Mother Petitions For Inappropriate Content to Be Removed From In-Flight Entertainment Systems

A map is certainly benign entertainment — and questionable content may be suitable on a personal in-flight entertainment system — but what if the content in question is shown on a fixed screen with subtitles in front of children? Photograph ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

Sarah Coburn-Rothermel — a mother of two young children who lives in Tulsa — posted a petition wanting American Airlines, Austrian Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and NBC Universal to stop showing violent and sexually inappropriate movies and television programs on drop-down and bulkhead screens aboard airplanes after she allegedly witnessed several movies with French dialogue showing scenes with domestic abuse and sexual situations accompanied by English subtitles laced with profanity.
Because the description of the content in question occurred specifically on a flight from Vienna to New York operated by Austrian Airlines, Jaan Albrecht — who is the chief executive officer of Austrian Airlines — responded: “Thank you for making me aware of this topic. But Austrian Airlines does not have any drop-down or bulkhead screens on its aircraft anymore. Since August 2013, all our long-haul planes (destinations in the US are Chicago, New York and Washington D.C., from July 2014 on also Newark, New Jersey) have been upgraded with individual touch screens. Best regards!”
The petition in question currently has 3,017 supporters as of the time this article was posted at The Gate.
While I have seen content provided by the in-flight entertainment system aboard an airplane that may be considered questionable for the viewing of all audiences, I have never seen content alleged by Sarah Coburn-Rothermel shown in a circumstance where the viewer has no control whatsoever to hide it or turn it off — and if that really was the case, then I would have to agree with Sarah Coburn-Rothermel that such content is inappropriate.
However, the only time I have ever seen content which can be considered as offensive as described by Sarah Coburn-Rothermel is on in-flight entertainment systems where each seat has its own personal monitor where the viewer may choose what content to watch — or leave the system off, if desired. Even then, the viewer must listen to the content via a headset of some type, meaning that that viewer is the only person listening to the content. In that case, the viewer should be able to watch whatever he or she wants to watch.
Then again, there is the controversy as to what passengers watch on their own personal electronic devices. A discussion on FlyerTalk addressed this particular topic — pertaining to what do you do if your seatmate is watching adult videos on his laptop computer — and has since been locked.
I reported at The Gate on a particular discussion on FlyerTalk almost exactly five years ago on a similar topic pertaining to adult movies offered as entertainment in hotel rooms as one of the pay-per-view options. FlyerTalk members may have been divided on the issue — but a decision was reached by executives at Marriott International, Incorporated in 2011 to remove adult content from being offered in its hotel rooms.
I am not certain as to whether or not there is any correlation, but there was an announcement earlier this year that LodgeNet — the provider of content in the hotel rooms of Marriott hotel properties for years — was expected to file for bankruptcy. I suspect that was due to advances in technology — such as high-speed Internet — which can be considered disruptive to the business model of LodgeNet. However, I would not be surprised if the removal of adult content from the rooms in hotel properties operated by Marriott International, Incorporated did not exactly help matters for LodgeNet.
Now, I am not suggesting that the content on the in-flight entertainment systems of airlines is showing what was available for a fee by LodgeNet and other pay-per-view providers, which basically was considered pornography. However — unlike in a hotel room, which in and of itself offers privacy — if questionable content is being shown on a screen which cannot be hidden or turned off, does Sarah Coburn-Rothermel have a legitimate concern?
FlyerTalk member JVPhoto found the petition “interesting.” What do you think? Do you support this petition?
  1. I wish there was a petition I could sign to keep people who want to unilaterally decide what is appropriate or not over and beyond what regulatory authorities already rule, and to impose their (many would say bigoted) censorship criteria to others from the airplanes I use and, for that matter, any other public place which I patronize. For those who have not seen, that lady considers Spiderman to be inappropriate and is in favour of focusing in flight entertainment on “Johnny Carson reruns and Disney G-rated movies”. In fact, she believes that the very text of her petition already includes language inappropriate to minors. There is nothing ‘interesting’ about that petition, it is just yet another attack on individual freedom and a poorly disguised attempt to impose one’s personal definition of what is right or wrong, moral or immoral to everyone else. That said, there is hope for the petitioner. Airlines such as Iran Air and Saudia already have entertainment programmes that seem to fully comply with her exacting standards, and perhaps she would find flying with them a more morally satisfying experience. They even ban alcohol, which prevents children from being exposed to the highly distressing view of someone drinking a glass of wine. For the rest, I find her ideas morally inappropriate – in fact entirely objectionable and if I may say, not worthy of an article on the otherwise excellent “the Gate”, and yet I wouldn’t dream of asking to ‘disallow’ them :p .

    1. I appreciate the compliment on The Gate, orbitmic. Thank you.
      Although I generally agree with you, please allow me to throw a “curve ball” your way which may bolster your point of view pertaining to what many seem to perceive as the ridiculousness of this petition…
      You mentioned “Disney G-rated movies”, which could arguably include cartoons. How many times have you seen one cartoon character drop an anvil on the head of another cartoon character, or plant explosives inside the body parts of other cartoon characters and detonate them? The Itchy and Scratchy cartoons shown on The Simpsons actually lampoon cartoon violence from as many as 80 years ago. This especially applies to cartoons by Hanna-Barbera and Warner Brothers — Tom and Jerry and Bugs Bunny respectively, for example — created many years ago. Is that not violence? Should that not be banned?

  2. Orbitmic. I can say little more than I absolutely and wholeheartedly agree with you. Why people can not individually control themselves and filter their own exposure, but instead have to be intent on pushing their censoring on me, I can not understand, nor tolerate. I will agree with you that I find HER actions ‘morally inappropriate’ and ‘entirely objectionable.

  3. Problem is that nowadays mainstream TV also features scenes that some people would probably consider as inappropriate. Just think of an average Game of Thrones episode. Chances are you’re gonna get nudity, lots of swearing, bloody murder and if you’re lucky even a gay undertone… Enough to give any morally conservative person who’s glancing along on your screen a heart attack

  4. This is why so many people from other countries (especially in Europe) laugh at us (Americans). Pushing your own moral views on others seems to be a great American pastime. Perhaps this woman’s time would be better spent filling out a petition asking for some kind of gun control, or equal rights for all. But I doubt those are things she supports. Regardless, there are not many drop down screens left these days, as pointed out above, OS does not have ANY left. This leads me to believe she was watching someone else’s screen. Perhaps if she minded her own business, she would do us all a favor & just screw up her own kids, not everyone else’s

  5. In terms of personal entertainment screens, there is a solution: Privacy overlays. There is material that can be put over displays that only allows the content to be viewed head on.
    Certainly in coach sections where it’s rather confined, it would work well.
    It’s cheap, and it works.

  6. OrbitMic: +1
    Chinatraderjmr: Rest assured that no one laughs at “[all] Americans” for this woman’s ineptitude as a traveller or parent.

  7. Some people are over the top on their view of morality. Much of this goes back to the Puritans – who no one liked so they made their way to the new world.
    I’m offended at anyone who tries to push their agenda on others. Whether religous, gun control, socialism or morality. I don’t like to fly with parents of overbearing children but I haven’t started a petition to ban them. Maybe I should. Childless planes would load faster and everyone could do adult things on board. Children aren’t a problem – parents are.
    What is Junior going to do when he turns 18 and enters the real world without the helicopter mom? Become frozen and unable to move? Overindulge on all of the new found forms of stimulation?

    1. You would not be the first FlyerTalk member to discuss the idea of childless flights, puddinhead. Please click here for a short article on that topic posted three years ago here at The Gate.

  8. Just to add yet another different note: All the airlines which received the petition are also flying outside the U.S. – Austrian predominantly. From my own experience, all the content is perfectly fine with kids from outside the U.S. … if there is any issue with kids from the U.S. (which I doubt) please deal with it inside the U.S. …

  9. Hi Brian, Funny you should mention that because when I read her comment about Disney I was thinking exactly of that (a thought that frequently occurs to me when people talk of ‘violence on tv nowadays’). While Disney cartoons are typically rather dull by my taste, I have always much preferred Tex Avery/HB, etc which as you say are monuments of cruelty/unfairness etc and hilariously funny (especially the older ones). It is frequent to get scenes of gratuitous physical assault, murder, manipulation (e.g. Jerry goes to hit the dog and then makes the dog think it’s Tom who did it so that the dog will brutalise Tom, etc) which are often far cruder than even the most ‘violent’ films today. Of course the Walt Disney and Joseph Barberas of this world did not quite share the same ideological values 😉

    1. Confession: I still enjoy those cartoons — especially the trilogy of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd arguing over whether or not it is “duck season” or “wabbit season.” Guess what — I am not a violent person nor have I felt traumatized despite repeatedly viewing those cartoons over the years…

  10. Me too 🙂 Tom and Jerry is an old favourite. The only ones that really don’t do it for me are coyote and the roadrunner. I guess I like my baddies to be clever and mean rather than lucky and a bit naive 😉

  11. Hmm. This sounds like an idea for UA and its money grubbing board. Show G rated crap on all the screens and if you want to see a REAL movie, you pay! They already show garbage on the planes that have a single screen (the Internship).

  12. A note on the privacy screens – at least on newer planes – personal screens have stated to come with screens that do limit the viewing angles to the person in the seat. I’m not sure how old that is, but it is happening.

    1. Thank you for that information, SSteegar — and as always, I look forward to your next installment of Crewed Talk.

  13. If this woman is so bothered by what her child watches, perhaps she should have read ahead at the options available to her, and if she felt it necessary, taken a ship. Didn’t some woman on a UA flight cause a commotion earlier in the year because of the IFE as well? If you don’t want your children to know about the world and racy entertainment, keep them out of the real world.

  14. I have an idea! If you don’t like what is on the screen, DON’T WATCH IT! Instead, this person with too much time on their hands decided to ruin the experience of those who DO want to watch it because she feels her opinion is more valid than the person next to her. The rest of us put up with long security lines, baggage fees, lousy service, and somtimes expensive fares. The one thing we might actually be able to enjoy, in flight TV, is now being attacked by self righteous morons. Do us all a favor and use your time for something more constructive than censoring in flight entertainment.

  15. I was going to post a comment regarding how disgusted I was with this woman’s petition, but orbitmic already took care of that. I couldn’t agree with his opinion more.

  16. These kinds of parents really annoy me. An airplane is a public space, just accept that not all content will be kid friendly. Chances are the kids have already seen what the parent regards as “inappropriate.” These parents need to go find ways to actually be a parent instead of trying to crusade against the airline over what is a non issue.

    1. Come to think of it, matrixwalker2012 — after reading your comment, I do not believe I ever recall a young child ever being interested in watching questionable content. Adult content and themes are usually boring to them anyway — at least, from what I have observed. Usually they would rather play with a toy or be distracted by something else.
      Am I wrong here?!?

  17. There will always be a minority of people who think it’s OK to dictate what the rest of the travelling public should watch/do when aboard an aircraft.
    Hopefully they will be roundly ignored.
    It does interest me as to the age of the children…..surely if they are small children all they would see is a seat back from that vantage point, not the shared screens.
    Of course if you are that concerned you could always pick a regional jet or other aircraft with no screens at all, travel by train or coach ( or ship if it was to another continent ).

  18. I find missdimeaner’s point interesting: I often find it hard enough to watch what’s on my screen whenever the angle is ‘wrong’ so indeed, I guess small children would need special tweaking to see their own screen, let alone anyone else’s! And of course, if the annoying lady simply sits her child(ren) by the window and sits herself between them and the next person, there is absolutely no way they could enjoy a peak at anyone’s super-dangerous PG-13 kiss which would presumably traumatise them for life! 😉

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