight queitly? i doubt you would.

        the writer obviously talked to the attendants about the drunk and they had NO POWER to do anything to the guy. the drunk was practically all over the writer’s personal space. if the writer was a FEMALE, and the drunk did the same thing, rubbing up against the writer, would it be so simple? argue all you want about the point i just brought up, but in legal terms, the drunk has already commited BATTERY; don’t believe me? find a lawyer. oops, i am one.

        so the writer escalated this matter to the proper people who COULD DO SOMETHING, which seemed to work because now Southwest has a complained reported and they have to do review or re enforce their on board drinks policy.

        so CONGRATS to the writer, I SALUTE YOU! if i travel on southwest the next time, i am happy to know it is now less likely for me to be sitting next to a drunk becuase the airline will now have review/enforce their drinking policy.

        • Points Pixie says:

          Superman – Love your enthusiasm! Just so you know, I am female 🙂

          Thanks for the congrats and also the salute.

    • Points Pixie says:

      Ginger – I think that especially under the circumstances (drunk guy grabbing me and drooling on me), it was important to speak up and let SWA know that their policy was causing problems. In my case, it turned out okay, but things certainly could have gone a different way here.

  4. Just out of curiosity, how many letters have you written to service providers (hotels/restaurants/airlines etc.) over the years?

    I would feel one way if you said this is the second such letter you’ve ever written. On the other hand, if your past “record” is that of a chronic complainer, I would feel differently. Some people play the written complaint route darn near for sport.

    • Points Pixie says:

      Colleen – I write a letter whenever I have an exceptionally great OR an exceptionally awful experience. The last letter I wrote was a few weeks ago, when a City of Berkeley employee went out of his way to help me. I think compliment letters are too few and far between, so I write them whenever I can. On the other hand, I let the little things go when I am traveling (hair in the bathtub, broken armrest), because I think life is too short to spend time focusing on that kind of stuff. However, if a drunk guy grabs me and slobbers on me because the flight attendants keep serving him drinks even though he is drunk, I think a letter is important!

      • OK. How many letters of complaint (negative) have you written in the past year?

        Hotels/ Airlines/Restos.

        • who cares?! She wrote a letter addressing a poor experience and a legitimate concern re: the drinking. Let’s not get all nit picky

  5. Personally I’m a fan of giving feedback. Not once or twice over the years, but few times a year or as warranted. Not just about poor experiences, but those great times as well. Absolutely! Feedback about areas for improvement are never with the intention to “get” something tangible, rather an effort to make the overall experience better moving fwd. If (seems like only a couple) readers are making assumptions about what you expected to get out of giving feedback, well that just says something about how they think.

    • Points Pixie says:

      Rebecca – I’m a fan of feedback, too! By the same token, I appreciate reading reviews/feedback online so I can make an informed decision.

  6. Some people here are completely clueless! The airline has a responsibility to ensure your safe travel, part of that is to make your personal space is not invaded. When you buy a ticket you are given a seat, having a seatmate crying on your shoulder and completely invading your personal space is ridiculous!!!! He is lucky he wasn’t sitting by me or I would of kicked his ass. Any unwanted touching is assault under the law and I have a right to defend myself! Someone mentioned it is like a bartender serving someone, in that case if a bartender over serves a person and that person goes and kills someone, not only will the bartender be held liable but the owner of the bar will also be held responsible for contributing to that person’s death. The real problem is that 90% of people are sheep and won’t rock the boat and they just take it. Good for you for filing a complaint and even better that Southwest gave you a free flight since they realized your experience was not up to their customer service standards!!!

  7. pinkisnice says:

    How is Pixie taking advantage of a multi-billion dollar company by writing a letter that they easily could have ignored?! If Southwest didn’t think her feedback warranted a flight voucher, they simply would have sent her an apology, some drink coupons, or nothing at all. I’ve written them with what I believed were legitimate complaints and didn’t get anything for free, but a sympathetic ear. And that was fine with me! I’m in the service industry, and treasure when people let me know about positive or negative experiences, because then I can continue to improve my business. When appropriate, I thank consumers in whatever way I can. This is brand management and capitalism at play, people. If we’re reading this blog, we’re all in the game. I really don’t see how Pixie’s story was working the system – which is what most of the points and miles community is about anyhow (to which I say, hurrah, regardless). These companies are calling the shots, no matter how much we are able to optimize their promotions. I’m so confused as to why a community of people who are reading a blog that helps maximize the benefits of travel-related offers would get on such a high horse over writing a private letter to a service provider that led to that same end.

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