travel Flight attendants on being unwilling stars of viral videos. Liz Simmons

As any frequent social media user knows, airline passengers often record and post in-flight incidents – from frightening turbulence to unruly members of the public.

Often, these viral videos feature flight attendants just trying to do their duties, while being filmed without their consent.

These videos usually portray flight attendants either as heroes effortlessly managing difficult passengers or “villains” accused of being rude and unprofessional. Either way, the trend is emerging as an industrial issue, with unions arcing up about it and airlines bringing in new rules aimed at curbing the practice.

Unkind comments about appearance and age.

Going to work knowing that at any moment you may become the unwilling star of a viral video can exact a considerable toll on the wellbeing of flight attendants.

I (Liz Simmons) speak daily with flight attendants in Australia and abroad as part of my PhD research. From these discussions, I’ve heard from attendants who worry often about discovering videos of themselves featuring unkind comments about their appearance, age or employer.

One flight attendant, Kate*, described the disconcerting feeling of someone aiming a smartphone camera at her while she was simply trying to do her job, saying:

You don’t know why they’re filming or what they’ll do with it.

Marie spoke of being featured in a TikTok video during a safety demonstration, with viewers making fun of her appearance.

Charlotte, after refusing to serve more alcohol to an intoxicated passenger, had a camera thrust in her face, accompanied by threats to her job.