-- When it comes to public displays of affection, how much is too much on an airplane?
Leisha Hailey, an actress and musician who starred on the Showtime lesbian life drama The L Word, tweeted this week that Southwest Airlines drew the line when she kissed another woman and was later escorted off the plane.
"I have been discriminated against by @SouthwestAir,'' Hailey tweeted Monday. "Flight attendant said that it was a 'family' airline and kissing was not ok."
Hailey, and the other woman, Camila Grey, said in a written statement Tuesday that they were filing a formal complaint with Southwest and that "we were not making out or creating any kind of spectacle of ourselves. It was one modest kiss.''
Southwest said in a statement on its website that the women responded to flight attendants with profane language, and though the airline also had "reports of what customers characterize as an excessive public display of affection, ultimately their aggressive reaction led to their removal from the aircraft. We do not tolerate discrimination against anyone for any reason."
The incident raises a larger question about what is and isn't OK when people, faced with idle time, close quarters, and sometimes a roving bar, find themselves in an affectionate mood — while surrounded by dozens of strangers.
The fabled "Mile High Club" whose membership is unofficially bestowed on those who engage in sexual escapades while in flight, has its own website, complete with a comical instructional video and list of tips on how to join. ("Wait for the movie to start before you start your own movie" is one piece of advice) But airlines say that while inappropriate displays of intimacy are very rare, flight crews will take action if they occur and passengers are made to feel uncomfortable.
"We certainly don't discourage people from tasteful public displays of affection,'' says Alison Croyle, a spokeswoman for JetBlue. "JetBlue asks that all customers exercise etiquette and common courtesy … and highly discourages in-flight indiscretions. We offer some great getaways hotels on jetblue.com, where customers can find the appropriate place for intimacy."
If behavior crosses the line into indecent exposure or a similar crime, "our flight crews will request local authorities meet the plane for further investigation,'' Croyle says.
Tim Smith, a spokesman for American Airlines, says inappropriate displays of affection would be dealt with by flight crews, pilots and airport staff similarly to incidents involving fliers who may be dressed inappropriately. "That is, there is no set of specific rules — each situation must be judged individually," based on appropriateness "and whether it could make other passengers uncomfortable."
Some passengers say that there are things better left behind closed doors.
"I think Southwest did the right thing,'' says Jay Whittington, an engineer from Portland, Tenn., who is on the road every two weeks. Public displays of affection are "never acceptable in public. Simple as that. I think it shows bad taste.''
Whittington says he practices what he preaches. "My wife will often meet me at Nashville Airport when I'm flying in and the most we'll do is hug each other," he says . "I do believe that there are certain ways to behave, both myself and other people, in a public environment."
Anna Post, co-author of the upcoming 18th edition of Emily Post Etiquette, and great-great-granddaughter of the manners maven, says holding hands is fine; so is leaning your head on your honey's shoulder or even a quick kiss as you jet away on your honeymoon.
"A full-on make-out session'' in flight is definitely not OK.
"It's just too confined and too public of a space for something that private," Post says. "And you have a captive audience. It's not like a park bench where they can walk past you. … Boundaries are even more important.''
Post says that divisions between the public and private have deteriorated in an era when people walk down the street yelling the most intimate details of their lives into cellphones.
"It goes hand-in-hand with having a more casual society," she says. "It's not all bad to be casual. You can be respectful and be casual, but that's the key. Excessive PDA (public display of affection), be it anywhere in public, starts to push the boundaries of are we really being respectful of others."
Frequent flier Terry Buchen says that on his many business trips, he has seen it all, from "hugging and kissing, to mysterious stuff going on underneath blankets, to couples going into the lavatories together."
Buchen, an agronomist who lives in Wlliamsburg, Va., says it's most often on evening or overnight "red eye'' flights that he witnesses such hanky panky, and "usually drinking alcohol is involved.''
But he and several other frequent travelers say that such actions don't bother them much.
"As long as I can have a quiet flight with no one invading my space, I am pretty content," says Mitch Fong, who works in financial services and lives in Mill Valley, Calif.
And given the myriad annoyances that can occur on a flight, Pauline Weaver, an attorney from Fremont, Calif., says there are aggravations far worse than public smooching.
"What annoys me more are people who kick the back of my seat, hog the armrest, don't turn of their electronics or can't control their children," Weaver says.